If you’ve been shopping for a small SUV, you should do yourself a favour and go check out the 2016 Skoda Fabia Wagon before you hand over any of your hard-earned cash.
Why? Because the Czech brand’s small station wagon is arguably more practical, more family-friendly and more frugal than most of the compact SUVs on the market. And it’s cheaper than plenty, too.
Not that that has helped the brand sell many. Skoda has moved only 484 examples of the Fabia over the first six months of 2016, which is tiny when you consider the biggest-selling city cars can sell four times that many in four weeks. And that figure includes hatchbacks and wagons...
The Skoda Fabia Wagon range starts at just $17,140 plus on-road costs for the entry-level manual model, while the dual-clutch automatic (DSG) model tested here kicks off from $21,440 plus on-road costs.
That may seem a steep step up just to get an auto gearbox, but you also get more power.
The 81TSI version with the DSG transmission is powered by the same-sized engine – a 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol unit – but with the seven-speed auto it has 81kW of power (hence the name) and 175Nm of torque, where the five-speed manual, 66TSI model has, you guessed it, 66kW of power and 160Nm of torque.
Fuel use is miserly, rated at 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres no matter whether you choose the self-shifter or the stick. To be fair to its competitive set, though, we used an average of 7.7L/100km over our week with the car, which included highway and urban driving. We’ll get to our driving impressions soon, but first, what are this thing’s competitors?
Well, there are no other light or city-sized station wagons on the market, but you could consider this a rival to, say, a Honda Jazz (with its clever seating), or just about any of the high-riding hatch brigade of small SUVs: we’re talking the Ford EcoSport, Holden Trax, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Renault Captur, and even the Skoda Yeti.
The thing the Skoda has over all of those SUVs is boot space. In fact, with 505 litres of cargo capacity, it has more suitcase-swallowing ability than many cars in the medium segment. Its boot is just a litre smaller than a Mazda 6 wagon, and that car spans a further 608 millimetres from nose to tail. The best of the small SUVs is the Honda HR-V with 437L of cargo capacity.
Further, that massive boot can be expanded to a huge 1370L with the 60:40 rear seats folded down. And the cargo area has thoughtful items like a shopping bag hoop to stop things moving around, and a pair of shopping bag hooks. It has a 12-volt outlet back there, and there’s a full-size spare wheel under the boot floor.
The disadvantage of the big boot is the back seat is pretty tight. With the driver’s seat set in my (six-foot-tall, long legs) driving position, I had limited knee space – my knees were hard-up against the fabric of the front seat – but there was enough toe wiggle-room. The outboard seats are nicely sculpted without being over-cushioned, and the headroom is good, given the slightly tall-box body of the car.
That body is quite narrow, so fitting three adults across the second-row could be a squish. But there are dual ISOFIX child-seat attachments and three top-tether points, and those in the back have good-sized door pockets, a pair of map pockets for – let’s face it – anything other than maps. There are no rear air-vents, but that’s par for the course in this class, and there is no flip-down centre armrest either.
Up front there’s a small, adjustable centre armrest, and while there are cup-holders between the front seats, they are a bit small, and may see you have to choose a Tall rather than Venti size for your takeaway decafsoyfrappamochaccino. Otherwise the storage is good, including large front door pockets that have delightful, removable little trash bins. The little mesh pockets on seat uprights are tidy, too.
The front seats offer good adjustment, including height adjust for the driver, and the leather-lined steering wheel and the metal-look dash finish lift the cabin ambience somewhat, because otherwise it is a bit purposeful in its presentation, with lots of hard plastic surfaces. Even the rear door armrests are hard plastic, where those up front won’t have callused elbows, as there is some padding.
Infotainment is sorted by way of a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB, auxiliary and SD card slots, six speakers, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity through the brand’s SmartLink mirroring system.
And if you’re into safety kit, the Skoda ticks lots of boxes – but not all of them. It has forward collision warning with emergency braking, an electronic differential lock (which helps when you’re accelerating out of corners), Multi-Collision brake (which will apply the brakes if an accident is detected to stop you careening into the path of other cars), all the airbags (dual front, front, side, full-length curtain), tyre pressure monitoring, cruise control with speed limiter, daytime running lights, rear fog lights, and rear parking sensors. It doesn’t, however, come with a rear-view camera – instead, there’s an optical display of the rear sensors on that centre screen. The side mirrors are heated, too, which is great for those chilly mornings.
Our car also had the Sport pack ($1200), which includes LED daytime running lights, fatigue detection, 17-inch alloy wheels and sports suspension (lowered by 15 millimetres compared to the standard car).
Now I made the point at the top of this review that the advantages of the Skoda Fabia Wagon are primarily pragmatic. But it also drives better than almost every small SUV out there, in part because of that Sport pack.
The lower centre of gravity means the Skoda is a lithe and lively little thing to push through corners, if the desire is there, but even if you’re just tooling around town there’s less of that wobbliness that you may find from higher-riding cars. Of course, the downside is that you sit lower in traffic, but it’s not like this is sitting in the weeds.
In fact, the Fabia’s ride has a slight firmness to it that makes it feel quite assured of itself on the open road, and that was due in part to the optional 17-inch alloy wheels fitted to our car. Still, it handled smaller bumps admirably, and while the suspension can be rigid if you hit a sharp-edged bump, it recovers well, and coasts over large speedhumps and the like with ease. It is perfectly settled at highway speed, too, which could make it very comfortable option for commuters – but note, it can be a little bit noisy at high-speeds, particularly on course chip roads.
Back to that 81TSI engine – it is a spirited little powerplant, with very good throttle response and easily enough torque for this application. And the DSG transmission helps, with very smooth shifts at speed, and you can trust the transmission to always get the gear selection right.
That said, it can be a bit annoying around town. We’ve reported on these low-speed quibbles in the past, and often it just requires you to adjust your driving style: don’t stomp on the right pedal and it generally takes off nicely. But if you do tramp the accelerator it can be sluggish to take-off before throwing you back in your seat when the turbo kicks in.
Also, we noted some wheelspin from a standing start when we had to get on the throttle quickly, and there was also a touch of torque-steer, where the steering wheel tugs to the side under heavy throttle. However, it handles corners quite well, with plenty of front-end grip at speed, and precise, nicely weighted steering.
As well as being pretty affordable to purchase, Skoda offers a six-year capped-price service campaign for the Fabia Wagon that should theoretically ease the minds of potential buyers. Maintenance is due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, and it works out to be about $409 per visit over that 72-month/90,000km period. There’s a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and you can extend it to five years/unlimited km for an additional $999.
All told, the 2016 Skoda Fabia Wagon is a great alternative to the mass of small SUVs that are seemingly filling up Aussie neighbourhoods. We really hope more buyers consider this clever little station wagon as an alternative to the high-rider crowd.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.