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Future models - Skoda - Fabia

First drive: Next Skoda Fabia grows up

Czech account: The new-generation Skoda Fabia impresses but it won't land in local dealerships until later next year.

Comfort, connectivity boosts for next Skoda Fabia but you’ll have to wait a while

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Skoda logo17 Oct 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in PORTUGAL

SKODA’S completely redesigned Fabia will arrive in Australia later next year bringing tangible improvements in space, safety, refinement, comfort, specification and driveability.

While pricing and specification details are yet to be finalised, the Czech light car is expected to match the current model’s starting price of $15,990, plus on-road costs, despite offering palpable advances over the preceding car launched globally in 2007.

Aimed directly at the Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio, the smallest Skoda sold in Australia is very closely related to the recently facelifted Volkswagen Polo.

Both vehicles share the refreshed PQ26 chassis, which employs MQB modular transverse matrix “technologies” first seen in the Mk7 Golf.

This means key electrical, safety and drivetrain elements have been cherry picked from the upcoming next-gen 2016 Polo architecture and grafted on to the previous PQ25 platform that underpinned the last Fabia and Polo.

One Skoda insider estimated that between 60 to 70 per cent of this car’s platform is new or modified as a result.

Designed and engineered at the company’s Mlada Boleslav HQ, the TD-series Fabia features clear styling similarities with the outgoing model, although it visually connects with the latest Octavia mid-sizer.

Undergoing a substantial proportional transformation due to a 90mm increase in width, 31mm lower roofline and 8mm length chop, the outcome is a 21mm rise in cabin room, leading to a dramatic leap in interior space.

This is matched by a class-leading 330-litre cargo capacity that rises to 1150L with the split/fold rear backrest folded flat. The wheelbase has seen a 5mm stretch to 2470mm.

Sharper lines, deeper glass, thinner pillars and a stronger stance are among this third-generation Fabia’s design story highlights, the result of a painstaking three-year process.

Along with a stronger yet lighter body-in-white that employs more hot-formed steels than previously, new drivetrains contribute to a circa-65kg weight drop, although the lightweight champ – a 1.0-litre MPI three-cylinder petrol engine also found in the Volkswagen Up and its Skoda Citigo sibling – won’t be coming to Australia any time soon.

Instead, the Fabia will follow the Polo in ushering in a pair of 1.2-litre direct-injection twin-cam four-cylinder TSI turbo-petrol units in two states of tune – 66TSI (66kW of power from 4400rpm to 5400rpm and 160Nm of torque from 1400-3500rpm) and 81TSI (81kW from 4600-5600rpm/175Nm from 1400-4000rpm).

Only the larger of the two outputs will be paired to a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission as an alternative to the five-speed manual standard on the 66TSI and a six-speed manual on the 81TSI.

There are no plans for now to import the other three-cylinder offering – a highly impressive 1.4 TDI turbo-diesel – in part because the petrol engines are frugal in their own right.

The European combined average figure for all three engines is about 4.8 litres per 100km (for a mean 108 grams/km of carbon dioxide emissions) – although the leanest 1.4 TDI manages an astonishing 3.4L/100km (90g/km).

Part of the MQB technologies upgrade included a switch to a column-mounted electro-mechanical rack and pinion steering system, bringing significantly improved feel and control.

Though the basic suspension hardware is shared with today’s Polo, the Fabia’s MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear ends boast different components and states of tune to reflect each brand’s preferred flavour.

Skoda says pushing forward comfort boundaries was the top priority while also improving handling and road-holding characteristics over the outgoing version.

A complete cabin overhaul brings a fresh-look dashboard featuring the company’s new Modular Infotainment Matrix multimedia interface. This has only been possible due to the implementation of the MQB electrical CANBUS hardware.

Along with the faster and more effective ‘nerve’ centre, it brings touchscreen configuration to vehicle audio, entertainment and navigation systems via relevant apps.

Unfortunately the Mirror Link smartphone screen access won’t be offered in Australia until Volkswagen develops a version compatible with Apple and Android operating systems. Similarly, the same applies to the Smart Gate remote control interface operable from a smartphone or tablet.

Still on advanced tech, the electrical system overhaul means the Fabia can now offer a host of optional driver-assisted safety gear such as Autonomous Emergency Braking, Front Assistant (that automatically brings the car to a stop), Multi Collision Braking System (stops the car automatically after a collision to prevent further ones), driver fatigue sensors, automatic hill hold, tyre pressure monitors and a speed limiter function.

A panoramic sunroof, an electronic differential lock dubbed XDS+, front (as well as rear) parking radar, rain and light sensors and keyless entry/start are also new.

