It may be a model that has never been a household name in Australia, but the 2016 Skoda Fabia is a city car that really should find itself on more buyers’ shopping lists.
There are plenty of reasons why, not least of which is the fact it looks so much smarter than it did in its previous guise. The old Fabia was a high-topped, narrow looking thing that never sold in big numbers (averaging about 500 units per year since its launch in 2011).
The new model is a far sleeker, squatter and arguably considerably more attractive model, and it remains the only light car on the market to be offered in both hatchback and wagon bodystyles. It’s priced and equipped smartly, too – see the 2016 Skoda Fabia pricing and specifications story for more details.
That wagon makes this a serious alternative to the current crop of compact SUVs that are seemingly arriving every few months from different manufacturers. And the Fabia wagon betters all of them for luggage carrying capacity, with a sizeable 505 litre boot which expands to a huge 1370L hold with the seats folded down. The hatch, too, has a bigger-than-average-for-the-class boot at 305L/1125L.
Inside, the new Skoda Fabia has taken a huge step over its predecessor in terms of cabin presentation and equipment.
As standard, all new Fabia models will come with a crisp 6.5-inch touchscreen media system that includes Smartlink, the brand’s name for its smartphone mirroring app technology. So, plug your iPhone in via USB, for example, and the Apple CarPlay interface will immediately show up on the screen. It’ll do the same for Android phones with the Android Auto interface, too.
The system is brilliant, allowing you to touch the screen to have your text messages read out over the stereo, or giving you the option to call people by using voice commands. You can run your phone’s mapping system to get where you’re going, too – just watch the data costs, though they’d undoubtedly be cheaper than the $950 option price Skoda is asking for a hard-fitted sat-nav system.
Perhaps what’s even nicer about the whole infotainment system is that the menu layout of the standard screen before you plug in your smartphone is so nicely designed and of such a good resolution. This could well be the benchmark system in this class, and it appears of a better quality than, say, the Mazda 2’s MZD Connect (though that car has the clever rotary dial controller system, and it's not standard across the range, either).
Skoda is all about keeping its cars “Simply Clever”, and that sums up the cabin to a tee. There are plenty of clever storage pockets throughout the cabin, including twin map pockets on the backs of the front seats (and small mesh pockets on the sides of the seats, too), decent door pockets all around including bottle holders and little rubbish bins for those in the front, and a pair of small cupholders up front.
The base model, however, misses out on the handy centre armrest with covered storage, but all versions get front-seat storage cubbies underneath the chairs. The driver has clear instruments in front of them, including a centre screen with digital speedometer.
The simple part comes in the choice of plastics that Skoda applies to its cars. The dash and doors, for instance, are coated in a hard plastic that looks good but feels a bit cheap. That said, there are fabric armrests, and the new steering wheel is a leather-wrapped item with audio and phone controls.
Rear seat space isn’t exemplary. There are numerous cars in this class with better room in hatchback guise, and the Honda Jazz which sets the interior space benchmark, where the Skoda offers acceptable headroom for taller adults but lacks knee-room and toe space in the hatch.
The wagon model has the same wheelbase so there’s no knee-room advantage, but head-room is improved due to its higher roof. The rear seats fold 60:40, but because of the depth of the boot floor the load space isn’t flat, and there’s no rear centre armrest or cupholders for either the hatch or wagon.
All models miss out on rear seat vents, but ISOFIX child seat anchor points are standard, and so is Skoda’s clever boot netting and cargo holder system that includes a plastic ‘fence’ you can place your shopping bags inside of.
On the road the new Skoda has improved markedly, too, thanks mainly to its updated engine offerings.
The base model 66TSI comes with a 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 66kW of power and 160Nm of torque. It is fitted as standard with a five-speed manual transmission.
This is the budget buyer’s pick, because at $15,990 driveaway (until the end of 2015) it’s a bit of a bargain.
The engine is a purposeful little thing, revving willingly from low in the rev range and accommodating the driver if they wish to push a little harder, too. It is refined and just a little bit rorty, which could be good or bad depending on if you appreciate a quiet cabin or not.
