Skoda Fabia 3 1.6 Tiptronic

Solid, practical rival gets six-speed sequential transmission

Believe it or not, the Skoda Fabia is the old stager in this test. The practical and well equipped Czech supermini is only two years old, though, and still has a lot going for it – including an advanced six-speed tiptronic automatic gearbox.

Externally, there’s nothing to distinguish this Fabia from other models in the line-up. It features the familiar chunky lines, bold headlamps and upright stance. Our test car was given an extra dash of visual appeal by its optional white roof. Even this can’t hide the fact that the Skoda is beginningto look a little dated, however. The same applies to the Fabia’s cabin.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Skoda Fabia

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The robustness of its build and quality of the plastics aren’t in question, but the design is sombre. Look past the utilitarian facade, though, and you’ll find a practical and spacious interior that accommodates five adults. There’s plenty of storage space, too, with numerous cubbyholes, drinks holders and a neat double-decker glovebox. Fold the rear bench flat, and you’ll free up a useful 1,163 litres of carrying capacity.

Our top-of-the-range Fabia 3 is the most expensive car in our trio, but comes packed with kit, including cruise control and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. On paper, the Skoda’s gearbox should provide the best compromise here. Like the i20, it uses a traditional torque converter, which promises smooth and fuss-free progress. But slide the lever to the right, and you can select ratios manually by pulling back or forwards for sequential down and upshifts respectively.

In practice, the six-speed unit is a mixed bag. Although it’s not as intuitive as the Honda’s wheel-mounted paddleshift set-up, the Skoda’s tiptronic mode is effective, and allows you to hold a gear all the way to the engine’s red line. But leaving it in the ‘D’ setting can result in erratic progress. Unless you are extremely delicate with the throttle pedal, the transmission searches between gears, constantly swapping between fifth and sixth on shallow motorway inclines.

This issue is made worse by the gruff 1.6-litre engine, which is loud and sounds strained even at medium revs. On the plus side, the 105bhp unit is the most powerful here, giving the Skoda an advantage at the test track. The sprint from 0-60mph took 11.5 seconds – one second faster than either of its rivals. But its performance advantage is cancelled out by its indecisive gearbox and harsh engine on the road.

Keen drivers will also be put off by the Skoda’s uninspiring chassis. There’s plenty of grip, and the steering is direct, although poor body control results in lots of roll in corners. And while high-speed road comfort is good, the Fabia struggles to soak up bumps around town. And then there’s the price. At £13,260, the Czech model is £2,415 more than the Hyundai. The entry Fabia 1 costs £11,180, but even at this price, it faces a stiff challenge.

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: With an automatic six-speed box and Tiptronic selection, Fabia should offer the best of both worlds.

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