The all-new ŠKODA Fabia ups the sex appeal of ŠKODA's smallest model with Gen Y-baiting technology, tasteful customisation, and class-leading safety.
WHAT IS IT?
The third generation of the Czech brand's Volkswagen-based supermini, follows in the footsteps of the facelifted 2014 Polo with new electrical architecture (called MIB, for Modular Infotainment Matrix), an upgraded PQ26 platform and all-new EA211-series engines. Lighter, roomier, quieter, thriftier, more fun and more affordable, ŠKODA's new-gen Fabia finally has the showroom sizzle and the street smarts to lure buyers away from Volkswagen's older, more conservative Polo.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
ŠKODA's 2015 sales are up 30 percent on last year's Aussie record (3853 units), but not because of the Fabia. Volkswagen's refreshed Polo more than doubled the old Fabia's entire 2014 sales tally in June alone (1041 compared to a piffling 446), so ŠKODA needed to start with a clean slate. And here it is – a much-improved car, priced from $15,990 (driveaway until December 31), including a leather steering wheel, collision mitigation with city emergency braking, tyre pressure monitors, rear parking sensors, Smartlink connectivity with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and plenty of surprise-and-delight features such as luggage nets. The only glaring omission is cruise control (standard on Polo), which on the Fabia 66TSI manual is only available as part of a $1300 Travel Pack that also includes 16-inch alloys, fatigue detection and projector headlamps with daytime running lights.
Ford Fiesta, Holden Barina, Honda Jazz, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris and, let's not forget, the Volkswagen Polo.
THE WHEELS VERDICT A highly likeable, thoroughly modern supermini that excels for standard safety gear, as well as the sort of clever features that genuinely improve the ownership experience. The new-gen Fabia isn't the driver's car its French rivals are, but it's a polished all-rounder with amazingly tractable and efficient engines that will only improve with more mileage. The icing on the cake, though is the Fabia Combi – a baby wagon in a class of its own, with small-SUV-beating space for significantly less coin.
PLUS: More personality than a Polo; classy interior; tractable engines; neat manual shift; persuasive safety story; class-leading practicality of the wagon
MINUS: Cruise control not standard; sports suspension lacks ride suppleness; steering lacks low-speed feel; three-pot turbo rejected for Oz
THE WHEELS REVIEW
Slowly but surely, ŠKODA is working its way into the Australian consciousness. With a slightly oddball line-up that prides itself in offering something refreshingly unique - and clearly differentiated from the Volkswagen DNA that spawned it – Skoda has become a brand for thinking people who tend to value function over form.
That was certainly the case with the narrow-gutted old Fabia – launched way back in 2007 – that was more about being commodious than classically beautiful. But this new-generation Fabia is the face of the new ŠKODA. Smart and spacious just like before, but also stylish and sexy.
The 2015 Fabia is as mainstream as a ŠKODA gets, yet maintains one of the Czech brand's traditions by offering class-leading luggage space – 305 litres in the hatch, and a huge 505 litres in the wagon, each with a 185/60R15 steel spare stuffed under the floor. Indeed, the new Fabia's proportions have been altered significantly, seeing the hatch is 8mm shorter than before, but 90mm wider and 31mm lower, riding on a marginally longer wheelbase and tracks expanded by 30mm at both ends.
Not only does it look better on the road, it feels more planted too – on the wider tyres fitted to the launch cars anyway. And yet the new-gen Fabia is up to 112kg lighter than the model it replaces, ranging from just 1042kg for the base manual hatch to 1111kg for the DSG wagon.
Dynamically, think of the new Fabia as a Polo with a touch more personality. The standard-suspension 66TSI manual we drove (on chunky 215/45R16 Bridgestone Turanza tyres) rode with impressive pliancy and polished refinement on coarse surfaces, though there's also a fair amount of body roll in corners. But the base Fabia seems to enjoy changing direction more than its VW cousin. With a tactile perforated-leather wheel (Polo's is plastic), a brisk 2.6 turns lock-to-lock, grippier (and prettier) front seats and an encouragingly slick five-speed manual shift, the boggo Fabia is something of a little gem.
