We find the entry-level Skoda Fabia commendably cheap but (more importantly) unremittingly cheerful.
Base price: $19,990.
Powertrain and performance: 1.2-litre turbo petrol four, 66kW/160Nm, 5-speed manual, front-drive, Combined economy 4.7 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 3992mm long, 1467mm high, 2470mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 330-1150 litres, fuel tank 45 litres, 15-inch alloy wheels on 185/60 tyres.
We like: Energetic engine, light gearchange, cheeky character.
We don’t like: Dowdy styling inside and out, not as many options as other Fabia models.
How it rates: 9/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? And so the tag-team of Skoda Fabia and Volkswagen Polo continues. But it’s a little different this time around.
As you might know, the Fabia and Polo are very closely related and there’s a long-standing tradition that the Fabia gets a new platform first, followed by Polo. That’s not the usual way around for the VW Group when the Czech brand is deemed to have lower status, but perhaps it’s an acknowledgement of the important role that Skoda plays in everyman market segments.
So now there’s a new Fabia, which surely points the way to a new Polo. Well, it does and it doesn’t.
There’s a new platform in the group called MQB, which is set to underpin virtually every small/medium model from now on.
There is indeed an all-new Polo on the way and it will be based on the MQB platform. But strangely, the new Fabia only picks up elements of MQB, including powertrains and some major electronic systems. Not the main chassis structure, though.
It would seem a bit of inter-brand snobbery has put the latest Fabia at a disadvantage. Question is, does the little Skoda still stand up as a smart supermini choice?
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? Fabia is powered by a 1.2-litre engine in two power-output options: the mainstream models have 81kW (more than a Polo, by the way) but there’s also a price-leading version with 66kW – as tested here.
The 66kW model is also the only one to be available with a manual transmission; all of the others have an automated dual-clutch gearbox (DSG). True, manual superminis are not big sellers, but a three-pedal gearbox gives a greater connection to the car that lies beneath and therefore is a better indicator of the quality of the driving experience.
The 1.2-litre petrol-turbo (TSI) is full of verve and delivers its power in supremely linear fashion. It’s strong low-down and even without the seven speeds of the DSG, the five-speed manual version has plenty of pulling power.
The clutch and gearbox have a surprisingly light action, which makes the Fabia manual an easy thing to drive even in heavy traffic.
Press a bit harder and the little TSI has quite a gruff sound – crude but appealing. A bit like one of those barky small dogs with an attitude problem. The Fabia 66kW is stroppy and proud of it.
The chassis might not have the full benefit of MQB, but the steering is crisp and the handling surefooted. The Fabia is fun at any speed.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? Skoda interiors generally have less frippery and a more functional character than their VW equivalents and the Fabia is no exception. The styling is very clean and the switchgear simple, but there’s a lot more hard plastic than you’d find in a Polo (even the current one, which is much older than its Skoda sibling) and a lot less flair.
That’s fine by us and you do have the option of adding a few extra luxuries to this base model. Our test car featured the $1200 Tech Package, which adds LED daytime running lights, climate control air conditioning, foglights and a higher-quality audio system with Mirrorlink connectivity – kind of a poor man’s version of Apple Carplay or Android Auto. There are very few Mirrorlink-compatible phones at the moment, but you do get a generous touch-screen for the existing audio functions.
The Fabia does have a few practical design details of the surprise-and-delight variety – like the small pocket on the side of the front seats that’s ideal for a wallet or phone.
What you can’t do with the 66kW is bling it up like you can the 81kW model. Only with the more powerful engine do you get to add the Dynamic (Tech equipment plus sports suspension/seats/steering wheel) or Colour Sport (a variety of different roof and wheel finishes) packages.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? The styling may be a matter of taste: the Fabia is brand new but looks curiously old-school from many angles, which seems to be another requirement for the Czech brand from head office. The lines are crisp, but there’s not a lot of passion there.
You can’t say the same of the driving experience. The Fabia 66kW is a hoot, especially with the manual gearbox – but the DSG version is quicker and quite entertaining in its own right.
We love the Fabia in entry-level guise because a price below the magic $20k mark makes it even more of a bargain. Definitely one of our favourite superminis.
Blind spot warning: No
Lane guidance: No
Cruise control: Yes
Automatic lights/wipers: No
Parking radar: $550
Self-parking technology: No
Head-up display: No
Keyless entry/start: No
Air conditioning: Manual
Heated/ventilated seats: No
Power seat adjustment/memory: No
Leather upholstery: No
Power boot or tailgate: No
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40