Skoda Fabia review
Well-liked Skoda Fabia supermini is a practical, well-priced five-door with Volkswagen integrity at Skoda prices
The Skoda Fabia is a well proven supermini contender that’s perhaps not the best option for thrill-seekers but is a superb car for long-term satisfaction. It’s very roomy, handles tidily, has some strong engines and the volume trim lines are very well stocked with kit.
The obvious draw is great value pricing. It’s not quite as bargain basement as it was, but the extra features offered by the Fabia more than justify the outlay. Standout qualities such as an excellent safety score and real attention to detail in the practicality department are further draws. Few superminis have paid such attention to the details that make everyday life that bit easier.
The smart styling should be timeless and the interior is also future-proofed thanks to Skoda’s impressive infotainment system. Add in some excellent value for money options and the Fabia proves itself as a five-door supermini sector front-runner.
The Skoda Octavia may have been the breakthrough Skoda back in the 1990s, but it was the Fabia that really put the brand on the map in the UK. First launched in 1999, it was a contemporary, good-to-drive five-door whose crisp style and all-round abilities played an enormous role in turning around Skoda’s old (and now-forgotten) Eastern Bloc image.
The first-gen Fabia range even included a hot hatch, the brilliant turbodiesel vRS, a car that’s sought after by enthusiasts today. The second generation Fabia continued this success, stacking up well alongside new value-brand rivals such as the Hyundai i20 and Kia Rio. The hot vRS, by now a twincharger petrol model, may have lost its edge but the rest of the range continued to impress both Auto Express road testers and the many thousands of owners who have bought it.
In 2014, Skoda launched this third generation Fabia, the car boasting the sharp-edged design that’s a current brand theme. It’s still an understated machine (this isn’t a criticism – it’s exactly what owners want) but with more contemporary detailing and more modern features.
Image 2 of 42
As mentioned, the Fabia competes with both value models such as the Korean duo, plus higher-spec Dacia Sandero models and the Suzuki Swift. But its spacious five-door-only body and Skoda’s insistence on making super-practical cars no matter what sector they compete in, means it also takes on the ultra-flexible Honda Jazz, Nissan Note and the well-packaged Toyota Yaris. Being part of the Volkswagen Group means it also has an inter-family rival, the Volkswagen Polo.
Speaking of Volkswagen Group engineering, note the Fabia’s based on an updated ‘hybrid’ version of the current-shape Polo PQ25 platform, which also includes technology from the MQB architecture. It’s thus bigger, roomier and lighter than the previous generation Fabia, and offers more modern infotainment features.
Engines are shared with other small Volkswagen Group cars, with the emphasis on petrol power. There’s the 1.0-litre three-cylinder non-turbo from the Volkswagen Up (and Skoda Citigo), offered in 59bhp and 73bhp guise, but our preference is the four-cylinder 1.2-litre TSI which comes in either 88bhp or 108bhp form. The sole diesel engine is the 1.4-litre TDI three-cylinder which comes in either 88bhp or 103bhp guise.
Happily, Skoda keeps the trim line-up straightforward as well: it’s S, SE and SE L. A more recent addition is the sporty-look Monte Carlo model, reintroduced here following its popularity on the old version of the Fabia. There is, however, no hot vRS version – and, as things stand, no plans to reintroduce one, either.
Engines, performance and drive
The latest Skoda Fabia is a very accomplished car to drive. It benefits from a chassis that’s more highly developed than its siblings, the Volkswagen Polo and SEAT Ibiza, putting the extra size and sophistication of its MQB componentry to good use.
Precise steering and the lower kerbweight of the latest Fabia mean it handles more neatly than the previous version, proving light on its feet and nimble in town. While the 1.0 engines weigh in at under a tonne, the sweet spot of the range is actually the 1,034kg 1.2 TSI 90, but do be aware the 1.4 TDI diesel pushes kerbweight up to over 1,100kg, largely over the front axle: these versions thus have a little less finesse.
