Skoda's third-generation Fabia supermini aims at a younger audience and has recently been improved with more sophisticated entry-level petrol power. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Skoda upped the ante with its third-generation Fabia, introducing sharper, more assertive styling and clever tech that has been bringing down the average age of its customers. With more space inside and increased scope for personalisation, the Fabia seems to be getting the basics spot on these days and further benefits from the introduction of an impressive 1.0-litre TSI entry-level powerplant.
The Skoda Fabia surprised most people when the first generation version arrived back in 2001. After all, it succeeded the wholly unlovely Felicia and so a rating of 'only slightly rubbish' would have been a soaring success. In fact it was a little gem, well built, economical and keenly priced. It helped kick-start the success of modern Skoda as we know it today. The second generation version launched in 2007 and brought additional sophistication, which meant that the bar was set a lot higher for this MK3 model which was announced late in 2014.
It still exceeded expectations though, bigger and more sophisticated than before. One of its few weaker points was the 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine that accounted for the majority of sales, but Skoda has now sorted that issue by dispensing with that powerplant. In its place is an altogether more modern three cylinder 1.0-litre TSI unit, available with either 95 or 110PS.
No prizes for guessing the chassis that underpins this MK3 model Fabia. Yes, it's the Volkswagen Group's MQB platform, an almost infinitely customisable floorpan that's compatible with a whole range of engine, suspension components and electronic control systems. This means that Skoda can build as many clever safety systems in as budget permits. It's simply a box-ticking exercise when specifying a new model.
Engine-wise, the big news in recent times has been the introduction of the 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit that's been seen in models right across the Volkswagen Group empire. It even features in Skoda's much larger Mondeo-sized Octavia, so, as you can imagine, it's quite at home in a little Fabia, available in either 95 or 110PS guises. Even the base variant gets to 62mph in 0.6s en route to 115mph, which makes it a fraction faster than the old 1.2-litre powerplant. The pokier version improves these figures to 9.5s and 122mph. At this level, there's also a DSG auto gearbox option.
There's also a 90PS 1.4-litre TDI diesel option for the relatively few buyers that want to fuel from the black pump. This variant too, can be ordered with a DSG auto 'box. On the road, the 1.0-litre TSI unit is more refined than you might expect a three cylinder engine to be and Skoda has worked hard to endow the Fabia with a supple ride, decent body control and low-effort steering.
Design and Build
The MK3 model Fabia looks a good deal burlier than previous generation models, with pronounced wheel arch flares and a lot more shape built into the flanks. Skoda has claimed that this design represents a new direction for them, encompassing 'more emotions', albeit not at the expense of practicality. As before, there's a five-door Hatch bodystyle, or an Estate with a class-leading 530-litre boot capacity. With the Hatch variant, the boot is also the largest within the car's segment at 330-litres and the loading area is 960mm wide. With the rear seats folded down in Hatch models, loading capacity increases up to 1,150-litres. To help make good use of the room on offer, there's are various load-securing nets offered as part of the optional 'Simply Clever' practicality package. Plus there's a two-position luggage compartment shelf that'll keep fragile items off the boot floor. And folding hooks to stop your shopping from spilling out of its bag on your way back from the supermarket.
Drop inside and you'll find a cabin that's slightly longer and larger than most rivals and at the same time, provides the driver and passengers with impressive levels of headroom by supermini standards. Do rear seat passengers have to pay for all that cargo capacity we mentioned? Not really. This was always one of the very few superminis in which three fully-sized adults could just about sit alongside each other - at least for short journeys. It still is. Try doing that in a Fiesta.
Market and Model
There's a choice of either five-door Hatch or esatate bodystyles. Prices start at around the £12,000 mark, so this Fabia is no longer a huge bargain amongst superminis. There's a £1,000 premium if you want the Estate.
Safety technology has been much improved in this car since launch. In addition to six airbags, the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and the XDS+ electronic differential lock, the portfolio also includes the optional 'Front Assist' system (which reduces the risk of rear-end collisions) with the integrated 'City Emergency Brake' function (which brings the vehicle to a standstill when an impending collision is detected). Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is also available for the three-cylinder 1.0-litre versions. This consistently maintains a gap from the vehicle in front at speeds of up to 99 mph. The Multi-Collision Brake function automatically applies the brakes after an accident to prevent any further damage. 'Driver Alert fatigue detection' recognises a reduction in the driver's concentration and emits a warning. The 'Speed Limiter' function prevents the vehicle from going above the chosen speed. Finally, 'Hill-Hold Control' provides assistance when performing a hill start.
Buyers might also want to look at the optional 'Skoda Connect services' package. This consists of two things; 'Infotainment Online' gives you online traffic information and can update you on things like fuel prices, parking spaces, current news and weather. Then there are the so-called 'CareConnect Services' which allow you to monitor your car from your smartphone, plus the set-up includes a breakdown call function and will automatically alert the emergency services if the airbags go off in an accident.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.0-litre engine turns in some excellent economy figures. In the old Fabia 1.2 TSI, you could count on around 61mpg from the 1.2-litre unit; now with the 95PS 1.0-litre TSI variant, you're good for 65.7mpg with emissions dropping to just 99g/km. Go for the pokier 110PS unit and you're looking at 64.2mpg and 101g/km. Or 62.8mpg and 104g/km for a DSG auto model. That means that in the real world, a 1.0-litre TSI petrol-powered Fabia could easier end up being more economic overall than a version fitted with the 90PS 1.4-litre TDI diesel unit (which returns 74.3mpg and 100g/km).
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.
The Fabia has done very well for Skoda. Close to 4 million cars have sold to date, which is quite some success story given that the Fabia is not a vehicle of absolutes. It's not the cheapest, the most economical, the most stylish or the most fun to drive car in its class. Instead, it blends a mix of abilities and can probably be described as the car that offers the most quality for your pound in its sector.
Appealing to subtlety in this way has seen many good cars sink without a trace. This improved third generation Fabia takes a risk in deviating from the script, looking to secure a new tranche of younger buyers thanks to its sharper styling and cleverer tech. Will it succeed? We wouldn't bet against it.