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Extra sophistication and size comes to the no-nonsense supermini, but at what cost?

We return to the bustling core of the European car market for this week’s road test subject - the new Skoda Fabia. In spite of all the strategic plans for decarbonisation of model lines both great and small, and everything else going in more rarefied parts of the market, the petrol supermini remains an absolutely central player in our consumption of the new car. Four of the UK’s 10 best-selling cars in 2021 were superminis. On the European continent, it was five in 10.

The inexorable rise and rise of the electric car, and of SUVs and SUV-alikes, might have pulled the rug out from underneath any number of more traditional vehicle classes, but our appetite for the sort of compact, functional new cars that provide freedom and mobility at lower prices hasn’t been dulled one jot by any of those new sales phenomena.

Skoda says the new Fabia “delivers a revolution in design language”. We’re not sure. With a different grille, it could easily pass for a Volkswagen Polo. It’s handsome and modern enough, but it is not hugely distinctive.

Skoda is now betting on that enduring appetite – and bidding, even, to serve a bigger share of it – with a model that has appeared among Europe’s best-selling new cars on only a couple of monthly occasions in the entirety of its 22-year history: the spacious, unpretentious and inexpensive Fabia. Having been routinely outsold by the bigger Skoda Octavia hatchback for three full model generations of its life so far, the car now comes to us having been made bigger of footprint, more sophisticated of aspect, and more stacked with active and passive safety technology than ever.

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This is the last of the Volkswagen Group’s core superminis to switch onto its MQB-A0 platform. It’s almost five years behind both the Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo in making that switch, and more than three years behind the Audi A1. So has this car somehow become the black sheep of the VW Group’s supermini family? Or has Skoda instead profited by being last to the platform technology buffet table, and wound up with a better small car as a result?

The Fabia line-up at a glance

The Fabia keeps it relatively simple, with no diesels or hybrids. The bulk of the range is made up of 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrols. The MPI versions are naturally aspirated and the TSIs are turbocharged. A 1.5-litre four is set to join the range in the spring in a range-topping Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo trim and with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto (DSG) as standard. The 110PS engine gets either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG. The other three-cylinders always have a five-speed manual.

Skoda Fabia FAQs

Is the Skoda Fabia available as a plug-in hybrid or electric?

The latest Skoda Fabia has only just been launched, but despite featuring some of the latest technology from parent company Volkswagen, the Czech supermini has no plug-in or electric drivetrain options. In fact, it doesn’t even benefit from a mild-hybrid option, which uses a powerful starter generator to give electrical assistance when accelerating and recover energy when slowing. Rivals such as the Ford Fiesta are available with this kit.

What are the main rivals for the Skoda Fabia?

Despite the continued growth of SUV sales, superminis such as the Skoda Fabia are still very popular. The Skoda is a spacious and sensible choice, but if you want something more fun to drive, look no further than the Ford Fiesta. The VW Polo and Seat Ibiza are closely related to the Fabia, the former is more upmarket and the latter more stylish. Equally attractive are the Peugeot 208 and Vauxhall Corsa, both of which are available in pure EV guises.

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How much power does the Skoda Fabia have?

Most versions of the Skoda Fabia are essentially powered by the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. In its most basic guise it’s naturally aspirated and delivers either 64bhp or 78bhp, depending on the specification. There’s also a turbocharged version of the unit that’s available with either 94bhp or 108bhp. However, for the forthcoming Monte Carlo model there will also be a 148bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder. The slowest Fabia needs a leisurely 15.9 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint, while the most powerful takes a brisk 8.0 seconds.

What choices of gearbox are there for a Skoda Fabia?

If you’ve looked at VW Polo or Seat Ibiza, then the gearbox options for a Skoda Fabia will be familiar. The naturally aspirated 1.0-litre MPI and turbocharged 94bhp TSI models get a five-speed manual transmission, while the 108bhp versions feature a six-speed unit. Both have a slick and accurate action, and combine with the light clutch to make the Fabia easy to drive. Optional on the most powerful 1.0-litre and standard on the 1.5-litre is the firm’s seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox that delivers quick and crisp gear changes. Surprisingly, wheel-mounted paddle-shifters aren’t available, even on the sporty Monte Carlo.

Where is the Skoda Fabia built?

While previous versions of the Skoda Fabia were made by different factories around the world, the latest model is currently built at the firm’s Mladá Boleslav plant in the Czech Republic. Recently updated to the tune of 110 million Euros, the facility also constructs the closely related Skoda Scala hatchback and Skoda Kamiq small SUV on the same line. However, in the future expect examples of the new Fabia produced the one the brand’s many other factories across the globe.

How many generations of the Skoda Fabia have there been?

The original Skoda Fabia made its debut in 1999 and replaced the aging Felicia, which was based on the Favorit, the last car designed and developed by the brand before it was taken over by Volkwagen. A second generation Fabia arrived in 2007, before it was superseded in 2014 by the next all-new model. The latest fourth generation version of the Czech supermini arrived in 2021 and is the first not to be available as an estate as well as a hatchback. More than 4.5 million examples have been built over the four generations.

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What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Skoda Fabia