Skoda's third-generation Fabia sharpens up and aims at a younger audience. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Skoda ups the ante with its third-generation Fabia, introducing sharper, more assertive styling and clever tech that the company hopes will bring down the average age of its customers. With more space inside, increased scope for personalisation and better efficiency from its engines, the Fabia seems to be getting the basics spot on.
The Skoda Fabia surprised most people when the first generation version arrived back in 2001. After all, it succeeded the wholly unlovely Felicia and so a rating of 'only slightly rubbish' would have been a soaring success. In fact it was a little gem, well built, economical and keenly priced. It helped kick-start the success of modern Skoda as we know it today. The second generation version launched in 2007 and brought additional sophistication. The bar was set a lot higher for this model but it still exceeded expectations. We now get a third generation car and Skoda needs to impress us all over again. We now expect a Fabia to be up near the very top table of superminis, while still retaining an attractive asking price. Skoda's changed the focus of this one a little bit in order to reflect the company's ceaselessly vaulting ambition.
No prizes for guessing the chassis that underpins this latest Fabia. Yes, it's the Volkswagen Group's MQB platform, an almost infinitely customisable floorpan that's compatible with a whole range of engine, suspension components and electronic control systems. This means that Skoda can build as many clever safety systems in as budget permits. It's simply a box-ticking exercise when specifying a new model. Power in the mainstream line-up comes courtesy of three and four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines, with outputs ranging between 59bhp to 108bhp. Dealers expect that around 90 per cent of sales will be petrol-powered, split between the1.2-litre four and 1.0-litre three-cylinder engines. The 1.2-litre unit is markedly quicker and more refined and Skoda has worked hard to endow the Fabia with a supple ride, decent body control and low-effort steering.
Design and Build
The MK2 Fabia model had a series of quite well-established design cues. It was narrowish with tall hips and, unless you bought the sportier variants, tended to look a bit under-wheeled. The latest car looks a good deal burlier, with pronounced wheel arch flares and a lot more shape built into the flanks. Skoda has claimed that this design is a new direction for them, encompassing 'more emotions', albeit not at the expense of practicality. As before, there's a five-door Hatch bodystyle, or an Estate with a class-leading 530-litre boot capacity. With the Hatch variant, the boot is also the largest within the car's segment at 330-litres, which is 15-litres more than the previous model. With the rear seats folded down in Hatch models, loading capacity increases to up to 1,150-litres. The loading area is 960mm wide, which is 2cm wider than the previous car. Drop inside and you'll find a cabin that's slightly longer and larger than in the previous model and at the same time provides the driver and passengers with increased headroom. Although the MK3 Fabia is 8mm shorter than its predecessor, its interior length has increased by around 8mm to 1,674mm. Elbow room is also greater at 1,401mm (21mm longer) at the front and 1,386mm (2mm longer) at the rear.
Market and Model
There's a choice of either five-door Hatch or esatate bodystyles. Prices start at just under the £11,000 mark for S-spec models, so this Fabia is no longer a bargain amongst superminis. There's a £1,000 premium if you want the Estate. Even the base trim level is well equipped, inclusive of items like six airbags, a DAB digital radio, an engine start/stop system and power front windows. Most will want the SE variants with their air conditioning, alloy wheels, uprated stereo, MirrorLink system, surround sound stereo and Front Assist Package. Finally, the top 'SE L' trim includes larger 16-inch alloy wheels, climate control, keyless entry and cruise control. The Fabia is designed to be practical and the company has announced a range of 'Simply Clever' features. The biggie is MirrorLink technology. This allows smartphone apps to be displayed on the screen of the infotainment system which, amongst other things, takes the use of navigation software or personal music files to a new level. There's a multimedia device cradle in the centre console, an ice scraper in the fuel filler cap and a high-vis vest, now mandatory in many countries, in a convenient dedicated storage compartment in the driver's door. There are personalisation options such as contrasting wheels, roof panels and mirror cappings and those big wheelarches will easily house 17-inch alloys. The Volkswagen Polo acts as a natural cap on the Fabia's price and the Czech company needs to maintain a significant buffer zone between the two models in order to attract orders.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.2-litre engine turns in some excellent economy figures. In the old Fabia, you could count on around 53mpg from the 1.2-litre unit; now you're good for 60.1mpg with emissions dropping to just 107g/km. Those figures improve largely because the Fabia is lighter than before. In 1.2-litre guise, it tips the scales at just 1034kg and across the range, there are efficiency improvements that average 17 per cent. Fabias have always held very firm when it comes to residual values, used buyers valuing the Volkswagen Group input and resolute build quality. Insurance has also been very cheap, reflecting the mature owner profile. Will that change now that Skoda is aiming at a younger demographic? We'll have to wait on that one.
The Fabia has done very well for Skoda. Around 3.5 million cars have sold to date, split between 1.8 million first-generation Fabias and around 1.7 million second-generation cars. That's quite some success story given that the Fabia is not a vehicle of absolutes. It's not the cheapest, the most economical, the most stylish or the most fun to drive car in its class. Instead, it blends a mix of abilities and can probably be described as the car that offers the most quality for your pound in its sector. Appealing to subtlety in this way has seen many good cars sink without a trace. The third generation Fabia takes a risk in deviating from the script, looking to secure a new tranche of younger buyers thanks to its sharper styling and cleverer tech. Will it succeed? We wouldn't bet against it.