SKODA FABIA REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Five-door small hatchback
Price: $21,990 (Monte Carlo); $18,990 Fabia 77TSI
Fuel Economy (claimed): 5.5 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): Not recorded
Released yesterday in two grades - Skoda Fabia TSI and Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo - the latter has the visual charm of the MINI, with the sporting edge to match, and is simply a delightful little car.
We had a close look at both over a variety of roads that included a freeway run, secondary roads, a dash through the Blue Mountains, and an hour or so in traffic chaos.
And the answer to the inescapable question? Yes, at the wheel, the Fabia is as capable and enjoyable as the Polo.
So which should you buy?
Quality: Black on black is the theme inside for dash, doors and headlining for the Monte Carlo. It’s tight, well put-together, and the woven fabrics of the sports seats feel and look good.
Trim gaps are fine to these eyes, and things are well laid-out (it’s a small car and nothing is too much of a reach).
Not so appealing is the insubstantial look to the centre stack. There is an ice-cream tub feel to the plastics... you’d reckon - on an area barely bigger than an ice-cream lid - a little piano-black, or even faux carbon-fibre, or something, wouldn’t have blown the budget.
Comfort: You can mark it up here. The nicely-trimmed seats in the Monte Carlo are great for my shape (short, in case you’re wondering). They’re nicely bolstered around the lower back, and the snug squab is just right.
The wheel adjusts for rake and reach, the stubby gearshift is right at hand, and the pedals well-placed for heel-and-toe driving.
The four doors provide easy access front and back, and the longish roof (and wheels pushed to the extremities) provides surprising leg and headroom in the back for such a small package.
Equipment: Not too much missing here: air-con with pollen-filter, eight-speaker audio with CD, MP3 and aux-in, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel (with cruise setting, but not radio nor phone controls), heated door mirrors, illuminated glove box, and folding arm-rest.
The Monte Carlo picks up 16-inch ‘comet’ black alloys, front-door sill plates, alloy pedals, and other dress-up items.
Storage: The boot is ok; it also benefits from the long cut-off roofline. There’s enough room there for the weekly mega-shop or luggage for a small family getaway.
There are map pockets in the back of the front seats, bottle storage in the doors, lidded folding central armrest and smaller storage compartment above the glovebox.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: What a hoot. Skoda’s Fabia Monte Carlo is proof positive you don’t have to spend big dollars for fun at the wheel.
It’s a beaut little engine. There are lots that will beat it to 100km/h (Skoda lists a 10.1 second 0-100km/h sprint), but it will spin its head off, does it with a nice rising growly rasp, and is well matched to a quick five-speed transmission.
The throw on the gearshift is a little rubbery, but you can row it through the box effortlessly, and the pedals are just right for heel-toe driving. (Five-speed manual only at the moment. The DSG will be available first quarter next year.)
Although with only 77kW and 175Nm, throttle response is instant, it’s easily kept in the meat of its power band and we found it huge fun in the hills.
And with those wide boots at each corner, it also sticks like mud.
Refinement: Like the Polo, there is a little tyre roar on coarser surfaces. There is also a slight drumming harmonic on some surfaces at highway speeds.
It’s not intrusive, but there, and not best in class. There is also some wind noise around the wing-mirrors and A-pillars; again, barely intrusive, but not best in class.
Otherwise, the interior is snug and NVH is very good. The 77TSI spins effortlessly and with perfect balance right through the rev range and makes a delightful sound between 4000-5000rpm.
The thick wheel also has both the right feel and the right isolation from road shocks.
Suspension: It is sitting on the Polo’s platform (MacPherson struts up front with stabiliser bar, multi-link transverse rear also with stabiliser bar) but the Monte Carlo feels a little more compliant on rougher tarmac.
It is flat and stable when cornering and quite good on choppy secondary tarmac (with less jolt than its close cousin).
Braking: With ventilated discs up front and solid at the rear, we couldn’t fault the Monte Carlo’s braking. Despite some hard work when under the whip, there was no loss of pedal feel or performance.
ANCAP rating: 4 Stars (European 1.2 litre model tested)
Safety features: Six-airbags: dual front, front side and curtain; stability control, ABS with ASR, EBD and brake assist, height-adjustable three-point seat-belts with pre-tensioners, three-point rear seat-belts, and driver seat-belt warning.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 3-year, unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Servicing costs vary, consult your local Skoda dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
The Polo is cheaper than the Monte Carlo, is available now with DSG at a $2500 premium, but delivery times can be long.
The Volkswagen has the more stylish interior but the Monte Carlo is edgier looking and better where it really matters. And you can get one tomorrow (or the day after). Skoda wins. (see Polo reviews)
Ford Fiesta Zetec ($20,990 ) - A long-time favourite of TMR (and with twin-clutch at a $2k premium). Good style, zesty engine and racy dynamics... what is there not to like?
A tough one, but Skoda’s Monte Carlo is the Fiesta’s equal on-road, sounds better and its blacked-out looks take the cigar for sporting style. (see Fiesta reviews)
Kia Rio SLi Five-door Hatchback 1.6i ($19,990) - New kid on the block (only the name is the same). Lots of style, lots of features and a genuinely good drive. Which would you have?
The Kia can’t match the Skoda’s 77TSI engine for smoothness nor character, and the Monte Carlo also wins for sporty looks and personality. (see Rio reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Our verdict? It has to be four stars - the same rating we award the Polo. The Fabia Monte Carlo matches the Polo for on-road verve, has the same sporting character and capability ‘in the hunt’ on a mountain road (but with a little more compliance), and, arguably, more visual appeal.
With that deep lower-grille, black boots, black arches and roof, and in those striking colours, the Monte Carlo looks fat.
For the moment, because it’s new and fresh and fun, we’d give the nod to the Monte Carlo. Best you check this one out, it’s a very strong contender. I think you’ll be surprised.