“Skoda's Fabia is a solid, dependable supermini that's surprisingly fun to drive and great value.”
The Skoda Fabia is the car that put the company on the map for quality and comfort. It is based on the popular VW Polo and does everything it's German sibling does, but for a fraction of the price. It's not the most stylish car in the supermini class, but its plain looks belie the class-leading diesel engines and the fun that can be had driving it. Practical, decently priced and with a broad spread of engines and trim choices, the Fabia is a car that rules the head rather than the heart. That said, there's a quick vRS model that's a riot to drive, while green-minded motorists will be able to eke out over 80mpg fuel economy from the efficient diesel-sipping 1.2 GreenLine model.
The Fabia hatchback feels narrower than most of its rivals, which is a boon in town and tight spaces. Parking is a doddle thanks to light steering and good visibility, while space in the front in decent. Out of town you’ll notice that like the VW Polo on which it is based, the Fabia is engineered more for comfort than a sporty drive. The soft suspension soaks up bumps and potholes without breaking a sweat, making it a great long-distance motorway cruiser. Entry-level petrol engines are slow, but opt for one of the 1.2 TSI turbocharged units and you get a great blend of performance and economy.
Thanks to a suspension setup geared for comfort rather than sportiness, the Fabia is great over Britain's rutted roads. Although it doesn’t handle as well as a Ford Fiesta, the Skoda still feels composed in the corners and the steering is accurate. Most models feel refined, though the small petrol engines can be a bit vocal at motorway speeds, while the noisy 1.2 TDI diesel in the Greenline model sounds like a tractor at idle. If you’re doing longer motorway journeys on a regular basis, you should opt for one of the 1.6-litre TDI diesels or turbocharged 1.2 TSI petrols. Road, wind and tyre noise is hushed and the cabin of good quality, while the driving position is great thanks to plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. There's loads of room up front, and at a push you can squeeze three adults across the back thanks to a high roofline and boxy shape.
Year on year, the Skoda brand continues to build on its reputation for reliability. In 2012 the company came top in the Auto Express Driver Power survey, proving that Fabia owners are a satisfied bunch. The car itself came 34th in the top 100 – well above the current VW Polo and SEAT Ibiza on which it is based. Interior quality is on a par with the VW, and feels durable and logically laid out. In terms of safety, though, the Skoda Fabia only managed four stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, which puts it behind the current VW Polo and Audi A1 – both of which bagged full marks for occupant protection. That said, all cars come with a range of airbags and all models feel well built. Electronic stability control is an extra on base-spec cars, though.
It looks relatively compact outside, but thanks to boxy dimensions and a tall roofline, the Skoda Fabia packs a lot of space into its size. Four adults can sit in comfort, with a plenty of head and legroom, while a fifth can squeeze in the middle seat at a push. Not only is there more room inside than in a Polo, the boot is bigger, too, at 315 litres versus the VW's 280 litres. Cubbyholes are plentiful and the large double-deck glovebox is particularly useful – making the Fabia one of the most practical cars in class. That said, if load-lugging is your priority, try the Skoda Fabia Estate, which boasts a 1,485-litre boot with the rear seats folded flat.
Value for money
The Skoda Fabia is undeniably good value. It undercuts the keenly-priced VW Polo and offers much the same kit. This means you’re best avoiding the base S model, which does without air-con, alloy wheels and front fog lights – SE cars are a better compromise, and add all the kit you’d expect on a modern-day supermini like remote central locking and the like. The special edition Fabia Monte Carlo gets the look of the range-topping vRS hot-hatch, including black alloy wheels and dark-lensed headlights, but can be specified with a range of engines including the 1.2 TSI turbo petrol and 1.6 TDI diesel. Flagship Elegance models feel much more luxurious, but list prices are high.
Thanks to a range of frugal petrol and diesel engines, the Skoda Fabia is cheap to run regardless of model and specification. Even the fast vRS version with its turbocharged 1.4 engine will manage more than 45mpg. However, if low running costs are your priority, the super-frugal Greenline II models will do 83mpg and emit just 89g/km of CO2 – making them more even more efficient than the clean VW Polo BlueMotion. That said, the 1.6 TDI diesels offer similarly low running costs and are cheaper to buy, while many parts are shared with its VW siblings so should prove readily available. Good value all-inclusive servicing packages and extended warranties are the icing on the cake, though judging by the brand's strong performance in owner satisfaction surveys, you’re unlikely to be making any unscheduled trips to your dealer.