Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo hatch and wagon, with specs fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

Even the most ardent Australian motorsport fans tend to draw something of blank when it comes to Skoda. The once-Czech, but now VW Group-owned car company is a staggering 121 years old, but with a large chunk of that time spent hidden behind the impenetrable iron curtain of Eastern Europe, its racing history, if not its very existence, is something of a mystery to many Aussies.

Skoda’s latest efforts to change that begin with this, the 2017 Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, named after one of the world’s most iconic races, the Rallye Monte Carlo – an event Skoda has contested since the late-1930s, and dominated throughout the 1960s, though not in the top-flight division.

But if you’re expecting a race-spec pocket rocket, prepare to be a little disappointed. That ship sailed with the Fabia RS hot hatch, which has been discontinued globally. But while there’s no mechanical changes between the Monte Carlo and the existing top-spec Fabia 81TSI, you do get a heap of extra technology, style and safety equipment. And it’s available as an uber-practical wagon for the first time.

The $23,490 Monte Carlo sits atop the Fabia range, all of which has been refreshed for 2017.

Design

The Fabia Monte Carlo is all about the looks, and as such scores a heap of bespoke exterior design elements across both the hatch and wagon body shapes, headlined by 17-inch black alloys which match its black front grille frame, side skirts and rear diffuser.

Inside, you get what Skoda refers to a as a “race-inspired” interior treatment, led by Monte Carlo-exclusive sport seats in an eye-catching, but polarising, red-and-black trim. It also gets a truly enormous glass roof that stretches the length of the cabin, along with a flat-bottomed steering wheel and alloy pedals.

You’re at little risk of forgetting you’ve sprung for the Monte Carlo, too, with six visible badges to remind you everywhere you look, including two stuck to the side windows, two stamped into the metallic door runners and even a digital reminder that pops up on the multimedia screen.

The only downside is the quality of materials in the cabin. Despite the upgrades, there are plenty of reminders you’re sitting in the same cabin offered in the budget-friendly (and $16,490) 66TSI base model, a fact unhelped by a sea of unforgiving hard plastic at every touch point.

Practicality

Storage space has long been a focus for Skoda’s engineers, and the Monte Carlo doesn’t disappoint. Even in the hatch, there’s plenty of luggage space, with 305 litres of storage with the rear seats up, and 1,125 litres with them folded flat. Opt for the wagon, however, and that number balloons to 505 litres with the rear seats up, and an impressive 1,370 litres with them flat.

There are plenty of those cute Skoda quirks, too, with a netted storage pocket on the sides of each of the two front seats, a phone holder incorporated into the front-seat cup holder and a hidden storage bin under the driver’s seat, while the passenger side gets an umbrella.

There’s an ISOFIX anchorage point behind both the driver and passenger seats, but there is a just the single cupholder for front-row passengers, and exactly zero on offer in the back. There’s plenty of space in the doors for bottles, though. And the glovebox can hold a one-litre bottle, too.

Engine and transmission

The Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo shares its engine with the current-top spec Fabia 81TSI – a turbocharged 1.2-litre good for 81kW and 175Nm. On paper, that’s not a lot of forward momentum, and the Monte Carlo records a leisurely 0-100km/h time of 9.4secs, or 9.6secs if you opt for the wagon.

But on the road, the Fabia Monte Carlo feels more than peppy enough. It’s hardly pin-your-face-back stuff, but all of its torque is available from a low 1,400rpm, so there’s plenty of power when you first bury your foot.

It’s also an auto-only proposition, arriving with the VW Group’s seven-speed DSG as standard.

Fuel consumption

The Fabia Monte Carlo sips an impressive claimed/official 4.8L/100km combined, and our brief test spin has the on-board readout reporting a similar number, undoubtedly helped by the standard start/stop system. It does have a taste for 95RON fuel, however, so it will cost you more to fill up its 45-litre tank.  

Driving

Our time together was brief, but there’s something refreshingly simple about the way the Fabia Monte Carlo drives, mostly because there’s absolutely nothing to do, other than select Drive and, well, drive.

You can’t adjust the suspension settings or steering weight, and with no wheel-mounted paddles, it’s tricky to even change gears yourself. Yet you still feel nicely connected to the car, especially for an offering in this segment. The steering is naturally well-weighted and direct, the Monte Carlo’s sport suspension – which has been lowered 15mm - feels firm but not crashy, while the DSG gearbox hunts and selects its gears with little fuss.

It’s a simple thing to steer through the city, too. It’s small, nimble and easy to park and see out of.

Still, there is an undeniable sense of slight disappointment that something that trades so heavily on a rally heritage offers so little in the way of sporty upgrades.

Safety

It’s here that the entire Fabia range really excels, with an impressive list of standard safety kit. All Fabias get a rear-view camera, along with multi-collision brakes – which take over the braking for you if the driver’s airbag is deployed. But you also get AEB as standard, which Skoda tells us will work within all of Australia’s speed limits, and beyond. Every Fabia also gets six airbags: two at the front, two at the sides and two curtains.

While the updated model is yet to be tested, the MY16 Skoda Fabia scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested in 2015.

Price and features

The Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo lands with a $23,490 list price, with the wagon carrying a $1,150 premium. Beyond that, options are refreshingly limited. Buyers can select the $1,800 Tech Pack, which adds proximity unlocking, climate control, rain-sensing wipers and adaptive cruise control, or you can add navigation, for an extra $950 – but that’s almost irrelevant given Apple CarPlay and Android Auto arrive as standard, so you can easily use your phone’s maps.

And that’s about it for options. You’ll get cruise control, a heap of exterior and interior style elements, push-button start and that mammoth glass roof all as standard fare.

Skoda’s also running a brand-wide drive-away offer, which has no scheduled end date. The deal wraps up all your on-road costs for an extra $1,500.

Ownership  

The Fabia Monte Carlo is covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, though you can extend it to five years for an extra $999. You can also pre-pay your service costs, at $1,149 for the standard three-year warranty period.