Cheaper than a Polo. Strong engine. Well built.
Superminis are awesome; they're cheap to run, inexpensive to insure, and for the most part cheap to buy. In the search for quality and refinement in a supermini, your best bet is to look to German cars, where the likes of the Volkswagen Polo and Audi A1 reign supreme. As part of the Volkswagen Audi Group, Skoda and Seat have their own versions of the these cars, the Fabia and the Ibiza. Both are good cars, but for me, the Skoda Fabia is the more tempting because it costs little more than a Ford Fiesta.
So are there any compromises in picking a Skoda badge? Let's take a look.
To look at, the Skoda Fabia isn't as appealing as a Volkswagen Polo or Audi A1. It looks less aggressive and its boxy shape makes it look more like a small van than a sleek supermini. However, this styling has its own fan base, and the Skoda Fabia is still Skoda's bestseller in the UK.
My pick of the range is the Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 105 SE. This particular Fabia has the best engine of the bunch, and there's a good amount of equipment as standard. Just like all Fabias before it, this latest one is available only as a 5-door which is something that may work for or against it. A 3-door version would be nice, to at least appeal to a younger age group who don't need such direct access to the rear seats, but the 5-door car looks pretty good; this car is narrower, taller and longer than the Fabia before it, yet despite this the car is more spacious and a whole lot more practical. The outside design of the Fabia might not be to everybody's taste but it stands out from the sea of Fiestas on UK roads.
Lower specification engines in the Fabia range are poor; the 1.2 12V is lethargic in performance and noisy at any speed, whilst the 1.6 TDI is expensive to buy outright and for the most part clattery. The 1.2 TSI 105 is where it's at, developing 105 bhp and 129 lb /ft of torque. This turbocharged petrol engine works wonderfully in the Skoda Fabia, bringing an element of fun to a car that from the outside could be considered a little bit boring.
On the road the Fabia soaks up bumps and pot holes admirably, while providing good steering feedback. The chassis isn't very tight, though, so there is significant body roll through sweeping bends, unless you buy the top of the range VRS. At least this is made up for through a good amount of grip, which gives the driver confidence.
At speed the Fabia lets a little bit of wind noise in to the cabin but road noise generated from the tyres is minimal.
Skoda is bottom of the totem pole in the VAG brand line-up. As such, interior quality lags far behind the Audi A1 and Volkswagen Polo, and slightly behind the Seat Ibiza. That's not to say the interior is low quality, though, because on the contary it makes a Vauxhall Corsa feel 10 years old. Everything is well put together in the Fabia and each driver control has good weight to it. The steering wheel is pleasant to hold, and any plastics that are visible in the cabin are thick and feel well made. If I had one criticism about the Skoda Fabia's interior, it would be that it's bland; the green Skoda badge is the only bright colour you'll find inside, other than your own trainer-clad feet.
On the plus side, the boot in the Fabia is 300-litres which is 40-litres more than its VAG counterparts. The driving position is also very good, with the seat multi-adjustable and the steering wheel adjustable for height and reach. Settling in to the Fabia is a piece of cake.
There are several engines available in the Fabia line up. Our pick of the range, the 1.2 TSI 105, will return a combined fuel consumption of 53.3 mpg on the combined cycle. For buyers who want to have the most fuel-efficient Fabia in the range, the 1.2 TDI Greenline will return an astounding 83.1 mpg on a combined cycle, although with a 0 - 60 time of 14.2 seconds, expect that economy figure to worsen dramatically when you need to plant the throttle to get anywhere.
Tax for 1 year on the 1.2 TSI is £120.
Trim and equipment
The best trim level for price vs. equipment is SE. SE trim is second in the pecking order, above S and but below Elegance. As standard, SE models come with alloy wheels, electric and heated mirrors, air conditioning, CD player, MP3 / iPod connectivity, split / fold seats and an alarm. Optional extras include heated seats (£170), cruise control (£175), electric rear windows (£160), climate control (£280), front fog lights (£170) and Bluetooth (£340).
The only options I'd tick are heated seats and Bluetooth, both of which will help with resale value.
The Skoda Fabia is due to be updated in 2014 along with the Volkswagen Polo, and it shows. The interior on the Skoda Fabia is worse than other VAG cars and the exterior design is boring. The only saving grace of the Fabia is that it can be bought with the 1.2 TSI 105 engine which is a peach, offering brisk performance and good fuel economy. Plus points include good build quality and a cheap asking price, but if you are willing to spend a little bit extra for a little more quality, a Seat Ibiza FR 1.2 TSI will leave you much happier, and if you want to be even more impressed, a Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI SEL or R Line will do.