Skoda knows a thing or two about estates – the Octavia is one of the best models in its class and the Superb is absolutely peerless in the large family car segment. So, does the Fabia replicate their talents?
Not from the outside it doesn’t! While its bigger stablemates are both very attractive and stylish propositions, the dumpy Fabia doesn’t boast the same appeal. Compared to the sporty SEAT, the Skoda seems heavy and straight-laced. However, we are big fans of Scout trim, which adds tough-looking protective panels to the lower bodywork, as well as unique alloys and silver roof rails. They give it the appearance of a mini off-roader.
Where the Fabia does live up to its maker’s reputation is on the inside. At the front there are few surprises, with simple instruments, high-quality switchgear and decent materials. There’s plenty of equipment, too, including cruise control, a three-spoke leather steering wheel, front centre armrest and stainless steel pedals.
The driving position is good and offers a wide range of adjustment, and excellent build quality throughout makes the supermini feel like a classy offering.
Rear passengers are well catered for with noticeably more leg and headroom than in the SEAT. And when you open the tailgate there’s additional space in there, too. The 480-litre boot is 50 litres bigger than the Ibiza’s, and this advantage increases to 296 litres when you fold the back seats flat.
Neat touches inside the luggage area include a pair of flip-out hooks for carrier bags (the SEAT has four fixed items), a 12-volt power socket and a simple retractable load cover.
However, you get a can of tyre sealant instead of a spare wheel, and the vacant space beneath the boot floor, where you would expect to find an extra rim, is hard to make use of. We would recommend investing £45 in the optional full-sized spare tyre.
While the Skoda leads the way in this test for practicality and usability, it takes a back seat for keen drivers. Its softer suspension set-up and taller body have an obvious effect on handling, resulting in more roll in tight bends than you get in the SEAT, and more dive under heavy braking.
However, it still steers with precision and copes with bumps and scarred road surfaces much more smoothly than the firmly sprung Ibiza. As a result, it strikes a more even balance between comfort and handling than its Spanish competitor. One complaint which affects both machines tested here is a rubbery gearshift – but this is one of the very few criticisms we can level against the charming Skoda from behind the wheel.
Despite its lower power output, the 89bhp Fabia provides decent pace. It sprinted from 0-60mph in 11.6 seconds, only seven-tenths slower than the 104bhp SEAT. And during our in-gear tests, it was actually faster in the higher ratios. It does all of this while producing lower CO2 emissions and returning superior fuel economy.
So, if you can live with its conservative looks, the spacious Skoda makes real sense.
Chart position: 1
WHY: Small, practical and quirky – if you want a supermini estate that’s a bit different, look no further. And it’s a match for the SEAT on price.