The Fabia’s chassis has plenty of integrity and the large car componentry helps it shrug off bigger, nastier bumps with ease. That said, it can be a little taut and fidgety over roads with less heavy-duty bumps, although this slightly firmer setup than previous models does aid body control and handling.
At speed, the Fabia is impressively composed, again with the feel of a larger car than it is. This is why you may want to choose one of the more powerful engines to make it more of an all-rounder: the 1.0-litre units struggle when speeds rise.
Image 6 of 42
As for brakes, lower-power models have discs at the front but drums at the rear, reflecting the likelihood they’ll be driven more slowly. For ultimate stopping power, choose the 1.2 TSI 110 or 1.4 TDI 105. A hill-hold function, stopping rollbacks in town, is a £60 option on all models (and standard on the DSG versions).
The 1.0-litre petrol engines that work so well in the Up and Citigo do struggle a little in the larger Fabia. The five-door supermini isn’t too much of a step up in weight, which helps a bit, but there’s still no escaping the base car’s meek 15.7-second to 62mph pace. The 73bhp version doesn’t actually offer any more torque either; it cuts a second from the 0-62mph time purely through top-end power. In the real world, it won’t feel much faster and you’ll have to work both engines hard.
Our tip is to thus choose the 1.2-litre TSI turbo, in either 88bhp or 108bhp guise. The figures say it all: the 1.2 TSI 90 produces 160Nm of torque, instead of the 1.0 MPI 75’s 95Nm – and does so from 1,400-3,500rpm instead of a peaky 3,000-4,300rpm.
Image 8 of 42
While the MPI engines are throbby and characterful, the ultra-refined nature of the 1.2 TSI is much more appealing. It fades into the background and often, because it demands so few revs around town, is as refined as a much larger car. The TSI 110 may prove better on a motorway though – it has a six-speed gearbox to cut revs, rather than the TSI 90’s five-speed unit.
The 1.4-litre TDI is a familiar engine offered in 88bhp or 103bhp format. It’s smoother and less clattery here than in older Fabia, but the throbby hum is still noticeable on the move and it’s not an engine you’ll rev for fun. With 230Nm produced from 1,750-2,300rpm, you arguably don’t need to; even peak power is yours from a still-accessible 3,000-3,250rpm.
Both five- and six-speed gearboxes are snappy and ultra-light in the usual Volkswagen Group way. The six-speed’s perhaps a bit more precise, but there’s not much in it. With the most powerful petrol and TDI 90 diesel engine, you can choose an optional DSG twin-clutch automatic, using the Volkswagen Group seven-speed unit. Performance is identical on both manual and automatic; the DSG is actually a tiny bit more fuel efficient and emits a little less CO2, although not enough to change the car’s tax band.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Skoda Fabia uses the latest-generation Volkswagen Group engine tech – no dated hand-me-downs here, which ensures fuel economy is strong across the board. Every petrol engine returns at least 59mpg and there isn’t a single diesel that averages less than 74mpg.
The basic 1.0 MPI 60 is a 60mpg car emitting 106g/km CO2, that can be further improved to 61.4mpg with the optional 15-inch low rolling resistance tyres offered on all Fabia. The 1.0 MPI 75 can’t hit 60mpg on the combined cycle in base guise but does improve to 60.1mpg with them fitted. Both versions are sub-110g/km CO2 models as well.
Image 10 of 42
Impressively, the 1.2 TSI 90 is actually more fuel-efficient than the lower-powered MPI petrol, matching the entry-level engine with 60.1mpg in regular guise and 61.4mpg with the eco-optimised tyres. As for the 1.2 TSI 110, that averages 58.9mpg or 60.1mpg with the DSG gearbox: again, choose 15-inch wheels to improve things further. Every 1.2 TSI emits 110g/km CO2 or less too.
The 1.4 TDI 90 averages 78.5mpg on the combined cycle, which is lifted to a very impressive 83.3mpg with the 15-inch wheels. CO2 falls correspondingly, from 93g/km to just 88g/km. Here, the optional DSG version is a little less fuel efficient, although the more powerful TDI 105 does match the lower-powered diesel on mpg and CO2.
