Skoda has made a serious pitch for the crown of best-value city car, launching a bigger and better Fabia hatch and wagon with pricing from $15,990 driveaway.
That is still a couple of grand above Suzuki's Celerio — and only a manual is available at that price — but the baby Skoda comes standard with automatic emergency braking, a bigger engine and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with SmartLink integration for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphones.
The Fabia is set to continue Skoda's sales momentum, which has been growing steadily after a slow start since entering the local market in 2007. The company's sales have grown by almost a third this year — albeit off a low base — and it is now nipping at the heels of Peugeot and Fiat.
The interior is basic but well built
Sit behind the wheel of the new Fabia and it isn't hard to understand why buyers are browsing the Czech-built brand.
The interior is basic but well built. Soft-touch plastics aren't in evidence and the padding on the door armrests isn't plush but this is a vehicle about value rather than being in vogue. Accordingly there's reasonable rear room for a couple of adults and luggage capacity that ranges from 305 litres in the hatch to 505 litres in the wagon. The technology is the biggest highlight, though it isn't flawless.
Skoda Australia held out to get the latest 6.5-inch infotainment unit that lets smartphones connect and then uses the mobile's apps — based on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay — to operate most functions.
The upside is the $950 satnav option won't be needed and there'll be no requirement to pay for future map updates. The downside is users will need to monitor the mobile's data allowance or they could quickly face a blowout in their monthly bills.
A radar-operated autonomous city braking program is standard on all models and helped the Fabia achieve a five-star ANCAP rating, but controversially a reversing camera can't be had for any money. Instead, front and rear sensors and a simulated optical display deal with detecting obstacles. Storage spots are spacious and numerous from the increasingly rare glovebox with room for more than gloves to bottle and cup holders and a smart rear cargo area with blinds, nets and hooks to secure loads in a variety of shapes and sizes.
The entry car uses a 66kW turbocharged 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine matched to a five-speed manual gearbox. The $15,990 driveaway price grows by $1500 for the wagon version, identified by a longer body and silver roof rails. Skoda doesn't have the luxury of being able to sell the cheapest model in manual and auto guises, despite the VW Group fitting an auto to the same engine in the Volkswagen Polo. That will restrict the 66TSI's appeal to what Skoda predicts will be 20 per cent of sales.
That leaves the 81kW version of the same engine as the hero of the Fabia range, albeit at a steep jump in price. Matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, the 81TSI costs $20,290, the wagon $21,790. Beyond the drivetrain, the higher-output version adds a centre console armrest, cruise control and alloy instead of steel wheels.
Packs bundle the likes of fatigue detection, upgraded wheels and LED daytime running lights and there's now a "colour concepts" option that packages pre-set contrasting colours on the wheels, side mirror caps, windscreen pillars and roof.
On the road
Take-offs are smooth in the auto and the seven-cog self-shifter seamlessly grabs gears as the pace picks up. It's a different story when heading downhill on a trailing throttle as the DSG 'box hangs on to third gear like it is locked in manual. It is presumably to help engine braking when the software detects a descent but the Fabia is far from refined in this mode.
The manual doesn't suffer from this affliction. Five forwards gears is about par in the light car field and the Skoda's turbo engine only needs 2000rpm on the tacho to start hustling.
Hustling is a relative term — the auto hits the 100km/h dash about 9.4 seconds after launch; the manual comes in at a tick under 11 seconds. Again that's acceptable at this price and for a car destined to spend most of its life in the city.
The Fabia's handling is a lesson for many of the Asian carmakers. The steering is light with enough tactile stimulation to clearly identify which way the wheels are pointed and there's surprisingly little body roll through the turns. Noise suppression is also impressive, particularly when benchmarked against its light car rivals.
The autonomous emergency braking duly alerts the driver with a flashing icon and a beep before auto-braking if the human fails to respond.