Skoda Fabia

Pretty new Fabia scores Gen Y-baiting tech

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

SLOWLY but surely, Skoda is working its way into the Australian consciousness.

With a slightly oddball line-up that prides itself in offering something clearly differentiated from the DNA that spawned it, Skoda has become a brand for thinking people who value function over form.

That was certainly the case with the narrow-gutted old Fabia, but the new-gen is the face of the new Skoda. Smart and spacious like before, but also stylish and sexy, priced from just $16K driveaway.

The 2015 Fabia is as mainstream as a Skoda gets, and maintains one of the Czech brandís traditions by offering class-leading luggage space (a huge 505 litres in the wagon). But its proportions have been altered significantly. Wider and lower, yet up to 112kg lighter, it looks much better on the road, and feels more planted too.

Dynamically, think of it as a Polo with a bit more personality.

The base 66TSI manual rides with impressive pliancy and polished refinement on coarse surfaces, though thereís also a fair amount of body roll in corners. But it seems to enjoy changing direction more than its VW cousin. With a perforated-leather wheel, a brisk 2.6 turns lock-to-lock, grippy front seats and an encouraging fivespeed manual shift, the boggo Fabia is something of a little gem.

About the only serious omission is a lack of cruise control, which can be optioned in a $1300 Travel Pack that also scores you 16-inch alloys (base are steel 15s), LED running lights and a fatigue detection system. But you canít just have cruise by itself.

The 66kW/160Nm 1.2-litre turbo four isnít a sporting engine, but itís wonderfully tractable, with an ability to pull from 1250rpm.

Thereís even a whiff of induction growl at low revs that enhances the 66TSIís personality, though from 5500rpm to the 6400 cut-out, itís more about producing noise than anything else.

The 81kW/175Nm version, available solely with a sevenspeed DSG in the 81TSI ($20K driveaway) is quicker to 100km/h (9.4sec), equally as economical (4.8L/100km), and adds cruise, a front centre armrest and 15-inch alloys. But with that sticker, the Fabia DSG is squarely at the upper end of auto light-hatch pricing.

The sports-suspended 81TSI hatch we drove at launch cost $22,840, and while we canít fault the quality finish of its interior, or its equipment, thatís VW Polo money. And what the sporty tune does to the ride, you donít necessarily gain back in handling.

Our favourite Fabia by far is the base wagon. The manual asks $17,140 (plus $300 for driveaway) and requires only the Travel Pack to make it the one to have. Unless you need AWD, it makes every small SUV virtually redundant.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Skoda Fabia 66TSI Ambition wagon 1197cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 66kW @ 4400-5400rpm 160Nm @ 1400-3500rpm 5-speed manual 1066kg 11.0sec (claimed) 4.8L/100km $17,140 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Cruise control not standard; sports suspension lacks ride suppleness Classy cabin; tractable engines; manual shift; safety and practicality

Play for today

EVERY Fabia offers a gutsy six-speaker surround-sound stereo with Smartlink Ė a touchscreen system capable of connecting to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

On the Apple version we tried, Siri can answer questions, send texts or read out messages, which is bloody awesome in a small car like this. You can access all your phone apps, as well as all the other features packed into the Fabiaís Bolero stereo, though CarPlay requires a physical cable connection to the USB port to sync with the system.