What is it?
The all-new Skoda Fabia, in pre-production form, ahead of its debut in Paris later this month.
It’s been a long time coming, given that its predecessor has done the rounds for 7 years. The Skoda range has swollen considerably since then, but no one should doubt the continued importance of its supermini – in the UK alone, the brand expects it make up a quarter of sales next year.
Appropriate, then, that all the right noises have emerged from the company in the build-up to this preview. Stronger, stiffer and lighter have been the buzzwords. Bigger, too. And, mercifully, prettier. Skoda is keen to lower the age of the average Fabia buyer, and the redesign was considered necessary in order to do so.
Thus there are creases and crispness where there was none before, resulting in a much sharper look – something aided further by a 31mm lower ride height. But the real coup is the 90mm of lane-filling extra width the car receives.
There are further dimensional shifts; the wheelbase has been marginally lengthened and the front overhang slightly shrunk – although the car isn’t really any longer. Skoda is at some pains to stress the newness underneath, although it’s certainly true that the pick ‘n’ mix architecture owes as much to its predecessor’s platform as it does to the MQB’s modularity.
The result is impressive all the same; the judicious application of lightweight, high-strength steel in the construction delivering a starting kerb weight of just 980kg for car with the 1.0-litre petrol engine tested here – just 50kg more than the equivalent VW Up.
The three-pot, new to the Fabia, will likely be the best seller, although it’s flanked by a completely refreshed and attractive all-EU6 lineup. This includes the latest versions of the 1.2-litre TSI four-cylinder unit, and the ultra-efficient 1.4-litre three-cylinder diesel motor – already seen in the revised Polo. Next year, in Greenline format, it will deliver 82g/km of CO2, but Skoda claims an average drop of 17 percent even without its parsimony.
There’s a predictable flush of new equipment and safety features thanks to a raiding of the MQB parts bin, and the manufacturer has pimped the Fabia’s largest touchscreen with the option of its new Mirrorlink system that reproduces your smartphone’s display.
That means there's no need to opt for an additional sat-nav system or software pack, of which the customer take up was typically low. The bugs still need weeding out though; it’s currently Android-only, meaning that an iPhone foxes it completely.
What's it like?
Wonderfully persuasive. My faint memory of the outgoing model is of a bony, narrow-bodied old crate lacking refinement and with a billowy attitude to body control. The new Fabia barely needs the thunk of slammed driver’s door to dispel that recollection.
Inside, it’s a proper new Skoda; by which I mean that it’s cleanly designed, neatly laid out and bolted together like a bunker. Even in range-topping Elegance trim there’s no soft touch furnishings – but there doesn’t need to be when the detailing and functionality are this immaculate.
Beyond the dashboard’s redesign, it’s the space created by the extra girth that makes itself felt. No more sharing elbow room with the front passenger on an upright perch; you’re seated lower, more comfortably and in the kind of roominess that would once have passed for C-segment. Adults fit in the rear, although it’s the boot which has grown into class-leading status, now measured at 330 litres with the seats up - just 50 litres shy of a Golf.
VW’s most famous hatchback comes to mind when you’re underway, too. The conventional chassis may still be comprised of front MacPherson struts and a rear torsion beam, but with its kerb weight given the tummy tuck treatment and what’s left obviously more rigid, the engineers have managed a thoroughly agreeable default tune, tautly grounded and yet quick to isolate the cabin above from intrusion.
With the track pushed out 30mm front and back, the Fabia feels better planted as well; and there’s no mistaking the handling advantage of both a lighter nose and a lower body.
The steering is electrical now, but keenly weighted and typically precise for a VW Group product. The change of direction is buoyant and grippy; not rife with feedback through the wheel or seat backs but appreciably well-balanced.
Its newfound dynamism is easily engaging enough to make the 74bhp petrol motor’s permanently winded delivery seem all the more disappointing. Skoda claims around 58mpg for the three-pot, but it’s hard to see how that’s ever possible with your foot forever welded to the bulkhead.
Unfortunately, while the other engine driven – the turbocharged 89bhp 1.2-litre TSI – goes someway (although not far) to fixing the problem, the subtle change in weight just takes the faintest edge off the Fabia’s gloss, its suspension registering ripples in the road that the other Fabia would likely have sailed over. Still, it’s mighty impressive.
Should I buy one?
It’s too early for a definitive answer, but the signs are obviously positive. This is a Fabia far improved; more mature, yes, but also confidently and consummately better in every significant way.
We need a longer go on British roads, of course, preferably alongside some tricky rivals – although Skoda has every reason to feel confident about the prospect, mostly because the car feels well-finished and accomplished in a way that very superminis do.
Crucially, there are also some notable trip hazards still left between here and the finish line. We don’t, as yet, know how much the Fabia will cost nor how well equipped it will be.
We’ve pinned our hopes on the more powerful 109bhp 1.2-litre TSI fixing the shortage of performance, but can’t be sure it won’t sour the entry-level car’s sweetness. Ifs and buts. A half star either way hangs in the balance.
Skoda Fabia 1.0-litre MPI Elegance
Price £TBC; 0-62mph 14.7sec; Top speed 107mph; Economy 59mpg; CO2 108g/km; Kerb weight 1055kg (est); Engine 3cyls, 999cc, petrol; Power 74bhp at 6200rpm; Torque 70lb ft between 3000-4300rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual