What is it?
We've had two tastes of the new Skoda Fabia so far. On both occasions, the Czech Fiesta-fighter came in for high praise for its generous and well-appointed cabin, comfortable ride and willing performance. This is our first go in one in the UK, though: it's a left-hand drive, 83bhp, 1.4-litre model.
What's it like?
Although there wasn't a lot to be critical of about the last Fabia, to these eyes it always looked awkward and bland. The new one is a big improvement; it's still not going to tempt many out of their Puntos, Clios and Minis, but with blacked-out A- and B-pillars, an expressive Skoda 'face' and a roof and door-mirrors you can have painted white or cheque, it's a million times more interesting to behold than the last one.
On the inside, the improvements continue. Formerly among the largest superminis on sale, this new Fabia is actually only 22mm longer than the last; that actually makes it shorter than a new Corsa, Punto and a 207.
That's because Skoda has chosen to expand it upwards rather than outwards. This Fabia is 50mm taller than the car it replaces, and the difference that makes to the feeling of interior spaciousness is remarkable. From within it actually feels like a car from the class above; that's partly to do with the generosity of adjustment in the driving position, partly the impressive material cabin quality, and partly the extra headroom.
And it drives with authority too. This car is the first VW Group supermini to use the 'PQ25' platform – it'll go on to serve as the basis for the next Polo, Ibiza, even the Audi A1 – and it's very good indeed. It rides with gentle and quiet compliance over all but the severest urban lump and maintains decent body control at higher speeds.
The Fabia's steering system is all we've come to expect from VW; it's short on feedback but entirely consistent in its control over the front wheels. And that 1.4-litre engine, although lacking a little by way of refinement, is strong throughout most of the rev range.
Should I buy one?
In replacing the Fabia, Skoda has quietly addressed its few shortcomings, and made its numerous virtues – interior spaciousness, quality, confort and value-for-money – even greater. In doing so, it's probably created what, right now, is the class' most consummate all-rounder, and if you're replacing the family run-around in the next few months, you'd be crazy not to consider it.