Skoda's third-generation Fabia 1.4 TDI is a supermini that's more super than most. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Skoda's three-cylinder 1.4-litre diesel Fabias might not be the cheapest superminis on the market, but the 90PS models in particular offer strong value. It's hard to argue with 83mpg fuel economy, especially when they drive so well, offer so much practicality and cling on to their value so tenaciously.
If you're reading this, chances are you're interested in cars. Enaged, even. You'll already know what is and what isn't a 'good' car and your individual preference will probably align with what brand best reflects your personality. There's little we can do to change that, but here's the thing. The vast majority of car buyers aren't like you. They don't know the difference between a good and a bad car and they're overwhelmed by the sheer choice on offer. If you know somebody like this, who's looking for a supermini and just wants something that will be easy to live with, do them a favour and steer them in the direction of a Skoda Fabia 1.4-litre TDI diesel. Don't get us wrong. This isn't a car that will only suit the automotive illiterate. It's just that it's so hassle-free, so well-engineered and so keenly priced that it's one of those vehicles that just isn't going to generate much in the way of complaint. The risk-free car purchase? It's as close as anything we've seen.
The 1.4-litre diesel engine that powers this third-generation Fabia is available in either 90 or 105PS guises and it's a sweet little three-cylinder installation. We'll concentrate on the 90PS unit here, largely because it'll appeal to more UK buyers and we reckon it makes by far the more convincing buying proposition. Performance is a bit livelier than its 62mph sprint figure of 11.1 seconds would suggest, thanks to a healthy torque figure of 230Nm that's yours for the picking from just 1,750 through to 2,500rpm. You'll need to stay on top of the six-speed manual gearchange though, but that's no great hardship. The ratios are such that it does require a bit of revving in first in order to then get the turbo spooling in second gear, but the shift action is slick and the clutch pedal's nicely weighted as well. There's an optional DSG twin-clutch box available too. Ride quality is excellent, with Skoda unburdened by pretensions of sportiness. At this point, we'd normally explain that this comes at the expense of cornering ability, but the Fabia can take a bend very cleanly, with taut body control and accurate steering. That blend between damping, spring rates, tyre specification and roll stiffness is really well judged. Turn-in is also excellent for a diesel car.
Design and Build
The old MK2 model Fabia 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. 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 third generation 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. The boot is 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, loading capacity increases to up to 1,150-litres. The loading area is 960mm wide, which is 2cm wider than the previous car.
Market and Model
Prices open at just over £14,000 for a 90PS SE specification model, which isn't the massive bargain some might have been expecting. For comparison's sake, you could opt for a diesel Hyundai i20 and save yourself around £500. Unfortunately, the 105PS version of this engine is only offered in Elegance trim that will set you back almost £17,000. Nevertheless, overall it's hard to argue that the Skoda doesn't offer decent value. The cabin may be low-key in its styling but there's a decent amount of kit. 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.
Cost of Ownership
The Fabia's chassis is a combination of the previous PQ26 layout and the modern VW Group MQB lightweight structure. The old is basically sandwiched between the new, with a redesigned engine bay and front structure grafted on, as well as the latest rear axles and suspension. The result is that the Fabia is impressively light, something that's manifested in some impressive economy figures. Skoda quotes a combined cycle average of 83.1mpg and emissions of just 88g/km. 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.
Yes, the Skoda Fabia 1.4 TDI is a very sensible car and, to the casual observer, it might be construed as a bit of a boring choice. It's safe and steady, it gets great fuel economy and it's reliable. Spend any time in one, however, and you'll realise that the talents of the Volkswagen Group have been put to very good use. It actually drives a lot better than many of its so-called sporting rivals. There's a consistency to its control weights and a refinement to its suspension that feels reassuringly expensive. The three-pot engine is both characterful and economical. It's never particularly fast, but it has the torque to get you out of a spot. Downsides? The interior could have been a little more adventurous and the fact that the 105PS version of this engine is only offered in Elegance trim that will set you back almost £17,000. Otherwise, this is an easy car to recommend to people who know nothing about cars and to those who know a lot. Those folk in the middle will make up the biggest challenge for Skoda.