There is plenty to suggest that younger generations are more interested in the latest smartphones than new cars.
Skoda is hoping to change that with its second-generation Fabia city car, which arrives in showrooms this month as one of the first vehicles available with a fully integrated mobile phone interface that mimics the functions available on Apple iPhones and Android devices.
The fresh-faced five-door is available in two body styles - a regular hatch and extended wagon - and across two model grades, starting at $15,990 driveaway (which Skoda has promised will remain in place until the end of the year) for the entry-level 66TSI with the top-level 81TSI commanding a substantial premium with a sticker price of $20,290 driveaway. The wagon body style adds $1150 to either specification.
Both use the same mechanical and structural underpinnings from the Volkswagen Polo and are powered by a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol four cylinder, but are defined by different power outputs and transmissions. As the nomenclature suggests, the base model produces 66kW, and 160Nm of torque, with power sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox while the range-topper generates 81kW and 175Nm and is exclusively available with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Both variants feature a decent spread of equipment, including six airbags and automated city braking as standard as well as air conditioning, a tyre pressure monitor and a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker audio and Skoda's Smartlink system that integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into the interface.
So, while there are plenty of interesting elements to assess in the way the all-new Fabia handles the city streets, our preview drive this week on a mix of urban and rural roads south of Sydney gave us the first opportunity to drive Apple's CarPlay. And it's so brilliantly effective and easy to use that it will not only make the Fabia more attractive to younger buyers but, for everyone, virtually eliminates the temptation - and risk - of checking your phone while on the move.
First of all, to access its functions there is no need to connect via Bluetooth first; simply plug your phone in via the USB connection and it instantly picks up your details, including phone contacts, sms messages, podcasts, music playlists and directly links to accounts for streaming music apps such as Spotify and TuneIn radio. Once in play, it uses Siri voice recognition to easily access and call contacts and request destinations and directions using Google Maps and can read back and dictate text messages.
That it is standard in even the cheapest Fabia makes it an appealing choice for first car buyers. It also helps that the rest of the package is just as enticing led by its geometric styling, which looks simple and yet classy and is only enhanced by the optional Colour Pack that brings a two-tone paint job. It is a much more convincing design than its awkward-looking predecessor.
There's a similar degree of understated flair in the cabin too, with funky fabrics on the seats and a colour-matched dash panel adding some style to the otherwise austere ambience generated by the hard plastics and simple instrumentation. From a pragmatic perspective, the Fabia offers decent small item storage - including clever items such as a removable phone holder in one of the cupholders and a flip-top rubbish bag holder in the door pocket - as well as a decent driving position with good adjustment and clear vision through the expansive glasshouse.
Front seat occupants are well catered for in terms of headroom, but legroom is limited in the rear and best suited to small children or occasional short trips for adults. The 305L boot in the hatch (which expands to an SUV-rivalling 505L in the wagon) is huge by city car standards.
On the road, the 1.2-litre turbo four cylinder feels spritely in either specification, producing plenty of low-rev urgency to tackle the demands of the urban jungle. The 81TSI's extra pep is really only accessed when driven enthusiastically, as the variance in power outlets is barely perceptible in everyday circumstances, and both engines returned close to the claimed fuel consumption during our brief taste test.
How you access the power is different as the 66TSI's five-speed manual is light and easy to use but requires more engagement than the 81TSI's self-shifting dual-clutch automatic, which displayed some hesitation in getting away from the lights and quickly shifts through to the taller gears to save fuel but also downchanged early when heading downhill to use the engine braking to maintain a constant speed.
As for how it rides, the suspension settings are fairly firm which ensures it sits flat and poised through the bends but also makes it busy over bumpy roads. The steering is well-weighted and accurate with good on-centre feel and the brakes have good modulation through the pedal. Road noise was intrusive only on the harshest surfaces, but was well supressed in both hatch and wagon body styles around town.
Like the Polo with which is shares its DNA, the Fabia is a well-rounded city car that ticks plenty of boxes thanks to its surefooted driving character, up-to-the-minute safety equipment and understated style. But, until its rivals catch up, that it has Smartlink with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto could be its most attractive element for younger buyers.