First Drive Review: Skoda Fabia 2015

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Author: | Updated: 25 Oct 2014 22:35

The third-gen Fabia is better looking, more practical and more economical than its predecessor, and comes closer than ever to the class-leading Fiesta and Polo.

When we drove the old Fabia Monte Carlo earlier this year, we described the car as ‘overdue retirement’. Skoda evidently thought so too, and the Czech company has redesigned its B-segment hatchback to create this: the Fabia Mk3.

Superminis like the Fabia make up the majority of new car sales in the UK and given that the little Skoda has so far racked up sales in excess of 3.5 million worldwide, it’s no surprise that Skoda describes it as its most important new product of the year.

MQB-derived technology

At first glance, the Fabia seems completely redesigned, with the sit-up-and-beg looks of the old car making way for a lower, sportier stance and angular features from the Vision C concept shown off at Geneva. Not only is the new car lower, but it’s wider, too, with the total width up 9cm compared to the outgoing model.

The new Skoda Fabia's looks have been improved, but has the package as a whole?

Under the skin, however, the Fabia is actually less of a ground-up revamp than expected. Despite speculation when the first sketches were revealed before Paris, the basic platform has remained unchanged, but modifications have been made in the form of technology stolen from the larger MQB cars like the Octavia, SEAT Leon and Volkswagen Golf.

The fact that there’s nothing that new about the new Fabia’s underside, though, is unlikely to put many people off. The old Fabia drove well, and the new car’s MQB-derived technology has done little damage to that. And anyway, with an all-new body and different dimensions, the neighbours won’t know that some of the oily bits are old hat.

Largest boot in the class

Inside, Skoda has raided the parts bin to festoon the dashboard with pieces of trim and switchgear familiar to drivers of other models in the Czech company’s line-up. Some parts have been taken from the Rapid, like the steering wheel, while others, like the infotainment screen offered on the mid-range SE model and above, have been lifted from the Octavia.

It’s all tried and tested equipment and it’s slotted into the dashboard with the solid build quality we have come to expect from Skoda these days. Admittedly, there are one or two hard plastics to be found, but it’s all been well screwed together.

The added dimensions have allowed luggage space to grow by 15 litres, keeping the Fabia well ahead of its competitors with the largest boot in the class. Even the ever-popular Ford Fiesta’s perfectly respectable 280-litre boot is dwarfed by the Fabia’s 330-litre load space.

When the ‘Combi’ estate version comes to market at the start of 2015, its cavernous 530-litre boot will be larger than the C-segment Volkswagen Golf’s.

Despite this, Skoda claims that the Fabia’s real selling point is not so much practicality as technology. Basic equipment includes Bluetooth and USB connectivity, stop/start and DAB digital radio, all for £10,600, while upgrading to the mid-range SE and top-spec SE-L models (from £12,760 and £13,610 respectively) earns you a 6.5in infotainment screen as a standard feature.

Inside, the Fabia plays host to a raft of gizmos pinched from other Skodas, but it's all well put together

As satellite navigation was poorly received in the old car (just 1% of UK buyers specified it), the new car has been equipped with MirrorLink technology, as seen on the Peugeot 108 and its cousins, the Toyota Aygo and Citroen C1. The system takes the display output of a paired smartphone and shows it on the touchscreen, providing a satellite navigation system, as well as other functions like a media centre.

Most of the other on-board technology comes in the form of safety assistance systems, such as the tyre pressure monitoring system, City Emergency Braking and so on.

Cheap to run

Under the new bonnet, customers can choose from a large engine line-up, ranging from the three-cylinder, 1.0-litre MPI petrol engine to the 1.4-litre, four-cylinder diesel, via the 1.2-litre petrol, also with four cylinders. Power outputs vary between 59 and 109bhp, but whichever engine you go for, it’ll be cheap to run, as official fuel consumption won’t drop below 58.8mpg and VED will set you back no more than £20 a year.

Overall, improvements to the engines and a 65kg drop in weight has seen economy increase by as much as 15.8mpg and CO2 emissions fall by between 14 and 22g/km.

Skoda expects the 74bhp version of the 1.0-litre MPI engine (58.8mpg and 0-62mph in 14.7s) to be the biggest seller, despite it being slightly less efficient than its 59bhp sister engine (60.1mpg and 0-62mph in 15.7s). It’s marginally less kind to the environment, too, emitting CO2 at a rate of 108g/km, compared to the 60hp unit’s 106g/km.