Finally, the Fabia gains a number of convenience items including an ice scraper in the fuel filler flap, a smartphone holder, rear-door rubbish bin, front seat side nets, and bottle holders.

That’s the basic breakdown of this important Czech hatch, but what is it like on the road? To find out, we flew to beautiful Lisbon.

Actually, the pretty Portuguese capital served as an appropriate backdrop to the TD Fabia’s rediscovered elegance, combining chunky modernity with the simple class of the 1999 original never imported to Australia. We predict this will sell on looks alone. There’s much to admire in the multi-faceted design.

Similar themes define the smartly austere interior, which, in the upper-spec grades we sampled, include a climate control system that from a distance has the simple symmetry of an old-school analogue car radio.

Excellent build quality, classy instrument dials, an intuitive touchscreen multimedia interface, comfy and spacious seating front and rear, reach as well as rake steering wheel adjustment, a superb driving position offering better-than-expected vision all round, big door bins, and a truly large boot area are further plus points.

Customers can even personalise some of the trim with a variety of colour and patterns, just like in a Mini. There’s a very real chance the Fabia might have the segment’s most appealing cabin.

Dig a little deeper, though, and there are a few disappointments, such as the missing reversing camera, shallow glovebox, and the fixed rear-seat cushion so the backrest can’t fold flush with the boot floor.

However, none are deal breakers, especially when you take the ripping little powertrains into consideration.

Sweet, revvy and sprightly from the get-go, the base 66TSI manual is a fabulous testimony to the Volkswagen Group’s engineering nous, combining low-boost torque tractability for effortless around-town tootling with relaxed high-speed perkiness. A smooth gear shifter also makes light work of it all.

The same applies to the 81TSI manual version of the same 1.2-litre four-pot turbo, except that the mid-range reaction to throttle inputs is noticeably stronger and rortier. The six-speed gearbox is also a bit slicker to use.

Most buyers are likely to choose the punchy 81TSI DSG – seamlessly fluid, it is a fine pairing of technology that pretty much sits at the top of the auto light-car offerings.

For once, its accompanying Tiptronic manual shifter is actually useful for keener drivers who want to brake with engine speed or make the most of the peaky little engine’s propensity to rev.

Note both versions require a 95 RON premium unleaded petrol diet.

If all this sounds like the new Fabia is in real danger of treading on the Polo’s Jimmy Choos, there are telling differences in the way the Czech and German hatchbacks jig.

Skoda’s stated mission was to make its newcomer more comfortable to ride in.

And while that is true compared to the old version, all the test cars on the launch were fitted with optional Bridgestone Turanza 215/65 R16 tyres, which rode a little on the firm side for our liking over everything other than marble-smooth roads.

There just does not seem to be the same level of bump absorption or suppleness as in the Polo. The suspension feels busy and even a little crashy at times over typically pockmarked urban roads.

The project engineer admitted the standard 15-inch wheels are better (and base model’s 14-inch rubber items are best), but said the 16-inch wheel package was chosen for the launch program to best show off the chassis’ new-found dynamic prowess.

And there’s our other issue. Up to about 60km/h, the new Fabia’s steering is sharp but overly light and dead in feel and feedback for our tastes. Above that speed, it all gels together beautifully, with a balanced calm and confidence that makes the Czech car come into its own for handling and road-holding prowess.

But seeing as this is predominantly a city car, why can’t the helm offer more intimacy and involvement? Or, more pertinently, why can’t the Fabia and Polo share the latter’s superior dynamic tune?Interestingly the 1.0L MPI three-pot petrol Fabia that’s not coming to Oz is perhaps the most fun, with between 50kg and 100kg less weight over the nose helping to make the front end feel more agile and alive, while softer accompanying springs help take the edge off the ride. It’s a shame Skoda won’t sell the base version here.

Likewise, the 1.4L TDI three-pot turbo-diesel is a real firecracker, oozing torquey goodness from the moment your foot tickles the throttle. The accompanying exhaust thrum also puts you in mind of some unspecified offbeat sports car.

Having said all that, the versions that we are getting remain much nearer to the pointy end of the light-car class for steering, handling and ride than most anyhow. It’s just that we wonder whether Volkswagen dictated that the Czech car doesn’t eclipse its German fraternal twin.

At any rate, please don’t forget that the Fabia is an evocative piece of design inside and out, with a fabulous drivetrain and very capable dynamics.

If Skoda can price and promote the newcomer properly, it deserves to be massive. Come this time next year, the Polo will have some very strong competition indeed.

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