The five-speed manual gearbox may be a ratio short of some competitors but it never feels stressed or overwhelmed at highway speed, and the ratios are spaced nicely for city running, too. It’ll cruise happily at 60km/h in fourth gear, and still pull strongly when you plant your foot. It shifts smoothly, and the clutch has a good amount of feel to it without being hefty underfoot.
Our manual hatchback on test was fitted with optional 16-inch wheels as part of the Travel Pack, but the ride was exceptional over hard bumps and sharp edges. Its steering was excellent, too, with a nice amount of weight to it during parking manoeuvres and the ideal on-centre feel for highway or open road driving.
The other powertrain option is the 1.2-litre 81TSI, which has a more powerful 81kW/175Nm turbo-petrol engine matched exclusively to a seven-speed DSG (dual clutch auto).
Because the auto is only available with a bigger engine, buyers wanting something that shifts its own gears will have to fork over a significant $4300 extra over the manual, with the 81TSI hatch priced at $20,290 (an extra $1150 for the wagon, as it is with the 66TSI).
Our automatic hatchback model was fitted with the Sports Pack which sees the adoption of lowered sports suspension and larger 17-inch wheels – unless you also choose the Colour Concept pack which sees those big rims replaced by 16s. That’s what our car had – yellow body, black highlights and 16-inch wheels with 215/45 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres.
The handling improvement over the standard hatch is notable – the lower suspension means it sits flatter when cornering and tucks in to tighter twists nicely, and that’s undoubtedly aided by the standard XDL electronic diff lock that brakes the inside wheel to help the nose of the car find its way around the bend more rapidly. But you do pay a price in terms of comfort, with the suspension transmitting lots of small sharp bumps into the cockpit.
This engine is peppy and fizzy, with excellent mid-range response. The gearbox shifts ultra quick between the cogs, before settling in seventh at speeds around 70km/h. As is the case with all of VW Group's DSG units there's a slight hesitation from a standstill, but it is entirely manageable.
There are no paddleshifters (you can move the shifter up or down to select gears yourself), but the transmission is generally intuitive enough that you can leave it in the standard D mode or the harder-revving Sport (S) mode and it will do a better job than you can.
Those who may think the wagon isn’t as fun to drive because it’s a more practical option need think again, as the 81TSI DSG load-lugger we drove felt just as adept at cruising or cornering, and indeed the ride didn’t feel quite as choppy despite riding on the same wheelbase as the hatch, and sitting on 17s and the aforementioned sports suspension.
No matter which model we drove, however, there was notable road noise intrusion over coarse chip surfaces, and the engine can be loud in the DSG models when you’re driving downhill as the gearbox drops to a lower gear to assist in engine-braking the car. On smooth, non-hilly roads the ambience was very good.
Fuel use for all models – manual or auto – is pegged at a claimed 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres, and during our drive time we saw 5.4L/100km average for the manual and 6.4L/100km for our more spirited auto drive.
Safety is also accounted for with the new Fabia model, which comes as standard with a city emergency braking system that can automatically apply the brakes between 5km/h and 30km/h to stop a collision, and also prime the brakes to limit the impact of a crash at higher speeds. If you do crash, the Multi-Collision brake system will stop you spearing off in front of oncoming traffic, too.
Further, it has scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and comes with rear parking sensors and six airbags (dual front, front-side and full-length curtain) as standard. There's no reverse-view camera available, though.
And buyers who are interested in holding on to their car for a little longer will likely be tempted by the Skoda Care pack, which adds extra warranty coverage (five years/unlimited kilometres) and includes servicing for three years or 45,000km and five years roadside assist. It costs $1799 and can be bundled as part of a finance package.
All in all the 2016 Skoda Fabia is a big improvement over its already impressive predecessor. It may not be perfect but it is undoubtedly better value than before, and it challenges some of the big names in terms of outright equipment and pricing, too, not to mention its excellent technology and safety highlights and frugal, punchy engines.
Add to that the highly functional wagon model, and the Fabia is clearly a car worthy of a lot more consideration from those shopping in this segment.
Click the Photos tab above for more images of the 2016 Skoda Fabia.