If it’s efficiency you’re after, though, the diesels are likely to be for you. Opting for the 89bhp diesel with a manual gearbox will see CO2 emissions down at a VED-busting 88g/km and, according to the official figures, fuel consumption could hit 83.1mpg.

Fitting this engine makes the Fabia one of the greenest superminis on the market, but the cleanest Fiesta just edges it, managing 85.6mpg and the BlueMotion Polo is, officially, good for 91mpg. Opting for the slick seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox will cause the Fabia’s figures to suffer, but only by about 5mpg and 6g/km.

For the few buying this car for a fun drive, the 1.2-litre TSI 110 engine will appeal most. With the sad passing of the VRS models, none of the engines in the range offer scintillating performance, but this 109bhp power unit is the strongest of the bunch, taking the Fabia to 62mph in 9.4 seconds and on to a 122mph top speed, regardless of the gearbox.

Choosing the DSG ‘box, though, will make a slight difference at the pumps, because the automatic improves on the manual’s 1.0-litre-matching 58.8mpg consumption very slightly to take it over the 60mpg mark.

Skoda has worked hard to make the new Fabia more efficient than ever

Of the powertrains, the pick is probably the diesel, which has a punchy power delivery, though it is a bit grumbly, especially at low speed around town. The petrols are cheaper, as well as smoother and slightly more refined, but with less torque they don’t feel so gutsy and they can’t match the diesel’s fuel economy.

Less impressive where it matters

So far, so good for the new Fabia, but while the Mk3 car has improved over the Mk2 on paper, it’s less impressive where it matters: on the road.

The addition of the weight-saving MQB engineering should have improved the way the Fabia drives, but it seems to have done the exact opposite.

Although the sharp, go-kart handling of the old car was the one feature that should have been left well alone, the new electro-mechanical assistance has made the steering little less feelsome. While the steering itself isn’t heavy, it feels like it’s labouring to redirect a heavy car. That comes as something of a surprise when Skoda is so proud of the substantially reduced kerb weight.

Of course, the new power steering system is lighter and it pulls less power from the engine, but it has made the car less enjoyable to drive and the benefit isn’t that great; perhaps it’s a trade-off which wasn’t worth making.

The ride, too, isn’t all it could be. It’s quite comfortable on a smooth motorway, but while a good supermini should be a competent cruiser, it’ll spend most of its time in town and it’s there it should excel.

Sadly, the Fabia struggles over the lumps and bumps that litter city centres with the suspension crashing over potholes, drain covers, tram lines and cobblestones with quite a jolt.

The verdict

This third-generation Fabia is certainly an improvement over the old car, boasting better environmental credentials, a sharp new suit and even more practicality.

However, the price has crept up very slightly and the new car’s ride and handling aren’t quite as good as they were.

We wouldn’t recommend it ahead of the Fiesta or the Polo, but if, for whatever reason, you don’t want one of those, the Fabia is definitely worth a look.

Skoda Fabia at a glance

For:

+ Efficient diesel engine range
+ Hugely practical
+ Looks have improved dramatically

Against:

- Handling blunted by MQB-derived tweaks
- Slightly crashy ride
- Some hard cabin plastics

Vital stats

Length: 3,992mm
Width: 1,732mm
Height: 1,467mm
Wheelbase: 2,470mm
Kerb weight: 980kg-1,111kg
Boot space: 330 litres
Engines: 1.0 MPI 60 (5-spd man), 1.0 MPI 75 (5-spd man), 1.2 TSI 90 (5-spd man), 1.2 TSI 110 (6-spd man/7-spd DSG auto), 1.4 TDI 90 (5-spd man/7-spd DSG auto), 1.4 TDI 105 (5-spd man)
Trims: S, SE, SE-L
Cheapest: 1.0 MPI 60 S - £10,600 OTR
Priciest: 1.4 TDI 90 DSG - £17,240 OTR
Greenest: 1.4 TDI 90 – 83.1mpg, 88g/km
Fastest: 1.2 TSI 110 – 0-62mph 9.4s, 122mph
Rivals: Ford Fiesta, VW Polo, SEAT Ibiza

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