The Skinny: Skoda’s light car offering is certainly not light on for technology. The new Fabia packs in everything from mobile phone mirroring to autonomous emergency braking. That makes it something special among non-premium light cars.
The range is much simpler than many too - Skoda offers just two Fabia variants: a 66kW manual or the 81kW DSG automatic tested here. There’s also a huge range up dress-up options for those who want to be seen in something a little more unique.
Vehicle Style: light five-door hatchback
Price: $20,290 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 81kW/175Nm 1.4 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7spd DSG automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.8 l/100km | tested: 7.1 l/100km
Skoda launched in Australia as a value-brand: no frills, 'cut price' transport for the masses.
Same engine, same transmission, same warranty.
Where the Skoda wins over the Polo is in the value packaged-in. 'Forward collision warning', autonomous emergency braking, and rear park sensors are all standard. There's also a range of personalisation options at extra cost.
But the slightly larger, but more plainly-wrapped Skoda Rapid is also only only a heartbeat away on price.
It’s a good thing then that the top-shelf Fabia 81TSI comes with an unexpected classy feel, plenty of underbonnet zing, and distinctive looks to help set it apart from the light car masses.
Quality: Inside, you will find an array of well-finished surfaces, and a huge feature-panel that reaches across the dash.
The colours of the handsome tri-colour cloth trim and the dashboard insert change depending on the exterior hue they’re matched to. Grey cloth and a silver insert are paired nicely with the attention-grabbing Sprint Yellow of our test car.
Solid construction, precise fit and finish and padded soft-points where you’re likely to rest your arms make the Fabia feel commendably high-end.
Comfort: Thanks to a somewhat lofty roof, the Fabia feels spacious, and front seat travellers will find no shortage of space.
Jump in the rear and it can be a little tight. Knee-room is lacking, as is width, but again there’s plenty of headroom, and great visibility out the expansive side windows.
Equipment: Standard kit in the Fabia 81TSI includes cloth seat trim, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, reverse park sensors, multi-function trip computer, heated power adjustable mirrors, manual air conditioning, 15-inch alloy wheels, and cruise control.
Infotainment consists of a 6.5-inch touchscreen, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring capability.
For an extra $2600 our test car was fitted with a 'Premium Sports Pack with Colour Concept'.
This consists of a contrasting coloured roof, black 16-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, lowered suspension, front fog lights, fatigue detection, proximity key with push button start, flat-bottom steering wheel, climate control, auto lights and wipers, DAB+ radio and privacy glass.
Storage: Fabia takes the prize for most innovative storage solutions in its class, hands down. More than just a generous 305 litre boot (1125 litre with the seats down), there’s also a stack of usability additions.
There’s a relocatable basket that can hold smaller items, like a single grocery bag in place, nets on the floor and front of the boot to pin down anything that might slide about, plus a deep bin, and a bag hook on each side of the boot.
Inside there’s a pocket in each door, with a handy bin-insert you can shift about, a deep binnacle at the base of the centre stack, and further storage in the folding centre armrest.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: From behind the wheel the Fabia offers pleasing refinement and civility, and sits on the right side of a divide that sees light cars either well-presented, or as bare-bones transport.
Thanks to a characterful 1.2 litre turbo four-cylinder, the Fabia pushes out 81kW of power at 5600rpm, and 175Nm of torque between 1400 and 4000rpm.
It is smooth and quiet, and pulls strongly. And, although it doesn't 'spin' as readily as some (throttle response is slightly attenuated), it can be briskly hustled around a winding road.
A seven-speed DSG is the sole transmission offered with the 81TSI; manual shoppers have to be content with a less powerful 66kW engine.
Once rolling, the DSG automatic is incredibly smooth, and acquiescent to the demands of the driver. It’s weak point is low-speed manoeuvrability, as it is prone to stutter and lurch during three-point turns, or whilst reverse parking.
As for fuel, we couldn’t get close to Skoda’s consumption claim of 4.8 l/100km, and a recorded 7.1 l/100km figure is getting up there, particularly with the Fabia’s need for 95RON premium petrol.
Refinement: Noise and vibration from the driveline are well sorted. Sink the boot in and engine noise naturally picks up, but is far from disruptive.
Tyre noise is the Fabia’s biggest enemy and can start to sneak in at speeds as low as 70 km/h. By the time you hit the freeway (depending on the road surface of course) it can be at quite a roar… good thing the audio system is capable then.
Ride and Handling: With a MacPherson strut front-end, and a torsion-beam rear, the Fabia hardly challenges convention. Hooked up to lower, firmer sports suspension didn’t seem to be any handicap to the Fabia though.
The ride was expectedly firm, but not harsh, and by no means did it falter over speed humps or tarmac joins. When shown a set of bends on the open road, the Fabia corners with terrific front-end bite, and little body roll.
Braking: Compounding the jittery automatic transmission are brakes that are too grabby at low-speed, making it hard to glide to a smooth stop in city-driving scenarios.
There’s no doubting the performance of the four-wheel disc brake system though. Easily able to drag the Fabia down from speed, and far more progressive at highway speeds.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.16 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, dual front-side, full length curtain), forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking, stability and traction control, ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, tyre pressure monitoring, multi-collision brake, three point seatbelts in all seats and front seatbelt pretensioners.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Service costs: Skoda offers capped price servicing for six years or 90,000km with 15,000km/12 month intervals. The total cost for the program is $2650, with the cheapest service (15,000km/12 months) costing $316 and the most expensive (60,000km/48 months) priced at $612.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota Yaris ZR ($21,490) - Despite an update earlier this year that delivered more striking styling and much-improved infotainment system, the Yaris feels a little out of touch.
A large part of that comes down to a four-speed automatic. But the Yaris is also getting on in years, and does without some of the Fabia’s safety kit like autonomous braking and tyre pressure monitoring. (see Yaris reviews)
Volkswagen Polo 81TSI Comfortline ($20,990) - If you’re looking at a Fabia, it makes sense to take a look at the Polo. The two share a mechanical package and an infotainment system, the drive is largely the same too.
It really comes down to splitting hairs - the Skoda has a more unique look, and an interior that feels just a wee step nicer, as well as a more practical and user-friendly boot. (see Polo reviews)
Mazda2 Genki ($22,690) - Mazda offers a great handling package, a clever six-speed auto, and a nicely premium feeling interior with plenty of soft-touch surfaces. A heads-up display is a nice touch, and the infotainment system is one of the best on offer.
Boot space and rear seat room aren’t the Mazda’s strongest points, but if you’re only carrying one or two people it makes for a stylish little ride. (see Mazda2 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While Skoda may not be the best-known brand on the market, the backing of a colossus like the Volkswagen Group means that the Fabia benefits from a massive shared-engineering base.
A combination of sweet on-road manners, a modern and high-tech interior, astute powertrain and impressive safety make the Fabia worth a thorough second-glance if you’re shopping for a light hatch.
To end up with an on-trend two-tone colour pack like the review car isn’t an outrageous expense either, it's part of one of three option packs that bring a load of handy extra features.
And it's nice to see another manufacturer bring some visual flair, much like the Renault Clio does.
Those looking for a level of refinement and maturity, beyond just basic transport, should find a comfortable match in the Fabia 81TSI.