The new Fabia takes the old pragmatism upmarket and rocks the supermini segment in the process, eclipsing rivals that once had a tight grip on the market

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Of all the cars now sold by the brand, it is the Skoda Fabia and its immediate forebears that best plot Skoda's remarkable three-decade journey from nationalised crackpot to modernistic marvel.

The Skoda Favorit, a car that had been gestating in the communist industrial belly for almost a decade, may have been the butt of more than one joke in late-1980s Britain, but its front-engined, front-drive design was a technical breakthrough for the Czechs.

The latest Skoda Fabia is on average 17 per cent more efficient than its predecessor

Similarly, its rehashed replacement, the Felicia, was the first Skoda to benefit from new owner Volkswagen’s input during its development – one reason why it began to top 1990s satisfaction surveys.

However, the Fabia, launched in 1999, was nothing short of revelatory. Using a platform so new that no other VW Group product had yet adopted it, the car showed not only what the new-millennium Skoda would be capable of but also the significance that its German parent was prepared to place on ensuring its progress.

If the second generation 2007-2014 Skod Fabia , with nearly a 50mm increase in height, was intended to excel in the sturdy Skoda standards of practicality and value, the third Skoda Fabia, launched in late 2014, is a carrier of fresh purpose. Style has become a significant part of the Fabia discussion as Skoda hopes to appeal to an audience slightly less mature than its retiree fan base.

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Not that their concerns have been forgotten. The latest Skoda Fabia is on average 17 per cent more efficient than the car it replaces. Frugality is even more crucial to selling superminis in 2015 than it was 10 years ago, as evidenced by an engine line-up dominated by three-pots and shorn of a warmed-up vRS powerplant. As is the way of car development the Skoda Fabia is rapidly approaching its facelift, with the 2018 model breaking cover and will include more of the safety and intelligent features found on the larger Skoda Octavia.

Five trim levels are available: S, SE, Colour Edition, Monte Carlo and, replacing Elegance as the range-topper, SE-L. Our test car came thus equipped, along with the 1.2 TSI engine that is expected to make up a healthy proportion of Fabia sales.



Skoda Fabia rear
New Fabia's wheelbase is 5mm longer, but the car is 8mm shorter overall than its predecessor

Even without the dimensions to hand, the source of the Fabia’s altered visual presence is not hard to fathom. The previous car, with its unnaturally elevated, MPV-rivalling roofline, had the spindly, posture-fixing poise of a mobility scooter.

Clearly conscious of how this looked to anyone under the age of 50, Skoda has trimmed 31mm from the supermini’s height and also made it wider – much wider. The Fabia’s hips have spread to the tune of 90mm, making it a confident lane-filler rather than an apologetic one.

The introduction of the new Skoda grille was inevitable. It leaves a frowning face, but not a nasty one

The wheelbase of the new chassis is 5mm longer, but reduced overhangs mean the car is 8mm shorter overall than the one it replaces, but in truth, the two cars share more underneath than Skoda would care to admit. The Mk3 Fabia’s platform is better thought of as a re-engineered version of the existing PQ26 architecture than a pure-blood variant of the MQB platform’s modularity.

However, any snobbery would be misguided, because as well as being stiffer and as much as 65kg lighter than before, the latest underpinnings get a new front subframe and engine bay that ensure compatibility with the most consequential part of the MQB packaging – namely, the more up-to-date petrol and diesel motors and transmissions.

The three-cylinder petrol engine previously used only in the Citigo is now promoted to the Fabia’s ranks in both 59bhp and 74bhp forms, although its efficiency is not significantly better than the more expensive and now Euro 6-compliant four-cylinder 1.2 TSI – itself available with 108bhp.

The solitary diesel is a three-pot, too: the ultra-parsimonious new 1.4 TDI. Its 89bhp and 104bhp outputs are probably less important than the 88g/km and 90g/km CO2 emissions that emerge from their respective tailpipes. The most powerful versions of the TDI and TSI engines can now be had with VW’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, although five and six-speed manuals are the standard ratio-pickers.

All power the same conventional front-drive chassis, fashioned from front MacPherson struts and a rear torsion bar, and the whole thing is guided by electric steering rather than the hydraulic set-up of the previous model. There’s also the promise of all the dynamic advantages delivered by its significantly wider tracks.


Skoda Fabia dashboard
The Skoda Fabia's driving position is first-rate

Skoda’s concerted fettling of the exterior has delivered some modest advantages on the inside, but this is unlikely to be the first thing you notice.

Instead, it’s the first-rate job that the firm has done on the fit, finish and all-round appearance of the dashboard. The new Fabia epitomises Skoda’s slow march upmarket.

