Motoring writer June Neary checks out Skoda's impressive little third generation Fabia
Will It Suit Me?
I didn't tell the neighbours that this was a Skoda - and they didn't ask. Nor would they. Who would guess this smartly-styled little supermini to be a product of a Czech manufacturer once known only for cheap and cheerful A to B transport?
This improved third generation Fabia is much, much more than that. Certainly, it's a step forward from any compact car the Czech company has ever produced before.
Though used to a larger car, I could certainly consider this surprising little Skoda, for five can be seated in reasonable comfort. In my week with the car, everyone commented on how spacious it felt. Getting childseats in and out was no problem.
Drop inside and you'll find a cabin that's slightly longer and larger than in the previous model and at the same time provides the driver and passengers with increased headroom. Although the MK3 Fabia is 8mm shorter than its predecessor, its interior length has increased by around 8mm to 1,674mm. Elbow room is also greater at 1,401mm (21mm longer) at the front and 1,386mm (2mm longer) at the rear. The boot is the largest within the car's segment at 330-litres, which is 15-litres more than the previous model. With the rear seats folded down, loading capacity increases to up to 1,150-litres. The loading area is 960mm wide, which is 2cm wider than the previous car.
The rather spartan feel of base-trimmed models is the only real criticism I would make of an interior that is otherwise a class above most other offerings in this sector. Still, forget the plasticky feel of previous Skodas: the materials used are of the highest quality, even on the entry-level variants.
Pricier versions have lovely Audi-esque touches and you also get lots of extra storage bins. The Fabia is designed to be practical and the company has introduced a range of 'Simply Clever' features. The biggie is MirrorLink technology. This allows smartphone apps to be displayed on the screen of the infotainment system which, amongst other things, takes the use of navigation software or personal music files to a new level. There's a multimedia device cradle in the centre console, an ice scraper in the fuel filler cap and a high-vis vest, now mandatory in many countries, in a convenient dedicated storage compartment in the driver's door.
Behind the Wheel
You're unlikely to impress your younger friends by buying a Skoda Fabia but they'd probably be a little shocked if you were to overlook that and toss them the keys for a quick go. To be honest, I wouldn't have encouraged that with previous Fabias but this one's a bit different thanks to major advances under the bonnet.
Power in the mainstream line-up comes courtesy of three and four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines, with outputs ranging between 59bhp to 108bhp. Dealers expect that around 90 per cent of sales will be petrol-powered, split between the1.2-litre four and 1.0-litre three-cylinder engines. The 1.2-litre unit is markedly quicker and more refined and Skoda has worked hard to endow the Fabia with a supple ride, decent body control and low-effort steering.
Value For Money
Prices start at just under the £11,000 mark for S-spec models, so this Fabia is no longer a bargain amongst superminis. Still, even the base trim level is well equipped, inclusive of items like six airbags, a DAB digital radio, an engine start/stop system and power front windows. Most will want the SE variants with their air conditioning, alloy wheels, uprated stereo, MirrorLink system, surround sound stereo and Front Assist Package. Finally, 'Elegance' trim includes larger 16-inch alloy wheels, climate control, keyless entry and cruise control.
There are personalisation options such as contrasting wheels, roof panels and mirror cappings and those big wheelarches will easily house 17-inch alloys. The Volkswagen Polo acts as a natural cap on the Fabia's price and the Czech company needs to maintain a significant buffer zone between the two models in order to attract orders.
The 1.2-litre engine turns in some excellent economy figures. In the old Fabia, you could count on around 53mpg from the 1.2-litre unit; now you're good for 60.1mpg with emissions dropping to just 107g/km. Those figures improve largely because the Fabia is lighter than before. In 1.2-litre guise, it tips the scales at just 1034kg and across the range, there are efficiency improvements that average 17 per cent.
Fabias have always held very firm when it comes to residual values, used buyers valuing the Volkswagen Group input and resolute build quality. Insurance has also been very cheap, reflecting the mature owner profile. Will that change now that Skoda is aiming at a younger demographic? We'll have to wait on that one.
Could I Live With One?
In summary, this third generation Fabia may not be as cheap as small Skodas of the past but it's still cheaper than nearly all its main rivals. And better in many ways, with space, safety and build quality all class-leading. Czech mate? I thought so.