By Jonathan Crouch
Skoda's third generation Fabia supplies the efficiency, the technology and the bit of extra class its predecessor was lacking. Practicality and value remain its strongest selling points, but in MK3 form, sense and sensibility aren't the only reasons you might want one.
It may no longer actively campaign as a budget buy, but Skoda's Fabia has always been the thinking person's value-focused supermini. With over 3.5 million sold since its original launch at the turn of the century, it's always aimed to give its customers more for their money - as does this third generation version.
For a start, it's arguably the most spacious choice in its class from its era, reprising the appeal of the original MK1 model that sold prodigiously for exactly that reason. Back in 2000, Skoda had only quite recently discovered the space-efficient attributes of front wheel drive and with the first Fabia, the brand went the extra mile in maximising the benefits of that layout, creating a supermini pretty much as big inside as some older family hatchbacks from the next class up. Every small car maker had to match it and superminis quickly became so big that the market rather hurriedly created a smaller Citycar segment below them. The Fabia had proved to be a very significant car.
With the second generation version we first saw in 2007, Skoda saw no need of a further increase in size - but did increase their pricing. Suddenly, rivals that had previously looked smaller and more expensive were back on terms with this Czech contender. It was no longer a unique small car proposition. With this MK3 model, launched in 2014, Skoda planned for it to be so again. Hence the provision of the biggest boot in the supermini class and the most spacious rear seat space. It could also be ordered in an eco-conscious 'Greenline' guise that delivered pretty much the lowest running costs it was possible to achieve in this segment in the 2014 to 2018 era. On top of that, styling packages gave this car a bit more attitude. And, as ever, it represented a very affordable way into Volkswagen Group technology that would cost thousands more in a comparable Polo or Audi A1. The original version of this MK3 model sold between 2014 and early 2018, after which it was replaced by a facelifted model range based solely around 1.0-litre petrol power. It's the earlier pre-facelift MK3 Fabia we check out here as a potential used buy.
What You Get
This third generation Fabia apparently 'ushered in a fresh era in Skoda design', hence a look here that's all about sharp angles and bold edging. Where the previous model was a little too high and narrow, this one looks far slicker and more modern. As does the profile, with a more powerful silhouette and sharp 'Tornado' lines that feature on the five-door hatch and Estate models on offer. All of this is helped by the fact that this third generation design is 30mm wider and sits 90mm lower than its predecessor.
The stretched Polo floorplan is the reason why this car can offer so much more interior space than most of its direct supermini rivals, something that's most obvious when it comes to boot capacity. With this issue, you find the main reason why buyers would choose a Fabia rather than Skoda's smaller Citigo model, which comes with a boot nearly 50% smaller. Once you've negotiated a fairly high loading lip, there's a hefty 330-litres of luggage space, which is actually 14-litres more than you'd get from a Ford Focus in the next segment up.
Do rear seat passengers have to pay for all this cargo capacity? 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. And it still is in this form. There's plenty of space up-front too, especially for elbows and shoulders, and it's easy to find an ideal driving position thanks to reach and rake adjustability for the steering wheel and a height-adjustable seat. Around the fascia's decor panel sits the other main interior change - the addition of a neat infotainment colour touchscreen, delivered in either 5 or 6.5-inch sizes, depending on the trim level you decide upon.
What to Look For
In our ownership survey, we struggled to find many people who didn't like their Fabia. We found one owner who complained that his handbrake kept sticking on - but that was about it. It's just necessary to look out for the usual supermini issues - kerbed alloys and evidence of damage from unruly children on the interior plastics. Obviously, you'll want a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2015 Fabia 1.0 75PS excl. VAT) A pair of front brake pads are between £27-£38 - think around £20 for a set of rear pads. A pair of front brake discs start at about £34-£51 - for rear discs, think about £20. Air filters sit in the £24 bracket. Oil filters cost around £13. A fuel filter is around £32. A wiper blade is around £17-£26. A full heated mirror is around £25.A water pump is around £135.
On the Road
Let's start with probably the key nugget of information you'll need to know about this third generation Fabia when it comes to the question of driving dynamics. Namely the fact that it's 65kgs - basically the weight of a fairly fat adult - lighter than its predecessor. You might expect that to make a little bit of a difference to the way this car drives - and sure enough it does. If you're familiar with the previous version, you'll find that this car turns into corners that bit more sharply, enabling you to make the most of the extra grip delivered by this improved design's wider track. There are two 1.0-litre MPI Fabia options, delivering either 60 or 75PS.
It's better though, we think, to find the small extra premium necessary to graduate up to the derivative we reckon represents the sweet spot in the MK3 Fabia line-up, the 1.2 TSI model with 90PS. Why? Well this version is just as clean and frugal as the 1.0-litre poverty-spec option, yet it's far more flexible in day-to-day use thanks to nearly double the amount of pulling power up-front - 160Nm of the stuff. A turbo 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrol unit was added into the range in 2017, with 95 and 110PS options. Diesel buyers get a choice of three versions of the Volkswagen Group's familiar three cylinder 1.4-litre TDI unit: there's an eco-focused 'Greenline' model with 75PS, the 90PS variant and a 105PS option if you really need a bit more grunt. We think the 90PS model will be sufficient for the needs of most. The bottom line is that though driving excitement may be in relatively short supply, there's real maturity in the way this car drives. If you're thinking of downsizing, you'll probably like it a lot.
So. How to sum up? Well, think about the reasons people buy small cars: ease of use, low running costs, practicality. This one seems to very effectively tick a lot of those boxes - but then the Fabia always has. In its first two generations of life though, this supermini lacked something of a spark - that 'want one' factor. Which meant that when it came to developing this MK3 model, Skoda knew they had to somehow build that into the design DNA.
To some extent, they've done this. A bit of extra effort's been made to personalise the car inside and out but you still won't be buying this model to make a fashion statement or to impress the neighbours - and you certainly won't buy it to corner on your door handles. Fabia customers tend to be beyond all that sort of thing. Instead, in this Skoda, they'll recognise a sensible, state-of-the-art supermini in every way fit for purpose in an increasingly demanding modern world.
Of course it ought to be. As part of the Volkswagen Group, Skoda has access to some of the finest vehicle technologies going, many of which are showcased here. The Fabia doesn't make a song and dance about this cleverness but look beneath the unassuming surface and there's a highly accomplished package that's only made more appealing by the price. True, the end result may not be the car you always dreamed of owning. It could though, very well be the one you actually need.