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If the likes of the popular Hyundai Accent and Toyota Yaris don't quite offer the refinement and style you want in your light car, and the Mazda 2 and Volkswagen Polo are short on the funkiness you're after, a correctly specified 2017 Skoda Fabia 81TSI might just suit you to a T.
Available as either a five-door hatchback or five-door wagon, the third-generation 2017 Skoda Fabia can be had with a choice of two turbocharged 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engines; a 66kW/160Nm version, exclusively tied to a five-speed manual transmission, and an 81kW/175Nm variant, exclusively paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic.
Powered by the latter combination, tested here we have the $19,490 (before on-road costs) 2017 Skoda Fabia 81TSI.
Costing $1150 less than its direct wagon equivalent, the 81TSI hatchback comes in $3000 dearer than the entry-level 66TSI manual, and $4000 cheaper than the flagship 81TSI Monte Carlo.
For context, it also undercuts a six-speed automatic, mid-spec, Mazda 2 Maxx by $200, and its Volkswagen Group cousin, the Volkswagen Polo 81TSI Comfortline, by $1700 – though the Polo is available with the 81TSI engine and a six-speed manual for $18,690 (before on-road costs).
Despite both Volkswagen Group cars slightly outmuscling the 81kW/141Nm naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder in the Mazda 2, Volkswagen claims its heavier Polo will hit 100km/h 0.1 of a second faster than lighter Fabia – 9.3 seconds versus 9.4s.
And, while the Mazda is the lightest of the three, both the Skoda and Volkswagen just pip it for claimed fuel consumption – the Germans claiming 4.8 litres per 100km to the Japanese car’s 4.9L/100km.
So in terms of price, power, torque, and fuel efficiency, the Skoda Fabia 81TSI is definitely a serious contender.
Standard equipment is a strong point and is highlighted by daytime running lights, heated power mirrors with integrated indicators, 15-inch steel wheels, cloth seat upholstery, engine start-stop, a full-size 15-inch steel spare wheel (speed limited), a six-speaker stereo, and a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
With standard safety a renewed focus from Skoda, front assist with city emergency and multi-collision braking systems are also included, as are six airbags, a five-star ANCAP safety rating, two ISOFIX child seat anchorage points, hill-hold assist, an electronic differential lock (XDS+), and tyre pressure monitoring.
Looking rather trick compared with the standard Fabia 81TSI, our Rally Green (a $500 metallic paint option) tester has been spruced up with what Skoda calls ‘Colour Concept’, adding black, 16-inch Antia alloy wheels, a black roof, and black A-pillars and wing mirrors.
If you’d like further individualisation options, you’re not light-on for choice.
There’s an optional Sports Pack – $1800 without Colour Concept, $1900 with it – which adds LED daytime running lights, rear parking sensors, a fold-down front centre armrest with storage, rear privacy glass, a flat-bottom sports steering wheel, sports suspension, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Lash out $3600 – with or without Colour Concept – and the optional Premium Sports Pack nets you keyless entry and push-button start, front fog lights, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, driver attention detection, upgraded ‘Climatic’ climate controls, and DAB+ digital radio.
Individually, you can also throw satellite navigation ($950) into the mix, along with cruise control with speed limiter ($390), and a panoramic glass roof ($1000) – the latter fitted to our test car.
Jump in, and up front, the first thing you notice is the tidy and tactile, multifunction leather steering wheel. Feeling super nice in the hands, it’s covered in the same material used on the gear lever and chrome-tipped manual handbrake lever.
A plastic, brushed aluminium-look dash panel stretching from the driver’s side to the passenger’s is a neat accent, teaming well with more chrome lashings around the gear lever, reach- and rake-adjustable steering wheel, door handles, air vent surrounds, and encircling the driver’s instruments.
Half an inch smaller than the 7.0-inch MZD Connect unit you’ll find in the top-spec Mazda 2 Genki, the Fabia’s central touchscreen is identically-sized to that in the Polo, and is positively responsive, and easy to learn and use.
There are different grades of hard plastic splashed throughout the cabin – on the upper and lower sides of the dash, as well as flanking the centre stack and transmission tunnel – but being a Skoda, storage is plentiful and clever.
There’s an amply large glovebox, decent door pockets with removable baby rubbish bins, cupholders, a storage cubby, handy pockets on the inner-sides of both front seats, and even an emergency umbrella under front passenger seat. USB and AUX inputs are there too, along with a 12-volt outlet.
Upholstered in a material closely resembling the inside of a wetsuit, the Fabia’s grey cloth seats aren’t hugely bolstered, and you tend to sit more ‘on’ them than ‘in’ them, but they are pretty comfy.
You’ve got basic rubber pedals at your feet, steering wheel-mounted controls for phone, audio, and the forward-collision mitigation technology in front of you, and two, manually-sliding panel blinds for the panoramic glass roof above you – the latter being a touch flimsy and on the cheap side.
Front passengers both get height-adjustable seat belts, however, while all four windows are powered, only the driver’s is auto up/down.
Hop into the back, and room is tight-ish. Sure, the little ‘Fabs’ is indeed only a light car-rival to the likes of the Mazda 2 and Volkswagen Polo, but it’s also easily short on space compared with the legitimately TARDIS-like Honda Jazz.
Thanks to the car’s boxy shape, though, head-room is quite good, while rear knee-and toe-room are acceptable rather than outstanding.
The rear is also kitted out with grab handles, coat hooks,two map pockets, and individual reading lights. There are quite reasonable little door pockets, however, in keeping with segment rivals, don’t go looking for any rear air vents or fold-down centre armrests.
Drop the 60:40 split-fold rear seats, and you can boost the Skoda’s already-impressive 305-litre boot capacity, to an even more IKEA-friendly 1125L. The only catch is, dropping the rear seats does create a significant lip between the boot floor and the rear seat base. If you’re likely to need more seat-up and seat-down space, perhaps consider the Fabia Wagon, offering 505L and 1370L, respectively.
Conveniently, though, not only does the Fabia’s decently-sized parcel tray have two resting positions (three if you include being tucked in behind the rear seats), it also lifts up nice and high and out of the way when you open the boot – ideal when loading in larger items.
Other smart, Skoda-centric additions include two, chunky, fold-down luggage hooks, compartmentalised storage areas, a cargo net, six tie-down points, and a flexible plastic divider. Under the floor also lives a (speed limited) 15-inch steel spare wheel.
Hit the highway, and road and wind noise doesn’t have to work too hard to penetrate the cabin. Although not a deal breaker, there is more than there perhaps there should be.
Happy at a 100km/h cruise at 2000rpm, the 1.2-litre turbo-petrol, while no torque monster, will get you in and around the city, and the majority of 50-60km/h zones, without much need to go beyond 2200rpm.
Able to rev out to just past 6000rpm, it can sound rather thrashy up in the rev range, however you rarely need to kick the revs up that high. And as it was, steering clear of such rpm, we ended up averaging 7.4L/100km over our urban-heavy week with the car – 2.6L/100km up on its combined claim.
Throttle response isn’t bad, but frustratingly, the engine – and to some degree the whole car – is let down by the seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission.
Hesitant on take-offs and occasionally caught napping coming into and out of roundabouts, the gearbox isn’t a poor one, it’s just annoyingly dim-witted and sometimes a bit aloof. Sliding the gear lever across into ‘Sport’ mode improves things, although, without steering wheel-mounted paddles, it all feels a touch ‘clunky’ – particularly with stop-start engaged.
Despite a slightly spongey pedal underfoot, the Fabia’s four-wheel disc brakes – the Mazda 2 still employing rear drums – pull the car up well, providing confidence for any spirited blasts.
And when you do find a good sequence of bends, while the gearbox might frustrate, the Fabia’s steering is a highlight.
Nicely weighted and balanced, the electro-mechanical power steering is light enough to make getting around town easy, while still providing good levels of feedback and driver engagement.
Helped by its clever underpinnings – partly MQB-related in its architecture – the 3992mm-long Fabia is around 60kg lighter than its Polo compatriot, and with good grip from its 16-inch Bridgestone tyres, makes for an entertaining experience.
A little soft and with a little roll attached to it, the third-generation Skoda Fabia is plenty of fun on the right stretch of road.
Ride compliance overall is very good, it handles speed humps well, and it maintains high levels of comfort nipping in and out of narrow streets and laneways and negotiating most driveways. That said, despite its playful, somewhat ‘squishy’ set-up, sharper imperfections, potholes, road joins, and cats eyes are all still felt in the cabin, the worst of which resulting in some jarring.
Thanks to a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and three years road-side assist, the aftersales picture is a good one, with a $999 extended factory warranty adding a further two years of coverage and road-side assist to the mix.
Skoda also offers capped-price servicing on the Fabia, with scheduled services required every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first). Under this plan, with the first six services ranging in price from $279 to $592 , servicing costs for the first three years of ownership total $1070 (note, Skoda does not include the cost of “additional items” in its quoted capped-price figures).
The 2017 Skoda Fabia 81TSI is one good little jigger. It’s competitively priced, competitively specced, and a largely comfortable and entertaining thing to drive – frustrating dual-clutch gearbox aside.
With only 730 units sold year-to-date, though, the Skoda Fabia is unlikely to ever outsell the Hyundai Accent (15,378 units) or Toyota Yaris (10,247 units). And although it can claim some victories in various areas over the Mazda 2 (11,688 units) and Volkswagen Polo (6722), it’s hardly about to knock them of their perch either.
It doesn’t do too much wrong, however, with most elements executed to a generally high level. So, if you’re looking for something with equal levels of refinement, style, and funkiness, a new Skoda Fabia is most definitely a good option worth considering.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2017 Skoda Fabia 81TSI images by Tom Fraser.