SKODA FABIA

MOSTLY COMMENDABLE SMALL CAR STUMBLES WHEN MARKED CLOSELY AGAINST VALUE EQUATION

JOHN CAREY

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

Stage ONE

STEP-by-step, Skoda is shedding its dowdy image.

The larger but lighter new Fabia, launched in Australia in mid-2015, is the latest (but not the last) in the range to adopt the Czech brand’s new design language. Its trademark fresh-ironed creases especially suit the pert proportions of the Fabia hatch. And if the Fabia wagon can’t match its sister’s looks, it has way more space and flexibility.

The Fabia wagon epitomises Skoda’s trademark pursuit of practicality. Its 505-litre cargo compartment, 200 litres larger than the hatch, really is a whopper. Both body styles feature plenty of places to stow stuff, too. The thought that’s been put into making the Fabia a more than averagely user-friendly small car is obvious.

The widespread use of hard plastics in the Fabia’s cabin and touches like old-school rotary-dial HVAC controls mean no-one will ever mistake the Skoda for a luxury car, but it all seems well put together. And the Fabia is bang up-to-date in some areas. Standard Smartlink tech means smartphones can be connected to the car and its 6.5-inch central screen using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Also unusual in such a small and relatively inexpensive car is the standard fitment of autonomous emergency braking tech, as well as an automatic post-collision braking system, technology yet to be introduced in some expensive VW Group models. The Fabia also gets six airbags standard, plus a five-star ANCAP safety rating. But the Skoda misses out on a reverse camera to complement its standard rear parking sensors.

The Fabia is among the best drives in its class.

Several judges praised its steering and chassis.

Electronic active safety systems were adequate rather than outstanding, and the poor grip of the Skoda’s standard 15-inch tyres on steel wheels was also noted. Optional 17-inch tyres on attractive alloy wheels (as on the hatch we tested) are grippier, but ride quality suffers somewhat.

The 66kW version of the VW Group 1.2-litre turbocharged four used with the manual, which is only a five-speed, delivers adequate performance.

The same engine, but boosted to 81kW, is teamed with a seven-speed dual-clutch option. Both drivetrains achieve a 4.8L/100km consumption figure in the official ADR81 test.

So the Fabia deserved middling-to-good ratings against most COTY criteria. Its downfall was value. The 66TSI manual entry point, at $15,990 driveaway, looks sharp. But the Volkswagen Polo (a close under-the-skin relative of the Fabia), while more expensive, comes standard with rear-view camera and cruise control. Cruise is included in a $1300 option pack in the Skoda.

Worse still is the big $4300 step up to the 81TSI engine and DSG transmission, bringing the price of the Fabia hatch perilously close to the Polo in top Comfortline spec. Also significant is the $2500 extra asked for the wagon body style.

Once Skoda begins delivering its product in Australia with a clearer price advantage compared to Volkswagen-badged equivalents, the Czechs may find themselves with a COTY winner on their hands. But not this time.

BODY

Type 5-door hatch/5-door wagon, 5 seats Boot capacity 305 – 505 litres Weight 1042 – 1111kg

DRIVETRAIN

Layout front engine (east-west), FWD Engine 1197cc 4cyl turbo (66kW/160Nm with manual, 81kW/175Nm with auto) Transmissions 5-speed manual; 7-speed dual-clutch

CHASSIS

Tyres 185/60R15 – 215/40R17 ADR81 fuel consumption 4.8L/100km CO2 emissions 109 – 111g/km Collision mitigation .

Crash rating 5-star (ANCAP) Prices $15,990 – $21,790

H A N DY A P P S

Illegal phone fumbles should be a thing of the past for Skoda owners with the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Known as Smartlink, the system mirrors your smartphone’s display onto the 6.5-inch screen in a similar, recognisable arrangement. Features like title and artist of your streamed music or receiving sat-nav directions can all be completed via the Fabia’s set-up, keeping your eyes and attention focused on where they should be.

“WHAT A LOVELY LITTLE CAR AND A GENUINE SURPRISE!” ALEX INWOOD

“A CAR TO SERVE PEOPLE’S REAL NEEDS, RATHER THAN THEIR MISGUIDED ASPIRATIONS” JOHN CAREY