Skoda's Fabia looks sharp but does the 1.2-litre TSI petrol model make a case for itself? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The third-generation Skoda Fabia looks a smart buy with the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine You can select it in either 90 or 110PS outputs, the big draw of the latter being the option of the DSG twin-clutch transmission. It rides well, it feels like a quality product inside and out, there's stack of room inside and the 1.2-litre engines are smooth and economical. There's really not a lot to dislike.
You know how it goes with entry-level cars. They get handed down old technology, usually squeezing the last bit of profit out of an engine that first appeared years ago. Their role is to get you through the dealer's door with a low sticker price whereupon the dealer convinces you that what you really want is the more modern engine, the ritzier trim level and a whole host of optional extras. Suddenly your budget has taken a dent for several thousands unplanned pounds.
The 1.2-litre entry-level Fabia engine was always one to avoid, but in the latest Fabia line up the 1.2 has been transformed thanks to three letters. TSI. Yes, the latest 1.2 is turbocharged and develops either 90 or 110PS. It's now one of the smartest picks of the bunch.
Skoda reckons the 90PS 1.2-litre petrol engine is going to account for more sales than any other powerplant including the diesels and it's not hard to see why they're so bullish. It's a light and eager engine that offers enough zip for most people, getting to 62mph in a respectable 10.9 seconds and running onto a top speed of 114mph. The 110PS version of this engine is a bit quicker again, 62mph coming and going in 9.1 seconds if you specify the car with the DSG twin-clutch transmission. Yes, it adds another £1,000 to the asking price, but the DSG transforms this car for the better.
The chassis is a mix between the state of the art Volkswagen Group MQB floorpan and the existing PQ26 Fabia underpinnnings. Yes, you can see where a few Euros have been saved here, but it feels anything but built down to a price to drive. Ride quality is excellent, with Skoda unburdened by pretensions of sportiness. At this point, we'd normally explain that this comes at the expense of cornering ability, but the Fabia can take a bend very cleanly, with taut body control and accurate steering. That blend between damping, spring rates, tyre specification and roll stiffness is really well judged. Turn-in is also excellent.
Design and Build
The Fabia had a series of quite well-established design cues. It was narrowish with tall hips and unless you bought the sportier variants, tended to look a bit under-wheeled. The latest car looks a good deal burlier, with pronounced wheel arch flares and a lot more shape built into the flanks. Skoda has claimed that this design is a new direction for them, encompassing 'more emotions' albeit not at the expense of practicality.
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 new Fabia is 8 mm shorter than its predecessor, its interior length has increased by around 8 mm to 1,674 mm. Elbow room is also greater at 1,401 mm (21 mm longer) at the front and 1,386 mm (2 mm 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 960 mm wide, which is 2 cm wider than the previous car.
Market and Model
The Fabia is designed to be practical and the company has announced 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.
The Fabia 1.2 TSI is offered in three trim levels; S, SE and SE-L. Somewhat curiously, the entry-level trim is only available with the punchier 110PS with DSG combo, so the cheapest 1.2-litre TSI-engined Fabia is actually a mid-spec SE with 90PS and a manual 'box. No, we couldn't figure that logic out either. The S comes with Bluetooth, DAB digital radio, stability control, tyre pressure monitoring, and curtain airbags amongst a pretty generous kit list. SE adds gear like air conditioning, leather and chrome garnish inside and 15-inch alloys, while SE-L nets you climate control, 16-inch rims, keyless go and automatic lights. There are personalisation options such as contrasting wheels, roof panels and mirror cappings, and those big wheelarches will easily house 17-inch alloys.
Cost of Ownership
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 with the 90PS 1.2-litre unit 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. Go for the more powerful 110PS car and it's also rated at 60.1mpg but with emissions of 109g/km if you choose the DSG-equipped model or 58.9mpg and 110g/km if you stick with the manual version.
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 1.2-litre petrol engine used to be the skinflint's choice of Fabia engines but now that's anything but the case. Both 90 and 110PS versions of the engine have something to be said for them. Most will go for a manual 90PS car and it's easy to see why. If you can hold out for the 110PS model with DSG gearbox, we'd recommend that. It's usefully quicker, doesn't consume any more fuel, is a lot more pleasant to drive in town and will boost the resale value of your car when the time comes to sell.
The good thing about the Fabia 1.2 is that it's hard to make a bad choice. Unless, that is, you choose the entry-level S with the more powerful engine, the DSG transmission and no air conditioning. Don't do that and you'll be fine. Skoda's finally got this one nearly 100 per cent right.