The shopping holder in the boot is such a simple idea but another brilliant little feature from Skoda

Although it lacks the soft-touch plastics of a Volkswagen Polo, this is not merely a functional cabin (as its dutiful predecessor certainly was) but a ripened and fully realised cabin with an element of class about it.

So grown-up is it, in fact, that some buyers may query a lack of personality when compared with the design flair at work in something like a Mini. But that would be to quibble with Skoda’s pragmatic approach to interior design, and most Fabia owners probably won’t miss something as fickle as visual flair.

As for the standard equipment on the Fabia, choosing one trimmed in S specification comes with steel wheels, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, front electric windows, DAB radio, a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. Upgrade to the SE model and you will find 15in alloys, air conditioning, rear parking sensors, a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system and six-speaker audio system.

The Skoda Fabia Colour Edition adds some funky colour combinations 16in alloy wheels and cruise control and LED day-running-lights, while the Monte Carlo edition comes with 16in alloys, a panoramic sunroof, sports seats and sporty attire. The range-topping SE-L models come with cruise control and keyless entry and start, and climate control.

Beyond the pleasingly sharp-suited facade is the usual laudible attention to ergonomic detail. Volkswagen DNA virtually guarantees this, although it comes embellished in the Fabia with a number of new 'Simply Clever' advantages, including an ice scraper in the fuel filler cap, a rubbish bin in the passenger’s door, bigger bottle holders all round and a shopping holder to prevent items from moving around in the boot.

As for space, the interior feels ample enough for a five-door supermini. A 2mm increase in rear elbow room seems a ludicrously scant claim, given the extra physical width of the model, and it doesn’t quite fit the subjective appreciation of what seems like a comfortably bigger car than its forebear.

Couples and small families are the catchment area here, and neither will feel cause to complain. Only adults who frequently travel in the Fabia’s back seats may find fault with the claim that this is the most practical car in the supermini class.

However, Skoda’s claim that the Fabia has the biggest boot in the segment, at 330 litres, is to be believed. There is room for larger pushchairs or a couple of large suitcases – unusual for a supermini. For reference, a five-door Polo is a full 50 litres behind.


Skoda Fabia hard cornering
The Fabia goes well, even in 89bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged guise

Three engines are available in the Fabia, with six different variants to choose from. The range kicks off with the 1.0-litre three-pot petrol taken from the Fabia's baby brother city car - the Citigo - in 59bhp and 74bhp outputs. However, these motors feel underpowered when trying to propel the Fabia's five-door frame.

Two diesel units are offered, both in the same 1.4-litre turbocharged four cylinder capacity, but in two states of tune - 89bhp and 104bhp. The 89bhp version offers a good compromise between real-world pace and being the most frugal unit offered in the Fabia range. The CO2 rating of 88g/km and claimed economy figure of 83.1mpg are the kind of numbers that will appeal to cost-conscious new car buyers.

If you want an automatic Fabia which uses the seven-speed DSG gearbox, your choice is either the 1.4-litre 89bhp diesel or the 98bhp 1.2-litre petrol

The 1.2-litre TSI turbocharged petrol engine in 108bhp forms are the sweeter powertrains, though. Particularly the higher-powered unit. It's noticeably brisk and possesses the flexibility to cope well with town and motorway driving.

Even with the lesser 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the Fabia goes well. This is another small car that marches off from low speeds swiftly and unconditionally and doesn’t oblige drivers to even remember which gear they’re pottering around in, much less care. With 25 per cent more torque than a typical normally aspirated supermini and an even greater advantage on tractability than that implies, this Fabia picks up speed with minimal fuss.

Overtaking still requires a downshift, but nipping up to the national speed limit from town pace can be achieved comfortably in fourth gear, with meaningful acceleration available from well below 2000rpm.

That said, the Fabia isn’t as generous with its pace at moderate speeds as some rivals, largely because of its gearing. Skoda’s focus on pragmatism has resulted in the fitment of a five-speed ’box as standard in all but the more powerful petrol variant, and it is made to pull more than 26mph per 1000rpm in top gear, when five-speed superminis usually pull no more than 23mph.

The 89bhp 1.2 TSI’s 118lb ft of torque allows the car to pull those long ratios without trouble most of the time. Steep gradients can suddenly make you aware of the large gaps between second, third and fourth gears, though, and while the engine is smooth and refined through most of the rev range, it does get a bit wheezy above 5000rpm.

The pedals and gearshift feel substantial and slick, and they’re a pleasure to use. Use the gearlever frequently and keep the crankshaft spinning and the car feels a little peppier than the supermini norm. If you want an automatic Fabia, which uses the seven-speed DSG ‘box, your choice is either the 89bhp diesel or the 98bhp 1.2 petrol turbo.

