Skoda Fabia VS Volkswagen Golf
- Looks sporty
- Fun on a good road
- Good ownership prospects
- No paddle-shifters
- Some slow-speed lurch
- Sublime drive experience
- Excellent standard inclusions
- Refined, mature design
- More expensive than ever
- Still no hybrids for our market
- Too many touch interfaces
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|
Since its inception, the Volkswagen Golf has been the 'people's car' at the heart of the VW brand.
To be handed the keys to a new generation version for a launch review is somewhat momentous. Historic, even. But I can't help but feel like it comes at the beginning of the legendary nameplate's twilight phase.
Eight generations in, with a rich history stretching from a populous economy hatch to wild track-focused variants, it's starting to become apparent the writing is on the wall for the single car that has been emblematic of the German brand for the last 45 years.
It's not just that the point of focus for buyers has shifted away from hatchbacks, towards SUVs (like the Tiguan), but also the impending era of electrification which should see models like the all-electric (and supposedly affordable) ID.3 ultimately replace combustion cars like the Golf. A thought which was, even a year or two ago, almost unthinkable.
So, in what could be the last or second-last hurrah for the car that replaced the Beetle, at a momentous turning point in history toward electrification and SUVs, what does the Golf 8 have to offer?
I took what should be its most popular variant, a mid-grade 110 TSI Life at its Australian launch to find out.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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.
At this moment in history, as consumers shift to SUVs and electrification, the combustion-only Golf 8 range proves Volkswagen means to make the most of its legendary nameplates before their time comes.
It's true, there are some relatively minor changes here when it comes to the engine, platform, and even styling, but the Golf's tech-heavy cabin, expansive range, and ultra-refined driving characteristics allow it to well and truly assert its position as the benchmark of the hatch segment.
The base car is appealing, but the Life is where the full experience is, and it's our pick of the range.
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.
From the outside there's no mistaking the Golf. This is partially because this car's conservative and sensible visage has become synonymous with the brand, but also because the updates to the Golf 8's look could easily be mistaken for a simple facelift over the 7.5 it replaces.
It's certainly a story of evolution rather than revolution, with the side profile of the new Golf being near identical to its predecessor.
The face is the most heavily tweaked feature from the outside, with a tidy new bumper and notable lack of a discernible grille or intake, alluding to this car's tweaked efficiency.
The paint colour now also spills into highlight strips in the lower bumper, and the LED light fittings and tidy two-tone alloys complete a slightly more upmarket look to go with the increased price-tags.
It's neat as ever, exactly what a lot of Golf buyers will be searching for, but it will be hard to impress your neighbour if you're replacing new for old.
That is, until you get them on the inside. This is where the 'new-generation' part of the car comes into play. The 7.5's conservative interior has been dumped in favour of something far more contemporary and tech heavy.
The big screens with sleek software, set in a gloss highlight bar across the dash is something to behold in such a compact car, and the slick shift-by wire controls combine with subtle ventilation fittings and typically Teutonic VW switchgear to make for a cabin that is familiar yet futuristic.
The brightness and colour of the panels makes them pop without being overbearing, while the matte silver strip running across the dash and into the doors adds enough of a highlight piece to prevent the interior from being one big slate of grey – usually one of my main VW interior complaints.
It's all fitted and finished beautifully, with lots of little texture work on the storage areas, and I couldn't help but smile when I realised the piped seat trim in our mid-grade Life test car is actually a 'VW' pattern. It's attention to detail like that which can really make or break an interior, and it's nice to see it hasn't been forgotten in such a mainstream model.
On that topic, the GTI will of course maintain its perforated and flat-bottomed sporty steering wheel and cloth seat trim finished in a tartan pattern. It's a little sad that the lack of a manual variant for the stalwart hot hatch means no golf ball shifter, once famously cited as evidence that Germans do, in fact, have a sense of humour.
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).
The Golf has always had a smart cabin and excellent ergonomics, and this continues in the eighth generation.