About the only serious omission is a lack of standard cruise control, which can be optioned with a $1300 Travel Pack that also scores you 16-inch alloys (base are steelies with 185/60R15 tyres), LED running lights and a fatigue detection system. But you can’t just have cruise by itself.
The base Fabia's 66kW/160Nm 1.2-litre turbo four isn't a sporting engine, but it is wonderfully tractable, with an ability to pull from 1250rpm up hills, and with max torque providing thrust all the way from 1400-3500rpm. There’s even a whiff of induction growl at low revs that enhances the 66TSI's personality, though from 5500rpm to the 6400 cut-out, it’s more about producing noise than anything else. That said, it takes 10,000km to properly run in a Volkswagen engine, so the low-mileage Fabia 66TSI test car will become much more flexible over time.
The 81kW/175Nm version, available solely with a seven-speed dual-clutch in the Fabia 81TSI (from $20,290 driveaway) is quicker to 100km/h (9.4sec versus 10.9sec), equally as economical (4.8L/100km), and adds equipment such as cruise control, a front centre armrest and 15-inch alloys. But with that sticker, the Fabia DSG is squarely at the upper end of auto light-hatch pricing.
If you become liberal with Fabia's options – a Sports Pack with 17s, sports suspension, front fogs, LEDs and fatigue detection ($1200), a Premium Sports Pack that adds auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, privacy glass, a flat-bottom steering wheel, keyless entry, climate control, digital radio and an alarm ($2600), a customisable Colour Concept paint scheme ($300, that matches wheels, A-pillar and roof colour to interior trim), sat-nav ($950), metallic paint ($500) or a sunroof ($1000) – then your baby Skoda ain’t gonna be cheap.
The yellow and black 81TSI hatch we drove at launch was $22,840, and while we can’t fault the quality finish of its interior, or the generosity of its equipment, that’s VW Polo money. With options.
Running sports suspension and riding on 215/45R16 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres, the Fabia 81TSI isn't as sweet as the 66TSI manual. The engine's a little punchier and the handling flatter, but what the sporty tune does to the ride, you don't gain back in handling. Certainly not in Sydney's Royal National Park after a big downpour. And on those tyres, the 81TSI's steering offered little information as to when the front end was going to let go in the wet. As it turned out, the softer 66TSI on dry roads was more fun.
What all Fabias get is bucketloads of functionality. The cabin plastics might be hard, but they don't look it, they're precision matched (unlike Polo's) and scratch-resistant. Fabia also offers loads of neat storage ideas, such as a rear parcel shelf that can mount at half height and act as a serving platter, or the standard luggage nets, the circular plant/soccer-ball holder, meshed nets in the side of the front seats, and a dedicated smartphone holder in the front just like an Audi A3.
Every Fabia also offers a gutsy six-speaker surround-sound stereo with Smartlink - a touchscreen system capable of connecting to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. On the Apple verison we tried, Siri can answer questions, send texts or read out messages, which is bloody awesome in a small car like this. You can access all your phone apps, as well as all the other features packed into the Fabia's Bolero stereo, though CarPlay requires a physical cable connection to the USB port to sync with the system. Our favourite Fabia by far, though, is the wagon. Called Combi in Europe, the 66kW manual asks $17,140 (plus $300 for driveaway) and requires only the Travel Pack to really make this the ŠKODA Fabia to have. What other massively practical small wagon can you have in your driveway for $18,740? Unless you need all-wheel drive, it makes every small SUV virtually redundant.
Model: ŠKODA Fabia 66TSI Ambition wagon
Engine: 1197cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 66kW @ 4400-5400rpm
Max torque: 160Nm @ 1400-3500rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1066kg
0-100km/h: 11.0sec (claimed)
On sale: Now