Our 0-60mph clocking was done in less than ideal conditions and we can easily believe that, on a dry day, this would be a sub-11.0sec car on account of its capacity to hit 60mph in second gear.

Still, you’ll need to buy something with more than 100bhp to go quicker. Drive the Fabia with enthusiasm, though, and you can forget about good fuel economy. However, a restrained style allows you to approach 50mpg on a mixed route, as our economy test results prove.

So the Fabia is frugal enough in typical daily use, but only averagely so for a modern car of its size.


Skoda Fabia side profile
The Fabia delivers a comfortable ride and stable, safe handling

The Fabia may be moderately nippy, but moderately exciting it isn’t. Skoda’s intention, as clear as those new creases in the bonnet, has been to make the car comfortable, stable, predictable and easy-handling – a small car that you can drive without investing much or thinking about it too hard, one that’ll ease your passage rather than pique your interest.

It isn’t the toughest of dynamic briefs and doesn’t make the Fabia the most broadly talented car in its class, but Skoda has nonetheless delivered on it well. The car rides relatively gently and calmly, the suspension doing a respectable job of soaking up disturbances, although it isn’t as sophisticated or quiet as that of the Volkswagen Polo or Ford Fiesta at low speeds.

Pitch this car into a bend near the limit of grip and the net result is the same: slow, gathering understeer

The steering is only averagely incisive and low on feedback, but it’s faithful, consistently paced and free of interference.

The Fabia doesn’t exactly dart into bends, its directional responses being quite sedate for something so small and its body movements fairly languid. It contains roll well, though, and is perfectly reasonable at the kind of speeds at which Fabias will routinely be driven. Grip levels, while overtly configured for unfalteringly benign cornering, are good.

At higher out-of-town speeds and on turbulent country roads, the Fabia’s bias towards comfort and security rather than outright body control and handling precision becomes apparent, although never truly problematic.

A testing sequence of lumps and dips tackled fairly hard will bring out more exaggerated body movement than in the best-handling small cars, since the chassis lacks the deft, close primary ride control of the likes of the Fiesta and Renault Clio.

But ultimately, the Fabia is sufficiently well damped that it still feels like a well rounded, sophisticated customer, and its suspension seldom fails to take the edge off the sharpest, nastiest intrusions that you come across.


Skoda Fabia

Skoda frequently promises pricing and equipment from the class below the size of car that it produces, and although this Fabia in SE-L guise, at £14,240, doesn’t quite uphold the honour of Skoda’s larger offerings (or Fabias from the lower end of the range), it’s still extremely competitive.

And although, often, adding vast quantities of equipment when you specify a new car means that you won’t see much of a return when it comes to reselling it, the fact that all of this is standard – plus the fact that the Fabia is a doyenne of private buyers – means that its residual values hold up strongly.

Our 89bhp 1.2 TSI test car returned 44.9mpg on our True MPG test - well short of its claimed economy of 60.1mpg

The running costs are competitive, too, without being class-leading. Our 89bhp 1.2 TSI test car, run through the True MPG test, returned 44.9mpg – well short of its claimed economy of 60.1mpg, but credible enough for a four-cylinder petrol engine.

Given the choice, we'd plump for the mid-range SE equipment level, with the 109bhp tune of the 1.2-litre TSI motor mated to the six-speed manual gearbox. Options we would pull the trigger on include metallic paint (£535), electric rear windows (£160), a front armrest (£95), the 'Simply Clever' storage pack (£75) and a spacesaver spare wheel (£85).



4 star Skoda Fabia

The Fabia is probably a better telltale of the state of the Skoda brand than any of its other models, and this one speaks of a company in transition.

It’s a conventional car sitting plumb in the centre of its class on size and just below centre on price, and it leaves accepted norms unchallenged. Skoda's supermini is easy to use, comfy and grown-up, smart but anonymous to look at, classy but forgettable to drive.

It lacks Skoda's familiar distinctiveness, but the third-generation Fabia is packed with good sense

That said, it is tough to be bold in the supermini segment and, in the absence of originality, pragmatic buyers will happily accept this car’s considerable practicality and quality, carefully hewn dynamic maturity, obliging ease of use and unquestionable value for money.

Although it’s a long way from great, the Fabia is evidently a very good addition to the supermini ranks and demands rational consideration in a way that the Renault Clio, Peugeot 208 and Citroën DS3 – all more desirable cars now forced out of our top five – simply do not.


Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Skoda Fabia 2014-2021 First drives