Skoda Fabia VS Suzuki Swift
- Looks sporty
- Fun on a good road
- Good ownership prospects
- No paddle-shifters
- Some slow-speed lurch
- Great looks
- Good safety package
- Nice to drive
- GLX is on the pricey side
- Halogen headlights on lower-spec cars
- Slow steering
The Skoda Fabia range has been updated and facelifted. You mightn’t be able to tell just by looking at it, but there are broad-reaching adjustments across all models.
We’re in the sporty looking, high-spec Monte Carlo. It isn’t quite a hot hatch - rather, it has the makings of one, but instead makes do with a downsized turbo engine and a dual-clutch auto transmission without paddle-shifters. Shock, horror.
Even if it doesn’t hit the highs of some closely-priced go-fast compact hatches, the Fabia Monte Carlo offers some food for thought in this tough-fought segment.
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
For almost thirty years, Australians could stroll into a number of dealerships and have their pick of cars - obviously small ones - for under twenty grand. And I mean twenty grand in the modern sense, not the early '80s Mitsubishi Sigma GL with no power steering or...you know, seats that didn't give you a third-degree burn in summer.
Suzuki is hanging in there, along with Kia and, oddly, MG. But I'm not here to tell you about the Swift Navigator because, frankly, I don't think you should buy it. It's not the best-value Swift and for the same money you can get a better-loaded Kia, the top-of-the range Picanto GT. Not far over the $20,000 mark, though, is the Navigator Plus which makes a lot more sense. As part of the Series II Swift updated which arrived in September, The Plus in Navigator Plus has taken on a whole new meaning.
Read More:How does the 2019 Suzuki Swift stack up?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
I like the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, but I’d have to love it if I was going to own it - especially considering I now live right in the guts of the city. If I still lived up in the Blue Mountains, it would make a bit more sense… but should that be the case for a city car? Arguably not.
Would you buy a Skoda Fabia? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
It was a tough call, but I did settle on the Navigator Plus as the pick of the range. For an extra $1500 over an automatic GL Navigator, you get all that extra equipment and a subtle lift in spec that would be well-served with the inclusion of the GLX's LED headlights.
All Swifts are good to drive, with a supple chassis tune, acceptable performance through to quite good from the 1.0-litre turbo and a good after-sales package. I do think, however, that Swifts are a tad over-priced, especially considering the big jump to the GLX. But if you want a Japanese-built hatch with a bit of character, fantastic looks and a good mechanical package, the Swift hits all three.
The redesigned front end of the Skoda Fabia is barely different to the model that preceded it, but trainspotters will note slightly redesigned headlights and a different bumper and grille. Those headlights include integrated LED daytime running lights, and there’s the option of full-scale LED headlights - but you have to pay for them.
In Monte Carlo spec you get sportier bodywork, including a black rear spoiler and black lower body kit, plus black 17-inch wheels with grippier Bridgestone Potenza rubber, and Monte Carlo badges on the B-pillars and door sills. Over lower grade models it also has front fog-lights and LED tail-lights.
There are changes inside the cabin, too, with different seat trim and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Check out the interior pictures to see if it’s to your taste or not.
I think it’s a sporty looking little hatch, with enough design flair to suit its compact dimensions. The Fabia hatch is just 3997mm long (on a 2470mm wheelbase), 1732mm wide and 1467mm tall.
Ah, this is where things get interesting. The Swift is such a cracking-looking car, even though it hasn't changed a great deal over the past three generations. But that's how good the Swift's rebirth was sixteen years ago. The details have, obviously, been refined but it really does look brilliant.
The Navigator Plus, when you get close, does look a bit cheap here and there, but plenty of far more expensive cars have weird cheap details, like the odd textured plastic chrome on the tail-lights of the Lexus LC.
Inside is a but more in keeping with its price point than the Swift Sport. There's nothing especially eye-catching in the cabin apart from the fetching new patterned inserts on the seats and the nice leather steering wheel which is, oddly, flat-bottomed.
