With three diesel options to choose between, the reborn Fabia promises to be better than ever. Simon Hacker punts some prototypes through Portugal
It wasn’t exactly Pavarotti at La Scala, but as far as class acts go, the original Skoda Fabia made the grade as a supermini sensation. Following it will be tough, but follow it Skoda must: Renault has resharpened the Clio, Vauxhall’s Corsa is fresh out of the box, Toyota’s Yaris has plenty of new-car shine… I could go on. In terms of profit, this sector of Europe’s car market is about as calm as a piranha’s picnic – there are no fewer than 4.6 million potential customers across Europe for cars like this. Fabia 1 relished the feeding frenzy.
It has sold 1.5 million worldwide since 2000, a figure that includes 130,000 happy British customers. And nine out of 10 British buyers were reportedly happy to recommend the model to friends. They can’t all be liars. The original also bagged plenty of awards from esteemed international car writers, though I’ve met some of those, and they can be a bit strange. Indeed, the Fabia’s lasting legacy was not about bagging silverware. It was the car that finally proved that Skoda’s VW parentage had permeated to every nut, bolt and upholstery stitch.
Forged from Czech sweat and Deutsche direction, old Fabia was clearly fab. So, seven years on, is new Fabia fabbier? You’ll have to wait until May 17 to get up close, but my short sojourn in the company of the diesel options indicates that there may be more than a few good reasons to make this a hot diary date as Summer starts. If you have a slight ‘haven’t-we-met?’ feeling, it might be something to do with Skoda’s Roomster: from the tip of its nose, all the way back to the windscreen, this is the same machine.
Skoda talks about the car being more sporty than before (and its increased length and height – 22mm and 47mm respectively – certainly help afford a little more presence) but it’s boxier and less succinct in outline than before, thanks largely to the heavier schnozzle which has been beefed up to satisfy tougher EU pedestrian safety requirements. From the accentuated grille to the C-shape rear lights, the final shape is more masculine, more handsome than pretty. Impressions of a neatly-crafted car are reinforced by the inside story: with such basics as twin and side airbags, air con, ABS with electronic stability control, and even a pollen filter as standard on the entry-level Classic, you can rest assured that the word ‘budget’ will be the last thing on your lips.
Cheaper plastics are banished to untouchable surfaces – the dashboard is a balanced blend of soft-touch materials, and the buttons and control stalks carry an unmistakeable stamp of VW quality. The models tested here also sported leather-clad steering wheels, which wouldn’t be amiss in an Audi A3. Not that Skoda’s forgotten its honest-to-goodness rationale. Practicality here spells itself out in the form of a revised seating position, now 30mm taller than before, a steering wheel that adjusts for both rake and reach, and, on Sport and Elegance options, a height-adjustable driving seat. White detailing against a black background gives the instrumentation a slick finish, while making good logical sense. In the back, there is sufficient legroom for two six-footers to emerge unscathed, while suitcases may be comfier still: boot space now measures 300 cubic litres in all, with the rear seats folded; with them adjusted forward and folded flat, you get 1,163 litres for that spring-clean trip to the car boot sale.
We’re not talking Roomster for room, of course, but you’d be right to expect a little more satisfaction from behind the wheel of Skoda’s more svelte sibling. The engine choices are simple: two 1.4 turbodiesels tweaked to offer 69bhp or 80bhp; plus VW’s trusty 1.9-litre turbodiesel unit, set up here to deliver 105bhp. Your natural inclination in these times of carbon consciousness may be towards the three-cylinder 1.4. If so, I’d counsel the 80bhp option. Both taxi their way out of the car park with the aural finesse of a WW1 fighter plane: quiet they most certainly ARE NOT. However, out on the open road, the burble subsides and you should sense that the engine’s vocal exclamations are borne more of enthusiasm than complaint. At 120g/km, this unit is cleaner than its 69bhp alternative (it scores 127g/km), though neither hugely improves on the 1.9-litre’s 129g/km.
Enough soul-searching, though. What about the more tangible equation of performance versus pennies? If you don’t want your kids expelled for serial lateness, it really looks like the 1.9’s conscientious 10.7 seconds to 60mph is the winning factor. Considerably in its wake come the 80bhp 1.4, at 13.1 seconds, and the 69bhp option, at a must-do-better 14.7 seconds. In real-world terms though, the 80bhp 1.4 is far perkier and more practicable than these figures suggest. It has a handy dollop of urge between first and third gears, and it’s a dandy choice for urban scurrying. As a footnote, there is a detectable measure of vibration through the pedals.
Naturally, I hate to state this, but drive the comparatively super-smooth 1.2-litre petrol alternative in this new range, and you’ll feel sorely tempted to consider it instead. With such caveats in mind, the 1.9 does begin to look like a more sensible choice, though you might like to compare all three diesels’ official combined fuel figures: the 80bhp diesel is the most frugal, with a combined 61.4mpg; the 69bhp option returning 58.9mpg; and the 1.9-litre a notso- abysmal 57.7mpg. As we all know, of course, the tarmac truth will make such claims look a little optimistic, but the bottom line is that there’s very little between the options – and consequently little penalty for choosing the beefiest of the three. On real tarmac, it’s the 1.9 that feels the most confident and capable drive.
None of the new Fabias is going to blow you away in performance terms – all feel stable, compliant and dependable, whether you’re cornering briskly, zipping along a country lane, or overtaking at top motorway speeds. But for all-round maturity and ease, the 1.9 just does it all that little bit better. Skoda’s only moment of foot-in-mouth with the Fabia’s launch came with the publicity claptrap that pronounced this car to be a ‘practical solution for mobility’. Wiser words might have come from the marketing plan for the original Trabant, but all the same, ignore them. Stripped naked of this May’s dealership balloons and flashing lights, Fabia 2 is essentially a solid effort, true to Skoda’s new motto, ‘Simply Clever’. You’d be plainly dumb to ignore it.
On sale: May // Price: from £12,000 //
Main rivals: Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 68, Peugöt 207 1.4 HDi 70,Toyota Yaris 1.4 D-4D T2
- Price: £12,000 (est, range to start at c. £7,800)
- Engine: 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
- Max Power: 105bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 177 lb ft at 1,800rpm
- Combined Consumption:57.7mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 129 (C)
- 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds
- Max speed: 119mph
Remote central locking key fob
Driver and passenger airbags
ABS with EBC stability control
Electrohydraulic power steering
Height-adjustable front passenger seat
Power/heated door mirrors
Climatic automatic air con
Adjustable armrests between front seats
Removable woollen carpets
Halogen projector headlights
Front fog lamps
Radio preparation with four speakers
A good feel from the wheel. A tidy design, which should weather car fashion well. Reliable, quality build. Is Skoda moving into Volkswagen’s ground?
The badge is getting pricey. A little limited for practicality against small MPVs – including the Skoda Roomster. Some wind noise at motorway speeds