REVIEW DATE: 08 Feb 2008
It's got some big shoes to fill but can Skoda's second generation Fabia step up? Andy Enright reports
As significant new cars go, Skoda's latest Fabia supermini is right up there. The original model, after all, turned the Czech company around, selling over 1.5 million units, with over 112,000 finding their way to these shores. Its successor has important shoes to fill.
And plenty of much tougher opposition too. Back in 2000 when the original version arrived, all it had to be was well built and bigger than anything else in the supermini sector to guarantee success. The fact that it was styled by the guy responsible for Bentley's Continental GT was the icing on the cake and cemented the platform for its massive success.
Rivals have upped their game considerably in recent years however, and the result is that Skoda thought long and hard about what kind of car they needed this MK2 model to be. As before, there's a choice of five-door hatchback and Estate bodystyles and a wide range of Volkswagen-sourced engines.
Whilst the old Fabia was never really focused on keen drivers - even the vRS model was a rather modest diesel - it remained a very civilised steer. The latest model carries over some of the engines and improves some of the others. With four petrol units and three diesels available, there's no shortage of choice. The petrol range kicks off with the three-cylinder 1.2-litre HTP engine, developing 60bhp. The next step up is the 70bhp 1.2HTP 12v, followed by the 85bhp 1.4 16v. A 1.6-litre 16v engine is also offered with a six-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox option.
The trio of diesel engines starts with two 1.4-litre TDI units in either 70 or 80bhp guises with a 1.9-litre TDI that's good for 105bhp at the top of the range. No news yet on whether the excellent 2.0-litre diesel will make an appearance. Prices start at around £8,000 and there are '1', '2', '3' and 'Sport' trim levels. Estates do without the 'Sport' option and the entry-level 60bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine and come at a premium of around £500. If you want the 80bhp 1.4 TDI, you can choose your Fabia hatch or Estate in ecologically-friendly 'GreenLine' guise which, for a premium of around £200, reduces emissions to just 109g/km and improves fuel economy on the combined cycle by nearly 8mpg to 69mpg.
"The Fabia is now playing to a more demanding crowd"
It's easy to see where Skoda is going with their design language. If you've been paying attention to any of their show cars and concepts in the past few years, the shape of the Fabia will come as no great surprise. The front end mimics that of the Roomster mini-MPV while the rear end is a lot cleaner, offering a more conservative tack than the Roomster's weird kinked window line. In fact, the splayed shoulder line of this car and neatly sawn-off rear pillars aren't dissimilar to the Suzuki Swift. It's a very tidy styling job and serves to make the old Fabia look positively archaic.
It's a notably bigger car too, the subsequent growth of the family hatch in size giving this Fabia a bit more room to let its belt out and remain a fully fledged supermini. Skoda claim more rear knee and headroom than any rival, helped by the fact that the Fabia is 22mm longer and 47mm taller than the model it replaces. Boot capacity stands at an impressive 300 litres with the seats in place or a massive 1,163 litres when they're folded. In the Estate, the extra dimensions have helped Skoda engineers achieve a 480-litre boot capacity with the seats up, some 180 litres more than you'll cram into the hatchback. Fold the 60/40 split rear seats flat (a less than straightforward operation that involves removing the headrests) and there's an Albert Hall-esque 1,460 litres. That's 297 litres up on the hatchback.
Despite the success of the Fabia, Skoda still recognise the limits of their badge equity: the upmarket Superb saloon taught them a key, and rather expensive, lesson here. So the Fabia is priced realistically while recognising the need to nudge the brand incrementally upmarket. Equipment levels were never the Fabia's strong point, relying instead on solid no-nonsense build quality. This time round there are items like electronically-controlled Climatronic air-conditioning and an MP3/iPod compatible stereo but if you go to your Skoda dealer expecting to be granted a view of the state-of-the-art in small car electronics, you're likely to be disappointed. Unimpeachable build quality, on the other hand, you can take for granted.
Skoda had the element of surprise on their side with the old Fabia. Nobody really saw it coming. This time round, the Fabia is expected to be excellent and it goes up against rivals that are fully geared-up for its blend of qualities. It won't be able to knock over competitors like the Vauxhall Corsa, Renault's MK3 Clio or Fiat's Grange Punto in its sleep - they're too good for that. Instead, it will have to work a whole lot harder in order to eke out a profitable niche.
Skoda is in many ways a company in transition. Just offering biggish, cheap, well made cars is no longer enough. Korea is doing that now. The challenge for the Czech company is to build the brand so it can charge more for its wares. One look at the latest Fabia shows that it's on its way to becoming aspirational. It's a big ask but this is just one step on a very long road.
The results below show the top FABIA deals on buyacar
|Skoda Fabia 1.2 TDI CR GreenLine II 5dr diesel estate|
|Price £13,609||Save £881|
|Skoda Fabia 1.6 TDI CR S 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £10,100||Save £1,820|
|Skoda Fabia 1.6 TDI CR S 5dr diesel estate|
|Price £10,603||Save £1,932|
|Skoda Fabia 1.6 TDI CR SE 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £10,865||Save £1,990|
|Skoda Fabia 1.2 12V SE 5dr hatchback|
|Price £9,731||Save £1,739|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT FABIA DEALS|
|For FABIA RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.7 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||9|
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