What is it?
This is the all-new Fabia, the cornerstone of Skoda's range. It goes on sale in the UK on 17 May (though prices have yet to be confirmed), with a range of engines from 1.2 to 1.6-litre petrols, and 1.4 or 1.9-litre diesels. We've already tried the 1.2 petrol, but this our first go in the 1.9 diesel.
The engine isn't new – it's the familiar VW-sourced pumpe duse unit that's been used in everything from the previous Fabia to Audis. The car, however, is all-new, from its platform (which will also underpin the next VW Polo) to its slightly larger, slightly curvier body.
What's it like?
If you'll excuse the well-worn pun, it's Fabialous. The exterior design is reminiscent of the Suzuki Swift, one of the best-looking superminis, and the interior is restrained and respectably refined. Cabin materials are generally high quality, though it feels a little sombre inside next to, say, the new Corsa.
The new Fabia is ever so slightly longer than the old car (2cm) and near-as-dammit as wide, but 5cm taller. That makes for better headroom, especially in the back, where six-footers will be comfy. There's lots of room all round inside, including much more kneeroom than before in the front.
All your odds and ends get plenty of room too. There are two gloveboxes up front (the lower chilled if you have air-con), cup holders, bottleholders, a sunglass storage slot in the ceiling and a bigger boot (300 litres, 1163 litres with the seats down). We especially liked the shopping bag hooks and flexible plastic net to stop oddments rolling around in the boot. These things are important in a supermini.
The pumpe duse engine isn't the most refined of things, but it's no worse than some versions of the new 2.0 unit. You can feel vibrations through the pedals, but you soon stop noticing. It pulls nicely from not much more than tickover, really starts to run when the turbo comes in, and there's little lag. A whole heap of torque (177lb ft from 1900rpm) mean that it should pull just as nicely when laden.
The steering is light but direct, though it's not exactly brimming with feel. It makes the Fabia easy to punt around town. The ride is excellent. Our test car rode on 16-inch alloys, but even over cobblestones left us unruffled. Body control is good, though the Corsa is ultimately a more involving machine.
Refinement is truly impressive. Even at well above UK motorway limits, there's very little tyre roar, our only complaint being noticeable wind noise from the front windscreen pillars. Still, that you can easily converse at these speeds without raising voices is some achievement.
Should I buy one?
Unquestionably. The 1.9 TDi engine gives the Fabia all the power it needs to be a proper all-rounder, as at home on the motorway as on the high street. It might not be the most desirable supermini out there, but the Fabia is so all-round competent that it would be foolish to overlook – if the pricing's right. UK prices have yet to be confirmed, but expect them to be very similar to those of the outgoing car.
Specifications are also to be confirmed, but Skoda will be offering Mercedes-like trim levels: Classic, Ambiente, Sport and Elegance. Even the Classic gets front and side airbags, while the top spec includes climate control. There's no EuroNCAP crash-test rating, but we'd expect it to perform well.