Unintimidating, spacious and reassuringly simple to use, the Skoda Fabia feels like a trustworthy travel companion even before it has turned a wheel. This impression is validated within your very first mile; each of the Fabia’s major controls moves with measured linearity, alluding to solid, dependable engineering and endowing the Fabia with the feeling of a larger car.
The steering requires more wheel work than some rivals, being less eager to react off centre, but it has among the most feel of the electric systems that now dominate the class. Similarly, the five-speed gearbox (a DSG auto is available for some models, and is obligatory in the rapid vRS) is light to operate, accurate and satisfyingly mechanical. The first three ratios are low – convenient for nipping around town – but thankfully fifth is longer-legged to give a more relaxed touring attitude. Motorway travel is impressively free of wind and road noise, but with its tall, narrow stance the Fabia is susceptible to crosswinds.
The sense of maturity continues with a ride that confidently smooths over the worst roads, passing unfazed over high-frequency ridges and adeptly cushioning occupants from the severest of potholes. At speeds below 20mph, sharper-edged manhole covers cause the suspension a little trouble, more audibly than physically, and with little actual movement translated into the cabin. This small criticism aside – which may have been caused by our test car’s optional 16in alloy wheels – the Fabia rides as well as anything in the class.
The secret to that winning ride becomes apparent the moment you arrive at a corner with any gusto, the Fabia’s soft springs providing a cornering approach very much in the classic French supermini style. It won’t roll like a Citroën AX, but be prepared for greater cornering angles than you’ll get with a Fiesta, Clio or Corsa. Other than through the most severe compressions, where the Fabia can run into its bump stops all too easily, this soft set-up is in itself not a problem, but with the seats' lack of lateral support, enthusiastic cornering can send you sliding from your perch.
Persist and you’ll discover the Fabia possesses admirable handling and decent grip. It is – to the extent an 85bhp hatchback can be – fun to drive, feeling faithful to your inputs and providing a sense of connectivity with the road absent from Renault’s and Vauxhall’s superminis.