The cabin of the Fabia is compact. Admittedly, it’s a compact car on the outside too, but while most of Skoda’s other models manage to make you feel like you’re in something larger than you are, the Fabia - aside from its high roof and therefore very good headroom - is a little cramped.
Rear seat legroom and shoulder space is among the worst in the class, for instance - but if you’re not hauling 182cm-tall adults like me around in the back, then that mightn’t matter too much to you.
Youngsters will be comfortable in the back, and there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors and three top-tether points as well. Yep, it’s a five-seater.
There are bottle holders in all four doors, and a pair of map pockets on the front seatbacks, too. No cupholders in the rear and no centre armrest, either, and up front the cupholder situation could be better - there are two, but they are shallow and smaller than the standard Keep Cup. But hey, you get an umbrella hidden in the glovebox, and there’s a little rubbish bin in the driver’s front door pocket, too.
The materials used are on the cheaper side, with hard plastics on the doors and dashboard. But there are padded elbow rests on the doors and the small adjustable centre console cubby, and the carbon-look panel that runs across the dash is nice. The cloth seat trim looks great, too.
Boot space is good for the class, with 330 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up and 1150L with them down.
Not big enough? You can get a Fabia wagon - and as a Monte Carlo model if you’re completely sold on the look - and in that guise you’ll get a much bigger boot (530L/1395L).
If you're in the front seats, you're golden. Apart from being slightly too high for my liking, they're very comfortable and the previously-mentioned upholstery is very pleasant. You get two shallow cupholders and a tray not quite big enough for a larger-sized phone but fine for standard-sized ones.
As with the front, rear-seat dwellers get a pair of small bottle holders in the doors and not much else apart from a seat pocket in the left-hand seat. Common with the front seat, there's no armrest which is a shame because the back seat is so flat that there is nothing but your seatbelt to stop you clattering into your neighbour in the corners. There is a squared-off cupholder between the front seats which would be hard to reach for smaller folk.
Three across the back is obviously a distant dream for adults, but two back there are in reasonably good shape with plenty of headroom and surprisingly good knee and legroom if you're roughly my height (180cm) behind someone else of similar height.
The boot is predictably tiny at 242 litres, which is a little below the standard for the segment, with a seats-down capacity of 918 litres. The Swift Sport's boot is slightly larger at 265 litres because it doesn't carry a spare, but weirdly, has the same seats-down capacity as the other versions.
With three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points, you're covered for baby or child seats.
Price and features
It’s small, has some touches of luxury and sportiness, and is definitely no Toyota Yaris.
So, with an asking price of $25,490 drive-away, what other cars could you be shopping it against? How about a Mazda 2 GT auto ($23,680 plus on-road costs), or a Volkswagen Polo Comfortline auto ($21,990 plus on-roads), or if you really want something a bit more sporty, then maybe a Suzuki Swift Sport auto ($27,490 plus on-roads).
There are some other shortcomings for a car at this price point: you don’t get keyless entry or push-button start, for instance, and there is no leather seat trim, heated seats or built-in sat nav (add $950 if you want that). A panoramic glass roof will set you back $1000, too.
As has been the case in previous years with Skoda models, there are several packs that customers can choose to add to their car to boost the specification levels.
On the Monte Carlo model, that includes the Vision Pack (priced at $1400) consisting of full LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and additional safety spec in the form of blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert - our car was fitted with that pack.
There’s also the Tech Pack ($1800), which includes keyless entry and push-button start, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, climate control air-con, driver fatigue detection, DAB+ digital radio and dual USB ports in the rear.
Add both those options to the price and you’re approaching VW Polo GTI money…
The Fabia is available in an array of colours, including the choice of a black roof finish. You can choose between white, grey, blue, black and red, but green is reserved for non Monte Carlo models.
Down at $18,990 is where Swift range starts with the GL Navigator manual, adding $1000 for the CVT automatic. For Series II, the base model picks up rear speakers over the old spec, 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, reversing camera, cruise control, cloth interior, remote central locking, auto-down power windows and a space-saver spare.
For $21,490 the Navigator Plus has a lot more to offer than the GL Navigator. Which makes sense, given the Plus, but I'm no marketing genius.
For your money you get power folding and heated mirrors, reversing camera, active cruise control, sat nav and leather steering wheel as well as a bunch of extra safety features over the GL Navigator.
The GLX Turbo builds further on the lower specs with a six-speaker stereo, gear-shift paddles, LED headlights and the 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder. That car lands at a fairly sturdy $25,290 but is not without its own unique charms.
All Swifts share the 7.0-inch screen that's in almost everything with a Suzuki badge and has the same basic software that isn't all that flash but more than makes up for it with a built-in sat nav in the Navigator Plus and GLX Turbo (I'm assuming a certain demographic buys this car and insists on it) as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Annoyingly there's only one "free" colour and it's white. The rest of the colours (Super Black Pearl, Speedy Blue, Mineral Grey, Burning Red and Premium Silver) whack you another $595. By contrast (see what I did there?), you can choose from five free colours on a Mazda2 and the three premium colours are $100 cheaper.
Engine & trans
Under the bonnet of the Fabia Monte Carlo is what Skoda calls the 81TSI engine - a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol producing 81kW of power and 200Nm of torque.
It has a standard-fit seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, and like the lower-grade version, is front-wheel drive. There are no paddle-shifters, which might seem a bit of a silly concern - but after driving it, I found myself wishing there were.
Sadly, there is no manual version, which is a shame.
The non-turbo Swift's very modest 66kW and 120Nm comes from its 1.2-litres and four-cylinders. It is not a lot of power, even with variable valve timing. To make the most of these figures, Suzuki fits a continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT, to send power to the front wheels. The manual is $1000 cheaper, a five-speed unit that you'll only find in the $18,990 GL Navigator.
Step up to the Turbo GLX and you get a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo with healthy power outputs of 82kW and 160Nm, with a six-speed torque converter auto, unlike the lesser versions' CVT.
Thankfully, the Swift weighs next to nothing in modern car terms, so even the 1.2 offers reasonable pace without having to thrash it.
Claimed fuel economy is 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is very good. But in the real world, you can bank on using about double that in city driving. Plus you’ll need to factor in that the engine requires 95RON premium unleaded petrol, so filling up will add a few extra bucks.
The official combined cycle figure on the sticker is listed at 4.8L/100km. The dash display indicated I was getting 6.5L/100km and to be fair to the Swift, it had almost no highway running during my time with it, so it's not too far off the 5.8L/100km urban figure.
With its small 37-litre fuel tank that means a real-world range of around 500km and probably another 100km if you're cruising the motorways.
On the right stretch of road, the Fabia Monte Carlo has handling as good - if not superior - to some pint-sized hot hatches. It holds the road beautifully, turns with grace and ease, and feels balanced and controlled in the twisty bits.
The engine revs freely, the transmission shifts smartly - only let down by a lack of paddle-shifters. The whole experience feels nice, and if you only deal with higher-speed driving that happens to involve a mountain climb on the way to work, then: a) you’re luckier than you know; and b) you’ll be happy with a Fabia Monte Carlo.
But the big issue here is that this is a city car, and that’s where it stumbles and fumbles most.
The transmission is the real problem - it is hesitant, reluctant, downright dumb at times. Combined with some turbo-lag from the three-pot turbo engine, traffic lights can actually be nerve-wracking, as there’s not really a ‘regular’ feel to the way the car will take off. Sometimes it’ll jump away from the lights, other times it will lag and lurch.
The ride is reasonable in town, but sharp edges can upset things. And while the steering is a lot of fun in its weighty, direct attitude, that heft can be a tad annoying when you’re trying to park it.
All in all, the drivetrain feels a bit like old-Skoda-by-way-of-VW, and it simply isn’t as well considered as the equivalent VW if you just drive around town.