Like the interior's overall look, the seating position for the driver is both familiar and improved. The steering wheel is an evolution of the Golf 7.5's, a three-spoke design which has been chiselled into a slightly new shape, with the new logo and satisfyingly clicky function buttons.
This is good for people who don't like touch interfaces, as, unfortunately, the new Golf is devoid of any rotating dials. Rotating light selector? Replaced by touch panels. Volume knobs? Replaced by touch sliders. Even the climate controls have been rolled into the multimedia suite, in a great loss for driver-friendly adjustment.
Thankfully, the Golf 8's completely new software suite is stellar, and even in the base car you can adjust these functions with voice controls, but it's never a good day for drivers when proper tactile dials move from the dash to the bin.
On the topic of software, Volkswagen Group's digital dash system is by far the best on the market, with an astoundingly sharp and clear panel, seemingly not subject to glare or other inconveniences. The hardware grunt behind both screens is evident, too, as they feature lightning-fast reaction times and smooth frame rates, making both panels a pleasure to use.
The driver's seating position can be nice and low offering a sporty feel, but also great adjustability for front occupants (even if it is manual on most variants). There are huge bottle holders and storage bays in the doors, as well as a large tray where the climate unit used to be and a large bay which features a fold-out cupholder divider in the centre console. There is also a large armrest box with adjustable heights.
You'll want to bring a converter with you in the base car as all USB ports are of the new C variety, although they're seemingly unnecessary for solo travellers in the Life, R-Line, and GTI grades which come standard with a wireless charging bay and phone connectivity.
The rear seat is the new benchmark for the mid-size hatchback segment. Not only do entry level versions feature their own climate zone with controls and adjustable air vents, but there are also dual USB-C outlets, a selection of three pockets on the backs of the front seats in the Life grade up, large bottle holders in the doors, and a drop-down armrest with dual bottle holders, too.
In every grade the excellent seat trim and low-slung seating position continues to the rear, and I fit behind my own driving position with plenty of airspace for my knees at 182cm (6'0") tall.
Boot space has always been decent in the Golf, and this continues in the eighth-gen car, with 374-litres (VDA) on offer, enough to consume our three-piece demo luggage set. This space can expand to 1230L with the rear seats folded down. A space saver spare lives under the floor on all standard Golf variants.
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.
On the face of it, the new-generation Golf has had a major price hike, especially for the entry-level grade.
Peer at the equipment list, however, and it's clear to see there's a statement being made here. Even the base car, now simply called 'Golf', is beyond fully loaded when it comes to equipment. VW says it could have made the car cheaper, but that's not where its buyer is.
In fact, the brand says by the time this car's 7.5 predecessor was headed to the grave, the average consumer was bringing the price of even a 110 TSI Comfortline to $35K-plus, indicating a healthy appetite for options.
For this new one VW has made it simple by just including almost everything that would have once been an option as standard.
This entry-level version scores an impressive all-digital cabin, comprising a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, an 8.25-inch multimedia touchscreen with wired USB-C Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and voice commands, LED exterior lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, tri-zone climate control, a six-speaker stereo, auto dimming rear vision mirror, push-start ignition, shift-by wire interior controls, a tyre pressure indicator, and cloth seat trim with manually adjustable seats.
That's a lot of stuff, but where the base Golf really gets ahead are amazing inclusions like tri-zone climate, full LED lighting, and digital cockpit.
Next up is the Life (auto only - $34,250) which upgrades the digital dash suite to the 'pro' version including further customisation options and built-in navigation, upgrades the media suite to a 10.0-inch unit with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and device charging, 17-inch alloy wheels, decorative trim upgrades, premium cloth seats with lumber adjust, an LED ambient lighting package, and auto folding exterior mirrors.
Topping off the 'regular' Golf range is the R-Line (auto only - $37,450). As its name suggests this variant adds a sportier bodykit with 18-inch alloys, sporty interior trim touches and unique seats, rear window tint, upgraded LED headlights with auto high beams, and a sportier steering wheel with touch panel controls.
