“The Skoda Fabia is a solid, dependable supermini that's surprisingly fun to drive and great value.”
The Skoda Fabia is the car that established Skoda's current reputation for comfort and quality – which if you can remember the bad old days in the 1990s, is quite a feat.
Based on the Volkswagen Polo, and sharing a lot of parts and components with its VW Group sibling, the Fabia does virtually everything the Polo does, but for a lot less money. You do sacrifice a bit of style for the saving, but its plain exterior hides class-leading diesel engines and some real fun to be had driving it. As the saying goes, buying a practical, inexpensive and efficient Skoda Fabia is a decision made with your head rather than your heart, but there is still much to love.
The speedy hot-hatchabck vRS model is an absolute riot to drive, while eco-minded motorists will find combined fuel economy of more than 80mpg in the efficient diesel-sipping 1.2 GreenLine model.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Using all the efficiency know-how of the Volkswagen Group, Skoda makes cars that are generally frugal to run in both diesel and petrol form. And the Fabia is no exception, with even the performance-focused vRS model, with its turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine, managing to return more than 45mpg in combined fuel economy. But if you’re really after the lowest running costs, the super-economical Greenline II models will return 83mpg and emit only 89g/km of CO2 – which makes them exempt from tax and even more efficient than the super-clean VW Polo BlueMotion. That said, the 1.6 TDI diesels are similarly cheap to run and less expensive to buy – making more sense for most buyers. Many components are shared with its VW siblings so should prove readily available if you need any repairs doing, while good value all-inclusive servicing packages and extended warranties are the cherry on top of the Fabia cake.
Interior & comfort
The Fabia performs very well on the UK's rough roads, thanks to a soft suspension set up that is focused more on comfort than sporty performance. It may not handle as well as a Ford Fiesta, but the Fabia does feel solid through the corners and offers accurate steering that is nice and responsive. Generally, the Fabia is calm and comfortable, but the 1.2-litre TDI diesel fitted in the Greenline II model gets pretty noisy, growling loudly when idling. If you regularly clock up miles on long motorway drives, we suggest you look at one of the 1.6-litre TDI diesels or turbocharged 1.2-litre TSI petrols, because road, wind and tyre noise are nicely dampened and the interior is good quality. Plus, the driving position is good, with plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. There's also plenty of room up front, and, with some effort, you can squeeze three adults across the back seat thanks to the Fabia's high roofline and boxy shape.
Practicality & boot space
While it looks quite compact on the outside, the Fabia's boxy dimensions and high roof mean there is a surprising amount of space inside the car. You’ll comfortably get four adults inside, with reasonable amounts of leg and headroom – in fact, you even stand a good chance of squeezing a skinny fifth grown-up in the middle seat, provided they don’t mind holding their breath. But there is more space inside the Fabia than inside the VW Polo, and it gets a bigger boot than the Polo, too, with 315 litres with the rear seats still in place. Fold down the split-fold back seats and the boot's luggage capacity expands to 1,180 litres. There are loads of cubby holes dotted around the interior, and you get a big, useful double-decker glove compartment. So, overall, the Fabia is one of the most practical cars in its class, but if you need even more, try the Skoda Fabia estate, which offers a fairly caverous 1,485 litres of boot space with the rear seats folded down flat.
Reliability & safety
The 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey was the first year in a long while that saw Skoda drop in the manufacturers rankings. Now, to be fair, it only fell to number two (out of 32), and it matched its performance from the 2012 survey – but 2013 champion Lexus just happened to have its best year ever and perform well above expectations. The second-generation Fabia itself ranked 64th in the list of top 100 cars, dropping a significant 30 places since the 2012 poll – which is likely more to do with its age, having launched in 2007, and with an entirely new model due in 2014. Traditionally, like Skoda in general, Fabia owners have proven to be a fairly happy bunch. Interior quality is as good as the Volkswagen Polo on which it's based, and feels solid and well laid out. In terms of safety, though, the Skoda Fabia only managed to secure a four-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests, which puts it behind the current VW Polo and Audi A1, and the general trend of all new cars to get five stars nowadays. That said, all Fabias do come fitted with a range of airbags and all models feel well constructed. Electronic stability control (ESP) is only available as an optional extra on entry-level models, though – which didn’t help its score.
Engines, drive & performance
Driving the Fabia around town, it feels narrower than many of its main competitors, which makes it less stressful, more fun and easy to park in tight spaces. This is further helped by good visibility and light steering, while space in the in front is generous. Once you take the Fabia off the beaten track, the similarities with the Volkswagen Polo on which it's based become noticeable, both being engineered more with comfort in mind than sporty performance. The soft suspension absorbs most bumps and potholes without much difficulty, making it suited to long-distance journeys. Entry-level petrol engines are somewhat underpowered, but go for one of the 1.2-litre TSI turbocharged engines and you’ll get a great mix of performance and economy.
Price, value for money & options
The Fabia undercuts its other good-value rivals, such as the Volkswagen Polo while also coming with a lot of the same equipment and accessories – so it's clearly a great value car. We’d recommend avoiding the entry-level S model, because it doesn’t come fitted with air-conditioning, alloy wheels or front fog lights. The SE is a much better compromise, adding all the equipment you’d expect on a modern-day supermini, including remote central locking. The special edition Fabia Monte Carlo is fitted out with the same look as the range-topping vRS hot hatchback, including black alloy wheels and dark-lensed headlights, and can be specified with a range of engines that include the 1.2-litre TSI turbo petrol and 1.6-litre TDI diesel. Top-of-the-range Elegance models feel much more luxurious, but start to become fairly expensive. If space isn't a concern, we'd actually recommend a top-spec Skoda Citigo instead.