There are a few different ways you could describe the Skoda Fabia. Being the lowest price car in the VW Group range here in NZ you could call it ‘cheap’. But with upgraded styling inside and out you’d have to say ‘cheap but not boring’. With a new advanced powertrain there’s been an increase in performance so you might say the Fabia is ‘cheap but not boring and quite peppy’. But that is still too generalised and it’s generalisations that Skoda has worked so hard to fight against while shaking-off its now dated reputation for poor quality. So Car and SUV put all generalisations and pretensions aside to find out the finer details on Skoda’s updated city car.
What’s new for the Fabia is a whole swag of visual and mechanical updates that give the hatch a fresh injection of attitude. The changes also better target the Fabia at stealing budget-conscious buyers away from character competitors like the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500.
The styling, while you wouldn’t call it daring, it’s fresh and is more distinctively ‘Skoda and proud’ than previous models. Updates include the new corporate grille, a more angular bonnet and reshaped headlights. The changes don’t just align the Fabia with the rest of the Skoda range but also give it a wider and lower look generating a sportier stance. The blacked out A and B pillars creates a ‘floating roof’ that can be customised in a contrasting colour. Our test specimen was finished nicely in Pacific Blue with a white roof. At the rear, there’s a high-mounted hatch spoiler, jeweled taillights and a chunky bumper. It’s elegantly colour-coded with some fine detailing like the roof colour matching the side mirror caps. Standard wheels are 15-inch steel rims with silver covers and 195/55 tyres but our test vehicle looked sharp with the optional ‘Elba’ 16-inch alloys and wider 205/45 rubber. Overall the Fabia design is better than ever before, it remains more conservative than some competitors in the segment, but it has a genuine European appeal and is handsomely finished.
Inside the Fabia is a pleasant place to be. While it can’t completely hide the atmosphere of a cheaper car, the overall build quality feels solid with everything well screwed together. There’s no doubt the Fabia has inherited the VW Group’s high level of build quality but it can’t match the VW Polo for the high level of plastics used or its sophisticated dash layout. The Fabia is much more basic with a split level, two-colour dash and a simple switchgear layout. The only area the interior plastics feel overly light and flimsy is in the doors where the inside handles and door cards flex with pressure. However, the instrumentation is easy to read and a handy LCD screen gives trip and vehicle information. There are also excellent storage options with a split glovebox, cupholders and door bins providing handy solutions.
It’s easy to get comfortable in the Fabia with a leather-wrapped reach and rake adjustable steering wheel and front seats that are small but supportive, height adjustable and don’t feel constrictive. Head and legroom is very good for a small hatch with the Fabia’s tall flat roofline really paying dividends. Luggage capacity is very usable as well with 300-litres on offer in the wide-opening hatch, expanding to 1,163 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
The standard equipment list isn’t bad for a sub $30k hatchback with handy kit like a CD Stereo with auxiliary input and steering wheel controls, trip computer, electric windows and mirrors, halogen headlights, chilled glovebox, climate air conditioning, immobiliser and keyless entry included as standard.
Despite the nice handiwork done in upgrading the Fabia’s interior and exterior styling, the big news and major selling point hides beneath the sheet metal. The VW group is looking to use its 1.2-litre TSI engine in any application it can, and why not? It’s an absolute gem. The 1.2 TSI is a marvel of modern engine design being an ultra compact, turbocharged petrol unit that is economical and produces brisk performance that you’d swear came from a larger motor. This ‘little engine that could’ produces 77kW of power and 175Nm of torque, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The power arrives in a lively but smooth fashion and the engine pulls with strength even at the top end. This equips the Fabia to be an ideal machine for zipping in and out of suburban traffic but is also very capable for motorway cruising or open road jaunts. The 0-100km sprint time is pegged at 10.1 seconds which is quick for a supermini, but it’s the engine’s mid-range ability that is most useful. The only drawback to the TSI engine comes with a split second of turbo lag that creates a moment between when the accelerator is pressed and the power comes on.
The Fabia TSI is available in both manual and automatic options; our test vehicle was fitted with a 7-speed DSG auto box. It’s a well-proven system that changes gear with lightning speed and seamless accuracy. The DSG does have a tendency to up-shift early at times, chasing down optimum fuel efficiency but placing it into its sport mode can thwart this. In sport mode the gearbox will hold the gears higher in the rev range before changing up and keep the Fabia on point. If that’s still not enough, the gears can be changed through a manual tiptronic option.
There are rare moments at low speeds when the DSG can feel unsure but overall it is an impressive unit that does well to extract maximum power from the small capacity engine. It also does wonders for economy and if you let it, the DSG box will help the Fabia achieve an excellent economy figure of just 5.3l/100km on the combined cycle. With a 45-litre fuel tank the Fabia TSI has an amazing theoretical range of just under 850kms.
In terms of handling and dynamics the Fabia TSI is competent but doesn’t attempt to be a true hot hatch. The suspension is well set for good ride comfort and eases itself over bumps and potholes without fuss. The Fabia’s body is quite tall which is great for interior space but does create for some body roll when cornering rapidly. It’s also possible to feel some wheel spin through the front tyres with a heavy foot on the gas pedal but unless you’re stamping on it, there’s no real issue here. Otherwise grip is generally very good and the Fabia holds the road well. The steering is accurate, responsive and quite light to use.
Despite some body roll, with the rapid TSI engine and DSG box set to sport mode, the Fabia is capable of darting between corners and being a much quicker point-to-point vehicle than many of its competitors.
Safety bases are covered on the Fabia with a range of passive and active features including traction and stability control systems, Isofix child seat anchors, ABS brakes and six airbags in total.
With out test vehicle priced at $28,000 the Fabia TSI isn’t the cheapest small hatch on the market but it’s priced competitively enough to offer typical Skoda value for money. With the low fuel consumption considered, running costs will also be very reasonable. While the styling may still be too timid for some buyers in this segment, the overall package is a winner. Why? Because Skoda currently has access to some of the most advanced automotive technologies around. It’s not the type of brand to scream out this fact through radical exterior design but the TSI engine and the 7-speed DSG gearbox combine for one of the most engaging and economical powertrains fitted to any hatchback in the NZ market. The bottom line with the Fabia TSI is simple: If you’re considering purchasing a small hatch do not look over this car without test-driving it first. It will surprise you.
What we like:
- Fantastic engine and DSG gearbox combo
- Fuel economy
- Spacious interior
- Tasteful upgrades
What we don’t like:
- A touch of turbo lag
- Some interior plastics feel cheap
- body roll
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo