Having lived in big cities all my adult life, I didn’t buy my first car until the age of 33. Living in Sydney with no off-street parking, I wanted something small, but practical and with enough automotive integrity to meet the long repressed motoring enthusiast in me.[/caption]
A VW Golf was the obvious choice, but their ubiquity put me off, as well as the fact the excellent, and as yet unreleased, Mark 7 was just around the corner when I was looking to buy. I couldn’t stretch to a GTI, and the prospect of having the standard car didn’t really get me going. I toyed with the idea of the Hyundai Veloster, but had concerns about practicality. I didn’t want one of the more mainstream offerings from Toyota, Kia, Ford or Holden etc, either.
So with all those brands excluded, and budget ruling out something more exotic and prestigious, I ended up at Skoda to look at the Yeti. The Yeti appealed because the footprint was small enough for the city, yet the internal space was great. After a test drive, the main issue, especially with my budget, was the performance from the base level petrol engine, which was woeful. So that ruled out the Yeti.
Anyway, at the Skoda dealer I spotted a regular Fabia hatchback and jumped in to test the size. I’d assumed it would be far too small, but found that I could get comfortable in the front, and still sit behind my driving position in the rear without any problems. At 6’3″, fitting in the back of small cars is usually a no go area, but the Fabia is surprisingly spacious.
The only practicality issue with the hatchback was the size of the boot. One quick internet search later and I discovered that not only did they make a wagon variant, but that you could also get one with the drivetrain from a Polo GTI. Happy days!
After a great test drive of the RS Wagon, where I flicked up and down the gears using the paddles and heard the turbo whistling and supercharger wailing away, I was sold. As was my now wife.
Having had the car for around four years now, I can give what I hope is a fairly objective review. However, I should point out that I do love the car, and despite a few issues, will only move on to something new with a heavy heart. It is a real shame that Skoda has opted not to make an RS version of the new Fabia.
So let me start with the good stuff. The performance from the turbocharged and supercharged 1.4 litre engine, which generates around 180 bhp, is magnificent. 0-100km/h is knocked off somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5 seconds and the power and torque is available wherever you are in the rev range. It makes city driving a breeze and getting up to speed on freeway on ramps great fun. Especially in what is essentially a little shopping trolley of a car. The top speed is a whopping 240km/h.
The DSG gearbox, which I know cops a lot of flak, is seamless when you’re on an open stretch of road, with split second changes and a great F1 feel (in my head). On the winding sections of a long trip from Sydney down through Canberra and Cann River to Lakes Entrance, flicking up and down through the gears using the paddle-shifters on the steering wheel was a delight.
Size-wise, the Fabia is perfect for the city. It is roughly the same length as a Golf, but considerably narrower. While that makes it tight, in fact very tight, for seating three across the back, it makes the car a breeze to park and thread through city traffic. On more than one occasion I’ve been able to squeeze into parking spots that other larger vehicles have had to abandon.
Despite the small external dimensions, size on the inside is great. Four adults have no problem fitting comfortably, and the boot has to be seen to be believed. At 490 litres, it has the same capacity as the junior executive wagons from Mercedes, BMW and Audi, despite being two or three classes smaller. Amazing, and hugely handy when it comes to trips to homeware stores, moving etc.
It is also worth mentioning the little luxuries and touches that make an otherwise quite utilitarian car feel a bit special. The glovebox is air conditioned and climate control is standard. All four windows have one touch operation, there are storage drawers under the front seats, a decent front armrest and storage space in the roof for glasses. The steering wheel, handbrake and gear stick are all leather bound and the sports seats are really well bolstered. Outside there are ‘piano black’ mirrors and roof rails, red brake calipers and LED daytime running lights. The chrome dual exhaust and rear diffuser are nice visual touches, too.
The other thing I love about the Fabia is just how rare it is. I’ve seen a few of the regular hatchbacks driving around, and the odd wagon, but RS wagon sightings I can count on one hand, and that is in the last three years. All told I’ve seen three other RS wagons since buying mine. Another blue one, a white one, and a silver one. Bizarrely the silver one lives somewhere near me. What are the chances?
You could argue that it is rare for a reason. The pricing, I think, was too close to the Polo GTI. Unless you want the exclusivity, or the added practicality, the Polo is a better finished and equipped car. Now that Skodas share the same platform and technology as the latest Volkswagens, their pricing is becoming less of a problem. But in this generation, which I think uses the previous generation Polo platform, but with an up-to-date drivetrain, you need more of a price incentive to choose the Skoda over the VW.
And now for the not so good. My Fabia absolutely guzzles oil. This may be due to the way I use the car, which for 99 per cent of the time is for short urban trips, but still, it is a real pain to constantly monitor and top up the oil level.
My other major bugbear is not with the car itself, but with the after sales service from Skoda. It may just be unlucky timing, but since buying the car, I’ve had to have it serviced at three different VW/Skoda service centres as each in turn has been closed down or stopped servicing Skodas. This has taken me from Alexandria, to Rockdale and now to the VW centre near Sydney Airport.
The services themselves have been fine, but ringing up the garage you last used only to be told ‘we don’t do them anymore’ is very frustrating. On a side issue, if I want to buy a new Skoda now, the two nearest dealerships have gone and I would need to wait for their joint replacement to open at VW near Sydney Airport, which shows no sign of arriving anytime soon. For a brand that is in the building phase, that really isn’t committed enough to what should be one of their major target areas.
The other issues are more like minor annoyances. The 17-inch wheels, with very low profile tires, make parallel parking a nerve shredding experience. I hate kerbed wheels, but after three-and-a-half years, depressingly there are a few dings that I am not proud of. The most traumatic is when you lend the car to someone and you just know it will come back with a new nick from parallel parking. It also means that the tires are puncture prone. Luckily the Fabia has a tire pressure monitor as standard. That has been very handy. With the tiny side walls, you have no idea when you have a flat until the handling feels a bit off and monitor flashes and beeps into life.
That wheel and tyre combo, combined with sport suspension also means that the ride can be a bit too firm when dealing with some of the atrocious road surfaces in Sydney. Banging over hard edge concrete slabs and pot holes means you have to keep a very careful eye on the surface you are travelling over.
And last but not least, the DSG gearbox. I’m not sure why people get so exercised about them, but they are certainly divisive beasts! As I’ve said above, out on the open road, the gearbox is absolutely amazing. Even in the city, once you are above 10km/h it is sensational. But, in stop start traffic, and when parking, you do have to drive around the gearbox. Smooth starts are a dark art and that can get tiresome. While I love the gearbox, and the paddle-shifters, hand on heart, I think I would rather a torque converter auto for city driving. But, if I lived somewhere where queuing in traffic and tight maneuvering was a rarity, I wouldn’t consider anything else. It would have to be a dual clutch gearbox.
So there we go. Despite a few short comings, I love the Fabia RS Wagon and am very pleased with my choice of first car. It has enough personality to stand out from the crowd, the performance is great and it is perfect for the city. And nerdy as it is, I just love the size of that boot!
Finally, as a quick addition to the end of this already too long review, with the arrival of our first child, we have just taken delivery of a new Tiguan 162TSI R Line. So we’re staying in the VW group, and we’ve decided to keep the Fabia as a second car. We love it too much to let it go! If people are interested, I’ll post a review of the Tiguan once we’ve had it a while.