Not so long ago, few would have recommended purchasing the cheapest Skoda money could buy. But in 2012, with the $18,990 Skoda Fabia 77TSI, times have changed.
While the Skoda Fabia is relatively new to the Australian market, having launched here in September 2011, the current model is no spring chicken. The second-generation Fabia went into production in the Czech Republic in 2007 based on the platform of the previous Volkswagen Polo. In 2010, it received a facelift and a number of new engines and transmissions from the new version of its German cousin.
Among those was the 77TSI unit. The 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine (also found in the entry-level Volkswagen Golf) produces a competitive 77kW of power and a benchmark 175Nm of torque (shared with the Polo). The Fabia’s 10.1-second 0-100km/h acceleration time doesn't sound especially quick, but with peak torque available across a broad range (1500-4100rpm) it feels responsive down low and excels in the city with its flexibility.
The Fabia’s five-speed manual transmission is also effortless around town thanks to its particularly light clutch and smooth shift pattern, but would benefit from a sixth gear (like the Polo and the Kia Rio) on the highway where the engine climbs to 2500rpm at 100km/h and starts to make a bit of noise. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission option will be available in Australia from mid 2012, adding $2300 to the price.
The manual’s official fuel consumption of 5.5 litres per 100km matches the Polo and puts the Skoda Fabia among the most efficient petrol-powered vehicles in its class (alongside the Rio, Suzuki Swift, and Toyota Yaris), although unlike those three its engine requires the more expensive premium unleaded petrol. In the real world, expect figures north of 7.0L/100km if you spend most of your time around town.
The Fabia rides well, dealing with ruts and coarse surfaces quickly and without much fuss. The set-up is softer and not quite as sporty as the Polo or the Ford Fiesta, instead placing emphasis on comfort similar to the Rio. The steering, likewise, lacks some of the responsiveness and feedback of the Volkswagen, but maintains its directness and predictability to instil confidence both at high speeds and around bends.
Comparisons with the Polo are unavoidable given both 77TSI models are priced identically at $18,990. So what’s the difference between the two, and why would you buy the Fabia?
At 4000mm long, 1682mm wide and 1500mm tall, the Skoda Fabia is fractionally smaller in all directions, yet its boot is actually 35 litres larger (315L versus 280L), making it one of the biggest in the light-hatch class. Both have a full-size spare wheel.
As mentioned earlier, the Polo’s transmission gets an extra ratio, and is four-tenths quicker to 100km/h.
In terms of specifications, the Fabia gets twin glove boxes and eight speakers versus the Polo’s one and six respectively. The Fabia sports fogs lights, but the Polo takes the points with features like standard hill start assist, alloy wheels, passenger seat height adjustment and a USB input.
Regardless, the Skoda Fabia is well equipped for a city car. Standard features include tinted windows, manual air conditioner with pollen filter, cruise control, multi-function trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, auxiliary input, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, handbrake and gearknob.
The options list is reasonably priced and includes metallic/pearl paint ($490), white/silver contrast roof ($390), rear parking sensors ($390), climate control ($390), and 15-inch alloy wheels ($990), among others.
While value for money isn’t the problem for the Skoda Fabia, its relatively high starting price could be for some buyers. In the light-car segment where low-cost is king, the Fabia is between $2000-$3300 more expensive than the entry-level five-door manual variants of the Fiesta ($16,990), Rio ($16,290), Mazda2 ($15,790), Swift ($15,990) and the Yaris ($15,690).
The Fabia’s cabin also lacks the Polo’s refinement, although on that measure it’s on par with most of its competitors. There’s a small patch of soft-touch plastic across the dash, but most of the surfaces are hard and the seat materials feel thin. The fit quality is impressive without being perfect, and the interior door handles have a regrettably flimsy feel. The dashboard design is also surprisingly bland and monotone grey given the quirky, lively exterior.
The interior is all very functional and well laid out, however. The driver’s seat is a little flat and the backrest tends to push you forwards rather than hold you in, but it’s easy to get comfortable with plenty of seat movement and a tilt/reach adjustable steering wheel. Visibility is another strong point thanks to the Fabia’s comparatively thin pillars and large windows.
Like the boot, the Fabia’s second row is one of the most spacious in its class. There’s headroom for six-footers and the scalloped front seatbacks cleverly create additional knee space. The centre seat is tiny and firm but fine for children or smaller adults on short trips.
The Skoda Fabia, as with the old Polo it’s based on, achieved a four-star safety rating when crash-tested in Europe in 2007 and scored the same when tested by ANCAP for the New Zealand market in 2009. The current Polo scored five stars.
The standard safety package for the Fabia includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtains) and electronic stability control.
All Skodas sold in Australia are covered by a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, matching the industry average but falling short of the five-year peace of mind provided by Kia, Hyundai and Mitsubishi.
Skoda is certainly no longer a brand to ignore, and the Fabia combines a responsive and efficient Volkswagen Group powertrain with a compelling level of standard features and interior spaciousness to rival some vehicles in the next class up.
But Volkswagen Group Australia’s pricing strategy with Skoda, which is clearly positioned as a budget brand in Europe, still puzzles, with little difference between price tags of comparable VW and Skoda products.
And in the Fabia’s case there’s no difference to the Polo that offers a classier interior, better features overall, and, perhaps most crucially for many buyers, a Volkswagen badge.