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Skoda Fabia RS and 77TSI 2012 review

EXPERT RATING
8

The small Fabia has punched above its weight for Skoda since arriving late last year. Based on parent company Volkswagen’s Polo – the 2010 Carsguide Car of the Year  -- the little car has helped Skoda nearly double sales, despite having only two versions on sale.

But the range is now being filled out, with the current entry level 77TSI hatch and mid-range Monte Carlo being joined this week by a practical 77TSI wagon and the hot Fabia RS in both hatch and wagon bodies.

The newcomers arrive at the mature end of this generation’s life span -- with a new one due in 2014 -- but they still deserve a warm welcome for mix of practicality and performance they bring to the Fabia line-up.

TECHNOLOGY

The base model carries Volkswagen’s 1.2-litre, direct injection, turbo four-cylinder delivering 77kW of power at 5000rpm and 175Nm of torque across a useful 1500-4100rpm.

Official fuel economy is posted as 5.5L/100km – on premium -- with either the five-speed manual or the newly-arrived seven-speed DSG turning the front wheels on both hatch and wagon.

But the acceleration is far from blistering, with the manual hatch getting to 100km/h in 10.1 seconds, the DSG hatch 10.2 and the wagon 10.3.

Fabia's underpinnings are also straight from the VW parts shelf, with Macpherson strut front and beam axle rear suspension and four wheel disc brakes, where some rivals still sport a pair of drums.

The RS ups the ante in a 1.4-litre twin-charged engine with the supercharger kickstarting the action in low revs and turbo tipping in with full boost from 2000rpm.

From this, the four-cylinder develops 132kW of power peaking at 62000rpm and 250Nm of torque between 2000-45000rpm, with Skoda claiming a 0-100km/h sprint of 7.3 seconds and fuel economy of 6.2 L/100km.

DESIGN

Although based on the Polo, the Fabia hatch is slightly bigger and puts its signature Skoda boxiness to practical work for loads of room for head and legs, plus luggage space rising from 300 to 1165 litres when the rear seats are folded.

That’s about the hungriest capacity for the class, and it becomes almost insatiable in the longer wagon where you get 480 to 1460 litres.

The styling is not everybody’s taste, but it has a cheerful character and an endearing determination to shackle form to functionality, which happily means a bright and realistically-designed interior with good ergonomics and easily readable instruments.

PRICE AND EQUIPMENT

The entry level 77TSI hatch is $18,990 with the manual and an extra $2300 if you want the DSG, while the DSG-only Fabia RS starts at $27,990. The wagon body for either version claps on another $2000.

Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, tilt and reach adjustable steering column, an eight-speaker CD/MP3 audio system, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and phone controls, cruise control, heated mirrors and fog lights.

The RS arrives with more bling and some cues from the Fabia S2000 rally car, adding twin exhausts, spoilers back and front – the latter with  integrated LED daytime running lights – and rolling on 17-in alloy wheels with red RS-logo brake callipers.

The cabin gets deep-shaped sports seats, a three-spoke steering wheel with paddles for the DSG, and handy rear parking sensors, but some of the plastics and finishes slip back to ordinary quality. The base model undercuts the donor Polo by nearly $1000, but you can spot where the money has been saved in the fit-out and finish. 

At RS level you’re eyeing off the $28,990 VW Polo GTI at again just $1000 more – but oddly not among the rivals cited at the Fabia RS launch, which benchmarked against the $24,990 Suzuki Swift Sport and $43,050 Mini Cooper S in terms of dollars per kilowatt of power.

Fabia is $212 against the Suzuki’s $250 and Mini’s $319 --  in case that’s your gauge. In which case you’ll want to know that shelling out an extra whack for the $36,490 Renualt Clio Sport 200 cost you $248/kW.

SAFETY

Surprisingly, amid a host of five-star rivals the Fabia gets only a four star Euro rating. Safety equipment includes six air bags, stability control, anti-skid brakes with brake assist and brakeforce distribution.

DRIVING

The fit-out doesn’t quite match up to the VW donor, but the seats are supportive and there’s plenty of room. The 77TSI engine is keen and tractable, making easy work at low revs around city streets and laid-back cruising on the highway, with enough torque for climbing hills.

While the standard five-speed manual will still be one gear short of most rivals, the seven-speed DSG – clunky though it is – will win fans in a market that is increasingly shunning self-shifting.

But you’ll still want to use the manual mode of the shifter, and that’s about the stage where you’ll take a hacksaw to the annoying fold-down armrest that’s positioned exactly on the trajectory your elbow wants to move through.

It rides comfortably and the wide track and long-ish wheelbase polish its road manners to keep it stable and flat. The suspension gives it better grip than most of its competitors, and the accurate turn-in mean it has entertainment on offer even at lower speeds.

Step into the RS and a whole world of fun opens up. The ride is much harder and can get unsettled over rough back roads, but in normal driving it’s still compliant – more than the Polo, and much more than most of the competition.

But the RS is also noticeably more agile and taut than the entry model. It’s easy to swing through a joyful series of corners, with weightier steering and tighter response than the standard version.

There’s a fair bit of noise from both wind and tyres, but it’s never uncomfortable, and cabin conversation never has to reach yelling levels.

Take all that, and then extend it into the RS wagon version, and it’s a whole new ball game. Like the legendary Audi RS4 Avant, the combination of sting and space results in a true Jekyll and Hyde car. Take it out on the garage sale round, stuff the boot space – and then time your lap home. That’s what you call a real all-rounder.

VERDICT

Skoda weighed up 'bang for the buck' but it's also a case of usability for your money. And the standard Fabia is a decent contender there, but the RS would go on our favourites list. 

Pricing guides

$10,990
Based on 27 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$5,500
Highest Price
$14,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
77 TSI 1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,900 – 6,270 2012 Skoda Fabia 2012 77 TSI Pricing and Specs
77 TSI Monte Carlo 1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $5,100 – 7,920 2012 Skoda Fabia 2012 77 TSI Monte Carlo Pricing and Specs
RS 132 TSI 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $6,000 – 9,240 2012 Skoda Fabia 2012 RS 132 TSI Pricing and Specs
77 TSI 1.2L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $4,700 – 7,590 2012 Skoda Fabia 2012 77 TSI Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.