Finally, the range is topped off with the GTI ($53,100) which has a larger 2.0-litre turbo engine and carryover seven-speed dual clutch automatic, front differential lock and sporty dual-exhaust, 18-inch alloy wheels with unique bumper and spoiler designs, and various performance upgrades and interior trim treatments.
Option packs in the Golf 8 range include the Sound & Vision package' for the Life, R-Line, and GTI ($1500) which includes a premium Harmon Kardon audio system and holographic head-up display. The 'Comfort and Style package' ($2000) for the Life only includes 30-colour interior ambient lighting, sports seats, and a panoramic sunroof.
Finally, the 'Luxury package' for the GTI ($3800) includes heated and cooled front seats, electric adjust for the driver's seat, partial leather trim, and a panoramic sunroof. The panoramic sunroof can be fitted to the R-Line separately for $1800.
For some buyers who are apparently in the minority, it is alarming that the Golf now starts up around $30,000 and not in the mid-twenties like base versions of the Hyundai i30 (auto $25,420), Toyota Corolla (Ascent Sport manual - $23,895), and Mazda 3 (G20 Evolve manual - $26,940), although VW points out that there are numerous other benefits to the base Golf beyond its standard equipment, like its Euro6 complaint 1.4-litre turbo engine, low fuel consumption, and driver-focused independent rear suspension.
Like other recently updated Volkswagen products, the new Golf also includes the brand's full 'IQ Drive' safety suite as standard. Read more about this over in the safety section of this review. The Golf range also spans to include the GTI hot hatch – not a feature of the Mazda3 or Corolla range – but frustratingly (for buyers and VW Australia) there's no hybrid variant.
This is because the brand's hybrid-ready 1.5-litre 'evo' engine remains incompatible with Australia's high-sulphur fuel. More on this in the engine and transmission section of this review, and if you're interested, make sure to take a look at our news coverage of this topic, too.
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.
There's some great news and some less good news here. We'll get the less good out of the way first: Despite this being a 'new-generation' car it continues with carryover engines across the whole range as well as a distinct lack of hybrid options.
This is not entirely uncommon in Australia, with Hyundai's new Tucson SUV another recent example of this happening, but it's still disappointing.
Over in Europe the Golf is fitted with a new 1.5-litre 'evo' engine which is essentially the next step for the 110TSI engine which features across the Australian range, although the European-market version opens the door to further electrification and efficiency.
In good news, though, this means the Golf which arrives in Australia dumps the seven-speed dual-clutch auto the brand is known for in favour of an Aisin-sourced eight-speed torque converter automatic. Make no mistake, this is very good for drivers. We'll look at why in the driving section of this review.
The standard Golf range, from the base car to the R-Line, carries over a familiar '110 TSI' 110kW/250Nm turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, while the GTI maintains its well-regarded (EA888) 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo which produces 180kW/370Nm paired to a seven-speed dual clutch auto.
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.
All Golf variants with their small capacity turbo engines require mid-grade 95RON but have impressive fuel consumption figures to hopefully make up for it when it comes to the back pocket.
The 110 TSI Life as tested for this range review shares a claimed/combined fuel consumption figure with the rest of the eight-speed automatic range of 5.8L/100km which is astoundingly low for a non-hybrid. Our real-world test produced a more realistic figure of 8.3L/100km, perhaps speaking to the lesser efficiency of the eight-speed auto compared to a dual-clutch, although there's little doubt lower figures can be obtained over time.
The base manual will apparently score even lower than the auto at 5.3L/100km, although we haven't tested this car yet.
Meanwhile, the go-fast GTI has a claimed combined cycle consumption figure of 7.0L/100km. Stay tuned for our variant review shortly, for our as-tested number. All Golf hatch variants have a 50L fuel tank.
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.
The Golf 7.5 was a real gem to drive, standing generally above its peers when it came to ride and handling, the big question I had for number eight was: How could VW possibly do better?
The answer for 110 TSI variants is simpler than you might think. Dumping the dual-clutch automatic in favour of the very-well regarded Aisin eight-speed auto, which also appears (and shines) in many other cars, is a key move which makes the Golf delivered in Australia ultra-consumer friendly.
