ŠKODA Fabia Monte Carlo
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15th December 2011 - The Age by Toby Hagon
The Czechs serve up a pugnacious slice of Monaco that
impresses, but is not without flaws, writes Toby Hagon.
Think small city hatchbacks and there's a dizzying array to choose from, with brands as diverse as Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Holden, Ford and even Chinese newcomers. Then there's ŠKODA, a brand still trying to re-establish itself.
Key to the ŠKODA sales pitch is some European flair but with sharper value than we've come to expect from the Continent. It's no different with the Czech brand's latest newcomer, the Fabia.
Under the skin, the Fabia shares its mechanicals with the impressive Volkswagen Polo, which took Drive's Car of the Year award last year before backing up with a win as the Best City Car for 2011.
WHAT DO YOU GET?
Scroll down the features list and the Fabia is generally well appointed, with Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, trip computer and power windows. Stability control and six airbags take care of safety.
In line with ŠKODA's value pricing which tends to undercut Volkswagen it's $1000 cheaper than the equivalent Polo five-door, which charges extra for Bluetooth, although the Polo does come with alloy wheels.
There's also an eight-speaker sound system that sounds richer and fuller than some of the tinnier options in the category, while the full-size spare tyre is a plus.
Things such as parking sensors and alloy wheels cost extra, while there are no steering wheel buttons on the more expensive Monte Carlo model, despite the fact that they are on the cheaper models. Cruise control is an added bonus.
The Monte Carlo like some other ŠKODA nameplates, it's a name perhaps pushing the boundaries of believability costs $21,990 plus on-road costs (currently available for $25,490 drive away) and brings alloy wheels (larger, at 16 inches), alloy pedals, tinted rear windows and various black and red trim highlights in the cabin.
The Fabia may be slightly shorter and narrower than the Polo but it has a squarer turret, which presumably helps account for some of the 70-odd kilograms of additional weight. It also leads to a more spacious feel in the cabin, something that gives it an edge over most rivals.
Headroom and leg space up front is good, with decent adjustability to the driving position. It's a tallish perch but works for vision and functionality.
In the rear, legroom isn't as generous, nor is the width of the rear pew, which is best suited to two. There are three adjustable headrests, though.
The boot is reasonably deep and useful, with split-folding seats improving its functionality.
One area the Fabia is let down by is in the overall ambience. Dark plastics abound and there's little to liven it up; the small chrome ring around the gear lever is about it. So while the folding arm rest, twin gloveboxes and easy-to-use controls are appreciated, the grim interior lets the side down.
UNDER THE BONNET
The Fabia uses a Volkswagen sourced 1.2-litre turbocharged engine. While it is small, the figures aren't. Power peaks at a modest 77kW but the more meaningful 175Nm of torque, available across a broad band of the low and middle rev range, takes up the slack.
Even though that torque peak arrives way down at 1500rpm, it's not available instantly, with the turbo taking a second or two to start thrusting air into the engine. Even then, the engine's not useful until it's spinning at 1600rpm or 1800rpm. From there, though, there's decent urge that makes slinking through traffic a breeze, generally negating any temptation to rev the engine harder.
For now the Fabia only comes with a manual gearbox (an auto is due next year) and there are only five ratios. The downside is a tall fifth gear that's really only useful above 70km/h or 80km/h.
And while it may be a value brand, the Fabia calls for more expensive premium unleaded fuel. Running costs will be partially offset by its low thirst; the claimed 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres is impressive, even for a light car.
ON THE ROAD
The Fabia has a solidity to its driving manners that few city cars can match with the exception of the Polo. It's still upset by larger imperfections and potholes but settles impressively after bumps.
Despite its tall body, it's composed around corners and doesn't mind being pushed.
Brakes feel meaty, while the steering is light but responsive.
The Fabia is an above-average city car, one that brings space and a flexible engine to the table. But it's difficult not to draw comparisons with the Volkswagen it shares so much with. Ultimately it lacks the pizazz of the Polo and it's not helped by the lack of automatic transmission. Without enough of a price discount compared with the Polo the Fabia is more expensive than many contenders it's difficult to shove our Car of the Year city-car king aside for this newcomer.
Country of origin: Czech Republic
Engine: 1.2-litre 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 77kW at 5000rpm
Torque: 175Nm at 1550-4100rpm
Consumption and CO2 emissions: 5.5L/100km,128g/km
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
Safety: 6 airbags; stability control
Spacious interior; flexible and frugal engine; drives well; above average sound system.
Auto due 2012; requires premium unleaded; dowdy interior.
IN THE REAL WORLD
ŠKODA's lack of profile leaves a question mark over resale values.
The Fabia has a neat plastic separator in the boot. It's great for stopping things rolling around in the boot.
Bluetooth is standard, but music streaming is only available on the Monte Carlo.