Skoda Fabia Review
Skoda is the practicality -and value- orientated brand in the Volkswagen line-up, and that position is personified by the Fabia. Like the Seat Ibiza, it’s basically a Volkswagen Polo with a different body, but it still has a personality all of its own. Where the Polo is classy and mature, the Seat is sporty and youthful, while the Fabia is unpretentious and honest. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring, as the angular yet clean bodywork proves. An intriguing choice of colours and a wealth of options only help cement the car’s place among the best in class.
Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5
At a Glance
One of the best all-round superminis on the market, the Fabia offers space, style and solidity without breaking the bank. And with an honest-to-God attitude, it feels more likeable than some of its rivals, even those that appear to be ‘better’ cars on paper. Basic S models are fairly utilitarian, while mid-range SE Drive models and the marginally more luxurious SE L come with all the equipment you’re likely to need. There’s a sporty-looking Monte Carlo version, too, but though it looks great, it doesn’t necessarily suit the car’s character.
Skoda has a reputation for doing the simple things well, and the Fabia’s a great example of that. Stuff your high-tech unnecessaries; the Fabia comes with ingenious ideas such as an ice scraper in the fuel filler cap so you don’t get caught out on frosty mornings. You also get an umbrella so you’re never caught off-guard by sudden downpours and there’s a plastic fence in the boot, preventing your shopping from rolling around the boot like a drunk bloke in Newcastle city centre. Not that you can go out in Newcastle city centre these days. But you get the picture. These things might not sound particularly exciting, but they’re really useful, so they’re a great metaphor for the Fabia.
Performance & Drive
In the Fabia, the driving experience is somewhat dependent on the engine, with each imparting its own character on the car. Essentially, you can choose between a range of 1.0-litre three-cylinder engines, although they differ more than that fact suggests. The basic 1.0 MPI engine offers up 60hp and comes with a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 95hp 1.0 TSI engine is turbocharged and comes with a choice of five-speed manual and a ‘DSG’ automatic transmission.
Skoda is also selling 110hp versions of the 1.0 TSI engine, although the website says these are only available from stock. With a six-speed manual gearbox and a sub-10-second 0-62mph time you might want to see whether you can seek one out.
In truth, though, the 95hp engine will do everything you need of it. It takes an unremarkable 10.7 seconds to get from a standstill to 62mph, and a top speed of 116mph isn’t that exciting either. But it is adequate; fast enough to keep up with traffic and slow enough not to guzzle fuel like a supercar.
Opting for the MPI engine, however, will leave the Fabia feeling underpowered and sluggish, with 0-62mph taking a pretty glacial 16.4 seconds. If you want to drive even briskly, though, you have to really push the engine hard, and that’s quite good fun in a naughty, slightly rebellious sort of way. It gets tiring, though, so we’d stick with the 95hp engine.
Do that and you’ll end up with a car that’s perfectly capable of being driven quickly, but doesn’t reward the driver for doing so. It isn’t as engaging as a Ford Fiesta or a Mazda2, with light steering and less immediate responses from the wheels, but it handles cleanly and predictably; it’s very grown up like that. More importantly, the ride is good without being great, thanks to a slight lumpiness on uneven roads. But it’s fine most of the time, and it’s particularly smooth on motorways.
Although you might expect the more powerful 1.0-litre TSI engines to be much thirstier than the standard MPI engine, they hold their own surprisingly well. Depending on the version you choose, you can get more than 50mpg from the 95hp engine – even with the automatic gearbox. Climbing the range will cut efficiency slightly, but not enough to get you worried. That’s about the same as you’ll get from the MPI engine, and it’s also roughly the same as the 110hp version of the TSI motor. In short, every Fabia is going to offer decent fuel consumption, regardless of its power output.
As well as beating the MPI on the economy front, the 95hp TSI engine is also the least polluting option – at least in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. Depending on which trim level you go for, you can bring emissions down to 120g/km, which will put you in the 28% company car tax bracket for the forthcoming 2021/22 financial year.
If you are looking for a Fabia as a company car, though, make sure you go for the manual transmission. It may not be so user-friendly in traffic, but it’s the best way of keeping your tax bills in check, because the automatic increases emissions, as well as CO2 emissions.
As with pretty much everything in this class, any praise of the Fabia’s interior has to be tempered by the fact it’s built to a price. Profit margins are slim in this segment, and that is reflected in some of the little Skoda’s cabin plastics. But that’s the same for the Fabia’s rivals, and the Skoda makes up for it by sticking those plastics together extraordinarily well. So although some parts may not feel particularly premium, everything is built to last, with solid switchgear and no worrying rattles or panel gaps.
The cabin design follows the same theme as the bodywork, appearing quite modern in an angular sort of way. A big panel crosses the entire dash, with the touchscreen infotainment system in the centre. There’s also a stylish new two-spoke steering wheel for all but the Monte Carlo models, giving an extra air of modernity.
As standard, the Fabia comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen with decent functionality, but it’s still refreshing when some cars’ entry-level variants don’t even get that. You get Bluetooth connectivity, too, but it isn’t a patch on the Smartlink+ technology offered on all but the lowliest examples of the Fabia. That system offers extra smartphone integration tech, giving you Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to help access your phone’s functions through the central touchscreen. And to help with that, the car comes with a USB port in the dashboard to help keep your phone charged and connected.
With practicality at the heart of the Skoda offering, it’s no surprise to find the Fabia brimming with room. The 330-litre boot isn’t quite as big as those found in the Ibiza and the Polo, but it’s still a noticeable upgrade compared with a Ford Fiesta or a Vauxhall Corsa. And if the boot still isn’t big enough, you could go for the more spacious Estate model with its 530-litre boot. And as numbers don’t mean much without a reference point, bear in mind a BMW 3 Series Touring’s boot only measures 500 litres.