Insurance groups for the Skoda Fabia start at an ultra-low 2E for the 1.0 MPI 60 S. This reflects its modest performance: choosing the 1.0 MPI 75 doubles it to group 4E. Interestingly, the 1.0 MPI 75 SE is a group lower than the S, in group 3E: this is because the SE has an alarm as standard, something lacking on the S.
Indeed, across the board, insurance ratings are a group or two lower for the SE compared to the S. Worth bearing in mind if you’re contemplating whether the extra £1,360 for the SE over the S is worth it – you could make some of it back in insurance costs alone.
Image 29 of 42
Do note, there’s a bit of a jump up for the 1.2 TSI compared to the 1.0 MPI: a 1.2 TSI 90 SE is in group 8E (the S version is only offered with the 1.2 TSI S DSG, which is in group 13E). The higher-performance 1.2 TSI 110 jumps again, to group 12E, with the diesel coming in at group 10E, rising to 11E and 12E for higher-spec trim lines and the 105bhp version respectively.
There’s no extra premium for choosing the stylish, sporty-look Monte Carlo over the regular SE L, incidentally.
The latest Skoda Fabia boasts some very impressive retained values for a small supermini-sized car. The best version overall is actually the entry-level 1.0 MPI 60 S, which retains nearly 51% of its value after three years, the sort of slow depreciation normally associated with in-demand premium cars.
Our choice 1.0 TSI 90 SE retains almost 48%, the same as a TDI 90 S, although SE, SE L and Monte Carlo diesels do retain a bit less, curiously. In terms of secondhand market demand, it seems more basic is best for the 1.4 TDI Fabia. Saying that, the more powerful TDI 105 does restore the balance with an RV of 47% in Monte Carlo spec and 48% as an SE L.
Do note, DSG alternatives generally retain a couple of per cent less than their manual equivalents – worth bearing in mind, particularly as these models cost £1,000 more up front.
Interior, design and technology
The latest Fabia sports a sharper-edged design than its predecessor, more in keeping with the purist original. The large Octavia-style chrome grille is distinctive and the deep, crisp side featureline is smart. We also like the ‘kick’ at the base of the rear side window, a feature seen on other Skodas.
Inside, things are a little more generic. Skoda focuses on simple, user-friendly logic for its interiors, which means swoopy style is substituted for plain layout and coherency. Clear dials, straightforward heater controls and big, chunky switchgear familiar from other Volkswagen Group models ensures it’s fuss-free to use, if not as interesting as some more stylish rivals. It’s well built but the solid, sturdy plastics aren’t as rich as in a Polo.
Neat features such as a rear courtesy light and front reading lights are standard on all. SE models have a standard speed limiter; another convenience feature is standard rear parking sensors.
Image 34 of 42
The SE L ups the technology count further still with LED running lights, climate control air con, cruise control, KESSY GO keyless start and an auto-dip rear view mirror.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
High in the centre of the dash is the radio – which, from SE grade and above, becomes a touchscreen system called Bolero, compete with telephone control, USB, SD card slots and Skoda’s SmartLink app-display system. It’s a tech-packed feature that’s an impressive standard feature on the volume SE variant. It can be upgraded to Amundsen sat nav for £500 on all but base variants.
Image 3 of 42
DAB radio is also standard on all Fabias, and SE and above cars also have an upgraded six-speaker surround sound system from Arkamys. Voice control can be added to SE trim and above for just £30.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The practical and roomy Fabia is one of the most flexible superminis on sale, with plentiful comfort for both front and rear seat occupants.
Skoda has sized the Fabia to perfectly hit the supermini ideal average dimensions. It’s a smidgen under four metres at 3,992mm long, 1,732mm wide and 1,467mm tall. The Monte Carlo is a tiny bit bigger: 4,028mm long and 1,472mm tall: this is due to its black-accented bodykit and the larger 16-inch standard wheels.
