Skoda Fabia review
The Skoda Fabia has grown up and now brings a serious challenge to the established Volkswagen Polo
The Skoda Fabia shares a platform with the VW Polo and SEAT Ibiza, and there's a Skoda Fabia vRS version for keen drivers, but for everyday motorists, the standard Fabia is a popular, reliable and cheap-to-run supermini. Soft suspension gives it a comfortable ride, but it doesn't handle as sharply as rivals like the Ford Fiesta. You do get a wide choice of engines and the option of a seven-speed, dual-clutch DSG gearbox, which makes both town driving and motorway cruising easier and more refined. The Skoda Fabia Greenline model adds superb fuel economy to the mix, and special editions such as the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo are packed with standard equipment. All Fabias have a solidly built interior, it doesn't have the same upmarket feel as those from other VW Group brands.
Our choice: 1.2 TSI (105) DSG SE Plus
This model of Skoda Fabia is a few years old now, but it still looks smart and was a big improvement on its boxy predecessor. The front end is similar to that of the Skoda Roomster, but it doesn't share the squared-off look seen on newer Skodas such as the Rapid and Octavia. The Fabia also looks taller than the VW Polo on which it's based, plus it has a steeper windscreen and classy black A-pillars. They give the Fabia a 'floating roofline' effect not dissimilar to that of the much more expensive Range Rover. Dark plastics dominate inside, but the cabin is very well screwed together and clearly laid-out nonetheless. The Skoda Fabia Estate is a more practical choice than the hatchback, but suffers from slightly awkward looks.
As the Fabia shares its underpinnings with the VW Polo, the driving experience is reassuringly solid and composed. It's not what you'd call exciting, though, and a soft suspension set-up sees the Fabia rolling from side to side quite a lot in bends. That suspension does work well on rough UK roads, however, so buyers may prefer it to the more stiffly sprung Polo. Precise steering and a satisfyingly snappy five-speed manual gearbox also count in the Fabia's favour, but we'd recommend the pricier yet very impressive seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission instead of the manual. It makes light work of stop-start city driving, while also shifting quickly and smoothly at higher speeds to improve refinement on the motorway.
Skoda has an excellent reputation for building very dependable cars, and it was the top-rated brand in our Driver Power 2013 survey. The Fabia itself is a little dated after nearly seven years on sale, so understandably it finished behind the company's newer offerings, such as the Skoda Superb and Skoda Yeti. However, it did beat its VW Group cousins, the SEAT Ibiza and VW Polo. The Fabia also shows its age when it comes to safety, scoring four out of a possible five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test and only offering ESP as an optional extra. On the plus side, multiple airbags are standard.
That tall roof makes the Fabia look a bit gawky from the outside, but helps it to be very spacious inside. Four adults will fit comfortably in a Fabia, with a fifth being able to squeeze in for shorter journeys. Useful storage areas can be found throughout the cabin: there's a specially designed bottle holder and some very spacious door bins. The Fabia is generally well equipped, but it's worth noting that the cheapest versions do without air-conditioning. The Fabia hatchback's boot can swallow 315 litres of luggage – more than you'll fit in a VW Polo (280 litres) or SEAT Ibiza (292 litres). The Honda Jazz gets the better of the Fabia here, though, as it can take an impressive 379 litres. The previously mentioned Fabia Estate offers maximum practicality – 505 litres with the rear seats in place and 1,485 litres with them lowered.
The Skoda Fabia has several petrol and diesel engines to choose from, starting with the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol. It's quite noisy and needs to be worked hard, but can return over 50mpg if driven gently. The 1.2 TSI petrol is a better choice if your budget allows – it has more low-down power than the basic 1.2, yet it's also more fuel-efficient, returning 53mpg. Those covering high mileages should consider a Skoda Fabia diesel. The 1.6-litre TDI offers a great compromise between power and efficiency, with reasonably low CO2 emissions, too. For the lowest possible running costs, though, you should choose the 1.2 TDI Greenline model, which emits only 89g/km of CO2 and can return and amazing 83mpg.