Of all the cars now sold by Skoda, it is the Fabia and its immediate forebears that best plot the manufacturer’s remarkable three-decade journey from nationalised crackpot to modernistic marvel.

The Favorit, a car that had been gestating in the communist industrial belly for almost a decade, may have been the butt of more than one joke in late-1980s Britain, but its front-engined, front-drive design was a technical breakthrough for the Czechs.

Similarly, its rehashed replacement, the Felicia, was the first Skoda to benefit from new owner Volkswagen’s input during its development – one reason why it began to top 1990s satisfaction surveys.

However, the Fabia, launched in 1999, was nothing short of revelatory. Using a platform so new that no other VW Group product had yet adopted it, the car showed not only what the new-millennium Skoda would be capable of but also the significance that its German parent was prepared to place on ensuring its progress.

If the second generation, with nearly a 50mm increase in height, was intended to excel in the sturdy Skoda standards of practicality and value, the third, launched late last year, is a carrier of fresh purpose. Style has become a significant part of the Fabia discussion as Skoda hopes to appeal to an audience slightly less mature than its retiree fan base.

Not that their concerns have been forgotten. The latest model is on average 17% more efficient than the car it replaces. Frugality is even more crucial to selling superminis in 2015 than it was 10 years ago, as evidenced by an engine line-up dominated by three-pots and shorn of a warmed-up vRS powerplant.

Three trim levels are available: S, SE and, replacing Elegance as the range-topper, SE-L. Our test car came thus equipped, along with the 1.2 TSI engine that is expected to make up a healthy proportion of Fabia sales.

Top 5 Superminis

  • Ford Fiesta
    Fiestas sold in Europe are ostensibly the same as those sold in America and Asia

    Ford Fiesta

    1
  • Mini Cooper
    Its various improvements make the new Mini more desirable and practical than ever before

    Mini Cooper

    2
  • The Mazda 2
    The Mazda 2 name dates back to 2002. This latest version showcases the firm's Skyactiv technology and 'Kodo' styling

    Mazda 2

    3
  • Volkswagen Polo
    The Polo is a polished, mature-feeling, spacious supermini

    Volkswagen Polo

    4
  • Renault Clio
    Distinctive styling details are taken from the showstopping Renault Dezir concept car

    Renault Clio

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • 2016 Hyundai I30 1.4 Turbo prototype
    First Drive
    30 August 2016
    We get early access to the third-generation Hyundai i30 1.4 Turbo. Does this prototype show promise?
  • Citroën C4 Grand Picasso
    First Drive
    26 August 2016
    The Citroën Grand C4 Picasso gets tweaked styling, improved tech and new personalisation options to keep it ahead of rivals
  • Car review
    26 August 2016
    Wolfsburg celebrates the GTI’s 40th with its most extreme version yet
  • Kia Optima Sportwagon
    First Drive
    25 August 2016
    New Kia estate looks the part, has good space and handles tidily, but its engine's flexibility and refinement let it down
  •  Kia Optima PHEV
    First Drive
    25 August 2016
    Plug-in hybrid Optima is a practical, tax-efficient PHEV that undercuts rivals and fulfils its main remit well, but keen drivers need not apply