The Fabia's biggest problem is its staid, conservative and resolutely sensible image
The Fabia is comfortable, practical, well-mannered and well screwed together
First DriveThe new Fabia, tested in pre-production form, is markedly improved – but the three-cylinder engine mars its appeal somewhat
First DrivePractical and well-priced, but the 1.6 TDI is a similarly priced and more usable option
What is it?
An all-new diesel version of Skoda’s cheap and cheerful Fabia supermini.
The Czech car-maker has at last got around to dumping the VW Group’s noisy old two-valve pumpe duse diesels from the Fabia’s engine range. As of now, all Fabia diesels will be powered by the same 1.6-litre commonrail TDi engine, complete with direct injection and four valves per cylinder.
We’re testing a mid-spec Fabia SE with a range-topping 105bhp diesel engine. Cheaper 75bhp and 90bhp tunes are available, but all of them emit the same 109g/km of CO2 and according to Skoda, all are capable of the same 67.3mpg fuel economy return.
If you’ve spotted Skoda’s 2010 cosmetic revisions to the Fabia, congratulations. There’s a wider radiator grille and redesigned headlights up front, intended to inject some badly needed attitude and presence into the car’s visual character.
What’s it like?
Comfy, sensible, spacious and well turned out; everything we’ve come to expect from a Fabia, really.
Although it’s only four metres long, it’s remarkable how roomy this car feels, and how comfortable it makes you once you’re settled in. Generous leg-, shoulder- and headroom give you the impression that you’re driving a larger car, as does the prodigiously adjustable driving position.
On the move, the Fabia retains a certain consistency, solidity and precision in its primary controls that owners of both the current Fabia and the new VW Polo will recognise. Although not exactly an engaging or entertaining drive, it steers with reassuring predictability, handles with unerring stability and rides with quiet compliance: all are dynamic virtues rarely offered by a budget brand, but rarely missed by Skoda.
One thing the Czech brand hasn’t quite got to grips with yet is mechanical refinement. Given its lesser swept volume, more modern injection system and significantly lower compression ratio than the Fabia’s outgoing 1.9-litre diesel, we expected a quieter and slightly smoother performance from the Fabia’s new 1.6-litre TDi.
In reality, it feels only marginally more hushed than the old lump, and despite that extra helping of torque, no more tractable in the real world.
The figures confirm our suspicions. The Fabia is actually a tenth slower to 62mph in 1.6-litre TDi CR 105 guise than it was as a 1.9-litre TDi PD 105.
However, it’s certainly frugal: our brand new, still tight test car got within 2mpg of its 55.3mpg urban mpg claim in town motoring, and we could well imagine cracking 65mpg on a motorway run. And lower carbon emissions mean this new diesel Fabia is £70 a year cheaper on annual VED road tax than the one it replaces.
Should I buy one?
If you’re after a bargain, absolutely. On paper, the Fabia we’ve tested here is significantly cheaper, cleaner, more frugal and more powerful than almost every like-for-like rival you can compare it with, and in the real world it seems comfortable, practical, well-mannered and well screwed together.
Spending every day in this car could leave you wanting a more involving driving experience or a natch more mechanical refinement, but little else.
Perhaps more concerningly – and admittedly somewhat subjectively – if you’re not already collecting your pension, driving a Fabia could suggest to your friends and family that you’ve grown old and boring before your time. That’s because this car’s biggest problem, to this tester’s eyes, remains its staid, conservative and resolutely sensible image.
There is very little that’s youthful, fashionable or stylish about the Fabia. You couldn’t spend a week in one without looking at grey nylon clothing in a whole new light.
Still, to those immune from such considerations, we’d heartily recommend it.