With its extended rear, the Skoda Fabia Estate is bigger than the hatchback. It’s 4,257mm long and, thanks to standard roof rails, 1,488mm tall. To help make parking easier, SE models and above have standard rear parking sensors; acoustic front and rear sensors are a £290 option.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The spacious Fabia offers impressive space up front, with a height adjustable driver’s seat and both height and reach-adjust steering wheel combining with lots of seat fore-and-aft adjustment to allow a good driving position to be found. Leg room is ample and there’s lots of headroom – again, the height-adjust driver’s seat lets even taller occupants strike the right balance.
Image 4 of 42
It’s even better in the rear. This is sometimes an area where smaller superminis can struggle but the Fabia proves its family-friendly credentials here. Two six-footers can sit reasonably comfortably behind tall adults, and it will even take three adults without too much of a squeeze. Skoda’s reputation for making cars with bigger interiors than the norm is once again evident. The tall body design ensures ample headroom, too.
The Fabia can claim to have one of the biggest boots in the supermini sector. In standard guise, it offers 330 litres of space, which expands to 1,150 litres with the 60:40 split seats folded. Not only is this better than the 295 litres of the best-selling Ford Fiesta, it’s also a much better-planned space that’s easier to load. All versions have handy luggage hooks in the boot, practical touches that the Skoda brand is well known for.
Image 24 of 42
An option on all versions up from the base S is a space-saver spare wheel, costing £85. This does have an impact on boot capacity: seats-up luggage space is reduced to 305 litres, and seats-down capacity drops to 1,125 litres. Curiously, S and SE models with the DSG gearbox are fitted with a full-size spare wheel as standard, which has a bigger effect on boot space; if you want the reassurance of a full-size spare, it too costs £85.
A virtual must-have option is the bargain £65 Simply Clever pack. This comprises a useful net system and storage compartment in the boot, a holster for multimedia devices and even a tiny waste bin in the door panel! A variable boot floor is another handy option, costing just £110, and a bike carrier is available for £180.
Reliability and Safety
The previous generation Skoda Fabia wasn’t the best car in its sector for reliability, but we feel sure big improvements will be shown when this new model is first featured in the Auto Express Driver Power survey. It is based upon a well proven platform, using large car componentry, and uses some of Volkswagen Group’s highest volume engines.
The latest Fabia has an excellent five-star Euro NCAP safety score, with 81% for Adult Occupant protection, 81% for Child Occupant safety, 69% for Pedestrian safety and 69% for Safety Assist features.
All models have side and curtain airbags as standard, plus a front passenger airbag deactivation switch. There are ISOFIX mounts on the outer rear seats, a tyre pressure monitoring system and remote locking with SAFE function that prevents unlocking from the inside.
Even more impressive is the inclusion of standard Front Assist on SE models and above. This uses a front bumper radar to monitor for impending collisions – it sounds a warning buzzer to alert the driver and, if they don’t react, it will auto-brake to help minimise the effect of any collision, and possibly avoid one altogether. Another optional feature is also noteworthy – the driver fatigue sensor that’s offered on SE grade and above. Light and rain sensors are also available.
Skoda offers a three-year, 60,000-mile manufacturer warranty on the Fabia – which, it’s worth noting, doesn’t actually have a mileage cap for the first two years. Worth bearing in mind if you’re an ultra-high mileage user. It can be extended to four our five years with Skoda’s optional extended warranty. It’s backed up by a 12-year anti-perforation body warranty.
A three-year pan-European breakdown warranty is also included, and this is not capped by a mileage limit either. Skoda even includes three years’ ‘Ensurance’ cover: this is its free accident and repair cover that works alongside your existing car insurance policy to guarantee the use of Skoda-approved repairers, parts and technicians. You’ll even have a dedicated claims manager should you be involved in an accident – and Skoda will help you recover any uninsured losses.
Fabia new car buyers can choose whether to take fixed or variable service intervals. The fixed regime comes every 10,000 miles and is for those who cover lower mileages with more short journeys, heavy-duty use and often use high revs. The flexible regime, which is mainly for constant-speed motorway users, will flash up servicing needs variably between 9,000-20,000 miles, depending on use: if you’re easy on your Skoda, you can stretch services to a maximum of two years.