Skoda Fabia is a European machine that's offered at a lower price than anything in its class from that continent. That price is there to try and lift sales, something that seems to be working because Skoda sales in Australia have finally started to move upwards after years of sitting at too low levels.
Skoda is built by the Czech marque with an automotive history that dates back over 120 years. These days it is part of the Volkswagen Group and most of the out of sight components are sourced from the German giant.
Fabia was virtually all-new when launched in Australia in July 2015. It comes as a hatchback and wagon, interior space is something in which Skoda has specialised for many years. Cargo carrying capacity in this small vehicle is 1125 litres with the rear seat backs folded for the hatch, and 1370 litres for the wagon. Many small to medium SUVs have less usable room.
Our test vehicle was Fabia 66TSI manual station wagon with a price of $17,140 plus on-road costs. The hatchback range starts at $15,990 plus on-roads.
The third generation Skoda Fabia takes a new direction in overall styling, the hatch is 8mm shorter, 90mm wider and 31mm lower than its predecessor. Note that the wagon is a significant 265mm longer than the hatch for increased luggage space.
The added width imbues the front with a stronger character, while distinctive sharp, wide headlights, crystalline glass, slatted grille and the brand's winged arrow on the bonnet's ‘nose' leave no doubt as to the car's origins.
To try and grab buyers with a taste for more than a car in one of 500 shades of grey, Skoda Fabia can be customised inside and out. Six body colours are available, including standard Candy White and Corrida Red; and metallic Race Blue, Magic Black, Quartz Grey and Moon White. A vibrant Sprint Yellow and Rally Green Metallic are available with the Colour Concept.
Not a huge amount of grunt, but it comes in at a pleasingly low 1400 rev on both engines so is very usable
With the Colour Concept option customers can choose between four colours for the roof, including A-pillars and mirror housings – silver, white, black or red.
The interior is also offered in an array of colours and combinations.
New Fabia has a Bolero multimedia system has a 6.5-inch TFT colour touchscreen. There's smartphone connectivity via SmartLink as standard. It works with both Apple's CarPlay and Android Auto software.
The second generation of Volkswagen's Modular Infotainment Matrix (MIM) offers Fabia DAB digital radio (an option that's part of the $2600 Premium Sports Pack), zoom and swipe smartphone-style operation and Bluetooth connection.
A 1.2L 66TSI turbo-petrol engine produces 66kW of power and is mated with a five-speed manual transmission. The same engine in a higher state of tune is ranked at 81kW. Tagged the 81TSI engine it's paired with a seven-speed DSG transmission. Both powerplants have a Euro 6 emission rating.
Top torque figures are 160 and 175 Nm respectively, not a huge amount of grunt, but it comes in at a pleasingly low 1400 rev on both engines so is very usable.
Fabia is fitted standard with the latest technology in Front Assist with the autonomous emergency braking function across the range. This uses radar to measure the distance to the vehicle in front. Whenever the distance is too short, Front Assist gives audio and visual warnings - then automatic stops if the driver still doesn't do the right thing.
The body has a rigid feel that bodes well for long life
There's a multi-collision brake system that reduces the risk of the vehicle becoming involved in a subsequent collision following the initial crash. This tries to prevents a follow-on crash or at least reduces the speed at which this collision occurs.
When the multi-collision brake is activated it automatically turns on the brake lights and hazard lights. The driver can override the system by accelerating or initiating emergency braking.
Again, the Czech's determination to provide good interior space shows through. There's room for four full-sized adults without the need to compromise rear legroom. Three across the back seat will need to be good friends, though.
On our usual drive route in city, suburban and country traffic the free-spinning 66kW TSI motor responded well, taking even steep gradients in its stride thanks to the low-rev grunt provided by the turbocharger. A six-speed manual would be nice, but makers have to keep costs down somehow. Nevertheless we wouldn't be surprised to see one at the first facelift.
Handling is neat and predictable, there's good steering feel and until you push really hard the dynamics are pretty well neutral. Interestingly, the extra weight in the extended tail of the wagon compared with the Fabia hatch has added to this neutrality.
Comfort is good and the body has a rigid feel that bodes well for long life.
Some of our test drivers found the three-spoke multifunction leather steering wheel to be overly large. We soon settled into its size and by the end of the week it felt fine.
Skoda Fabia comes with a claimed fuel consumption figure of 4.8L/100km fuel. We had little trouble keeping it under five litres per hundred in motorway running. Country driving was in the 5-7L range depending on the terrain. Around town fuel use increased to a still reasonable 7-9L/100km. A stop/start system and brake energy recuperation are part of the fuel and emission reduction package.