In the passenger compartment, the Fabia has ample seating for four adults, although five might be something of a squeeze. You can fit kids in there with ease, though, and they’ll be more than comfortable even on long journeys. All their stuff will fit in, too, with plenty of storage space in the form of big storage bins, a capacious glove box and a collection of small but quite useful cubby holes.
Skoda has also given the Fabia a few handy features, including a little green ice scraper in the fuel filler cap and an adjustable parcel shelf that can be moved to suit the customer’s needs. And there’s an umbrella under the seat that means you never get caught out by an unexpected spot of rain.
The Fabia has received a mid-life facelift that saw the exterior design tweaked slightly, but it’s still basically the same car that received a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating in 2014. The five-door hatchback scored solidly across the board, but wasn’t remarkable in any way. That said, the car comes with plenty of safety features, including a flock of airbags and Isofix child seat mountings in the outer rear seats.
Fabia customers will also be offered a range of driver assistance systems, with a driver fatigue assistance system offered as an option across most of the range. You can have a blind-spot monitoring system, too, warning you if a car drifts into the blind spots over your shoulders, and there’s the option of adaptive cruise control for the turbocharged TSI engines, maintaining a safe distance to the vehicle in front.
Perhaps the most important feature, however, is the Front Assist that comes as standard across the range. Using radar technology at the front of the vehicle, the car can automatically detect an impending collision, and if the driver does not react, the system will hit the brakes to try and prevent or reduce the impact of an accident.
With six different trim levels to choose from, you get plenty of opportunity to tailor the Fabia to your needs. Possibilities vary from the utilitarian base models to the sportier and more luxurious variants higher up the range, but all offer value, with decent levels of equipment across the board.
Even the entry-level S model comes with LED daytime running lights, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system and electric windows, as well as a little basic safety equipment, while the SE gets 15-inch alloy wheels, manual air conditioning and a steering wheel with buttons and audio controls. You get smartphone connectivity technology, too, allowing you to access your phone’s features through the touchscreen, and there’s an umbrella under the driver’s seat.
The SE Drive, however, is arguably the most desirable trim level, adding to SE trim with larger 16-inch alloy wheels, satellite navigation and parking sensors at the front and rear. All that’s really missing is proper automatic climate control, but that’s available as an option and it’s well worth specifying.
Like the SE Drive, the Colour Edition gets 16-inch alloy wheels, but as the name suggests, you get to choose one of three colours. You can have silver, black or white, and your choice will dictate the colour of your car’s roof. Black wheels, for example, will get you a black contrast roof. Otherwise, you get all the features of the SE, plus cruise control, rear parking sensors and a few other goodies.
Higher up the Fabia hierarchy, you get the SE L model, which builds on the SE Drive with climate control, microsuede upholstery and a front centre armrest. Alternatively, if you prefer a sporty look, you can have the Monte Carlo model with its rally-inspired bodykit, black exterior trim and 16-inch black alloy wheels. Inside, it comes with model-specific upholstery and a carbon fibre-effect dash, not to mention the sportier steering wheel, rear parking sensors and Monte Carlo logos dotted around.
The desirability of the options depends largely on how much you want to spend and which version you’ve chosen. We’d be tempted by an SE Drive or an SE L, although we’d specify climate control with the former. The Winter Pack would be tempting, too, providing heated seats and heated washer nozzles, while the rear-view camera and keyless entry might also get some interest. In that very Skoda-ish way, the Fabia can be specified with keyless entry and push-button ignition, or you can just have push-button ignition if you’re worried about keyless car theft. It’s a really good idea, and one of which we wholly approve.
Also to Skoda’s credit is the colour palette, which is varied no matter which trim you choose, and proposes the rather dashing Energy Blue as the sole no-cost colour. Alternatively, you could have a solid red or a solid white, or numerous metallic paints. There’s a range of the usual greys and blacks, but there’s also the gorgeous Race Blue and the slightly more understated Petrol Blue. Some versions can also be specified with the bold, head-turning Rallye Green.
The Fabia’s stiffest competition must be the Ford Fiesta, which has been the UK’s most popular new car for donkeys’ years. Blessed with sharper handling than the Fabia and a range of great 1.0-litre petrol engines, the Fiesta is well worth its place at the top of the tree. But it’s smaller than the Fabia inside, and might not suit those desperate for maximum interior space in a small package.
If that is what you’re after, the numbers say you should opt for the Honda Jazz, newly updated with hybrid power and a cute new look. But the Fabia is a more stylish option, and although it can’t match the Honda’s boot space, the little Skoda has more breadth of ability.
But if you want an all-rounder, there are plenty of other models to consider – not least the Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo with which the Fabia shares so much. Then there’s the ever-popular Renault Clio, the new-look Vauxhall Corsa and its sister car, the striking Peugeot 208. Then there’s the surprisingly good Kia Rio and the all-new Hyundai i20, plus the brilliant Mazda2 and even the slightly more premium Audi A1. And that’s before you look at the quirky Citroen C3, the hybrid Toyota Yaris or the Nissan Micra. In short, there’s plenty of choice, but the Skoda is among the most complete models on the market, offering space, style and build quality.
The Fabia isn’t the most modern supermini on sale, but that doesn’t diminish its myriad qualities. Okay, it won’t make headlines, but it’s a spacious and well built small car that makes a brilliant all-rounder. If you’re after the interior room of a larger model but the dimensions of a small car, the Fabia will do you proud. And it’ll do so with the sort of sharp, grown-up style that turns more heads than you might think.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Skoda Fabia
**Correct as of 25/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 8,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1362.31 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.