What a damn shame there isn’t a manual Monte Carlo, because it would easily negate all these concerns.
Luckily I drove two cars for this review. The first was the one I think most people will end up buying, the 1.2-litre Navigator Plus. One of my favourite things about Suzukis - including my Vitara Turbo long-term test car - is the decent tyres fitted to all but the cheapest of their cars.
What that means is when combined with a very impressive suspension tune which delivers an excellent ride and handling balance (especially for such a small car) it's also fun to drive, if that's your thing. If it isn't your thing, it's comfortable and feels good on the road.
The steering is perhaps a little slow for my liking which I found a little odd. The spec sheet says it has variable rack steering which means you get more steering angle at a faster rate the more you turn the wheel, but it seems to only accelerate usefully when you're parking or moving around at low speed. It always felt like it need another quarter-turn or so for the same effect compared to most other small cars I've driven. Most owners probably won't mind, I just think it would be even better if the steering was a bit quicker.
The dreaded CVT makes the most of the 1.2-litre's limited power and torque, which is what CVTs are good at. I dread CVTs - and this is purely personal - because I don't think they're very good in most of the cars fitted with them. This one can whine a bit as you're driving along, but I'll take that because it has a good strong take-up from standstill that feels almost like a good dual-clutch transmission. Some CVTs are far too soft off the lights and you end up getting swamped by delivery riders on pushbikes.
Moving up to the turbo GLX, the main difference is the extra power and torque. When I first drove it I thought, "Why wouldn't you buy this one?" While the extra oomph is welcome, it's really not a deal breaker and really not worth an extra (almost) four thousand dollars unless you're really wedded to the idea of a turbo or LED headlights. Both of which are good things.
No Fabia model comes with adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert or blind-spot monitoring as standard, but those are optionally available (see the pricing section above).
There’s no lane keeping assist or lane departure warning system on the Fabia - standard or optionally.
Where is the Skoda Fabia built? The answer is Skoda’s home country - Czech Republic.
The Navigator Plus' Series II safety upgrades add blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert and you get forward AEB with both low and high speed operation, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, lane departure warning as well as six airbags and the usual ABS and stability controls.
These features are also on the more expensive, turbo-powered GLX but not on the down-spec Navigator, which is one of the main reasons for me telling you in the intro that this is the better car.
The Swift features three top-tether points and two ISOFIX anchors for fitting child seats.
In 2017 the base GL scored four ANCAP stars while the other grades, offering things like forward AEB scored five stars.
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on its models putting it on par with rivals, though it was one of the earlier adopters of the long warranty program.
Skoda offers the choice of either following a capped price servicing plan (out to six years/90,000km) or buyers the option to pre-purchase three years/45,000km or five years/75,000km of servicing in a service pack.
The latter allows you to roll the maintenance costs into your finance, which is nice, and the costs area $760 for three years, or $1600 for five - which works out to a discount of $317 and $885 if you pre-purchase rather than follow the standard capped-price plan.
Follow the capped price path and you will find costs of maintenance are on the high side for such little car, at: $291, $351, $435, $622, $435 and $351 respectively.
Suzuki offers a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is competitive.
Worth noting is the fact that the 1.2-litre's service intervals (12 months/15,000km) are a little more generous than the turbo's (12 months/10,000km). The 1.2 will cost $239 for the first service and then $329 for the next three. The fifth service is $239 or, if it's travelled over 90,000km, climbs to $499. If you stick to "average" mileage, that means a five-year service bill of $1465, or just under $300 per service. Not bad, although a Yaris is cheaper than that by quite some margin while a Rio is about double that (however it has a longer warranty).
If you go up to the GLX turbo, along with shorter intervals by distance, you'll pay $1475 or $295 per service, which again, is quite good and cheaper than the Rio and Picanto GT's servicing by quite a margin. The turbo triple obviously has more complex servicing needs and if you go over the expected milage, the final service will cost anywhere from $299 to $569, which is still reasonable.