I had no idea, for example, that the 1.4-litre turbo 110 TSI engine was this good. I always had a feeling it was held back by the jerkiness and hesitancy of the dual-clutch automatic with which it is always paired, but with a torque converter automatic the way this combination plays makes it easily the best Golf in years.
The transmission locks into each gear instantaneously, intelligently switches between the correct ratios in the corners and on hills, and overall improves the drive experience out of sight. It's not as lightning fast to swap cogs on the straight, nor does it seem to be quite as fuel efficient, but the trade-off for daily drivers in low-speed traffic is an obvious one.
Suffice it to say, if you've owned a 110 TSI Golf before, you'll love this one. The other areas of the drive experience are largely the same, or even refined further from the previous car. This car's underpinnings have been slightly re-worked to further tune the suspension, which is as well set up and effortless as ever.
It's really at the top of the segment for ride and road holding, especially given its independent rear suspension as opposed to the torsion beam in more basic rivals. This is a difference you can really feel, with the Golf proving settled over bumps, potholes, and corrugations, despite a firm low-roll set in the corners.
And this is all in a non-performance variant. I'd say the only non-VW Group car that comes close at this price is the Toyota Corolla. The Mazda3 and Hyundai i30, while great for the segment, don't quite strike the balance between sporty and comfortable as well with their torsion bar rear.
The future-focused feel of the cabin leaves its impression on the driver, too. While I've complained about the touch panel climate controls, the Golf has a new 'smart' climate screen where you can use basic functions set to a default 20.5 degrees with a single touch.
The holographic head-up display sits almost in the middle of your line of sight (even with adjustment) which was initially odd, but its opacity is so low that it doesn't interfere with your view of the road, and I found myself glancing at the actual dash less and less the more I drove it. It's more intuitive than you might initially give it credit for.
This is usually the part where I introduce you to some negative drive qualities, but aside from my preference for tactile controls there's so little to complain about here, especially with that new transmission. I had expected the adaptive cruise to be a little more assistive on the steering like Mercedes-Benz products, maybe, but that's the only other thing that comes to mind.
The Golf 8 proves it's not enough to just maintain a position as the benchmark for driving in the hatch segment, but to continually move it forward. I pity my European colleagues who won't get to experience this version of the car with a far more driver-friendly automatic. I fear this flash-in-the-pan moment for this car will pass when the 1.5-litre evo engine arrives with a dual-clutch auto, re-introducing its characteristics, likely for the 8.5 facelift.
This version of the Golf then, could be the very peak for everyday drivers, at least as a combustion-only car. Historic indeed.
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.
A big selling point of the new Golf is its thoroughly upgraded safety suite which is standard across the whole range.
This includes freeway speed auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, safe exit warning, adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, and a new emergency assist function.
Like most VW Group products, the Golf also features the 'proactive passenger protection system' which pre-tightens seatbelts, cracks open the windows slightly for optimal airbag deployment, and applies the brakes when it detects the possibility of a collision.
This time around the Golf has been augmented to include eight airbags, and the standard array of traction and stability controls are present alongside ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the outboard rear seats, and top-tether mounts across the rear row.
Unsurprisingly with all that kit, the Golf 8 range carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the 2019 standards.
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.
The Golf range maintains the brand's five year and unlimited kilometre warranty promise with roadside assist. This is competitive with its key rivals, although it doesn't move the envelope forward. A nice addition is the VW 'Care Plans' which allow you to pre-pay for servicing in advance (and bundle it in on finance if you wish).
A three-year plan costs $1200 for the 1.4-litre models, or $1400 for the 2.0-litre GTI, while a five-year plan costs $2100 for 1.4-litre cars or $2450 for the GTI.
If the five-year plan is selected this means an average cost of $420 per year for the life of the warranty for the main range, or $490 per year for the GTI. Not the most affordable we've seen, particularly against rivals with older engines, but not bad considering VW's higher-tech drivetrains.