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Review: Skoda Fabia range

The Fabia supermini continues to give a good indication of where the modern Skoda is at. Steve Walker takes a look.

Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about but Skoda might disagree.

The days when the Czech manufacturer was the laughing stock of the automotive world have long since passed and under Volkswagen’s stewardship, it’s settled into a cosy little niche. It doesn’t garner many headlines and no longer warrants a mention on the comedy circuit but the cars are good and low-key seems to be serving Skoda very nicely. True to recent form, the latest Fabia supermini isn’t one of today’s most talked about cars and it certainly draws precious few complaints from people who drive it.

Skoda’s quiet competence hasn’t come about by accident; it has a lot to do with its position in the Volkswagen Group hierarchy. It would be difficult to produce a substandard product with the technology that’s circulated within the Volkswagen conglomerate today but modern Skodas can’t shout too loudly about their qualities without the risk of pinching sales from the other VW brands. SEAT is sporty, Volkswagen is classy and that leaves Skoda to sell practical cars at sensible prices and not make a fuss. It’s a role it fills rather well and if you can do without the fluff, the latest facelifted Fabia could be the supermini for you.

In the past, the Fabia has been powered by some elderly engines that were well past their best but the latest line-up has the glossy sheen of the new about it. Yes, the 60bhp and 70bhp 1.2-litre units at the base of the range are nothing special but buyers with the means to rise above those really do get some choice technology. The 1.2 TSI engine is a compact turbocharged petrol unit that’s available in 85bhp and 105bhp forms. It’s lightweight and produces strong economy with the performance you’d expect from a larger unit. The diesel option is in a similarly high league with common-rail fuel injection and a diesel particulate filter. It produces 90bhp with its 1.6-litre capacity.

"This isn’t a car that makes a song and dance about its qualities"

All of which leaves the 1.4-litre engine that powers the Fabia vRS. It’s arguably the most advanced of the lot with a turbocharger and a supercharger helping it to 178bhp. Performance is brisk in this hot Fabia with a 0-60mph time of 7.3s and a 140mph top speed. The vRS is available exclusively with the seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox which works as an automatic or a slick paddle-shift manual. The same gearbox is available with the 105bhp 1.2-TSI engine but a five-speed manual is standard.

The Fabia’s simple lines aren’t going to win many beauty contests against the shapelier superminis but it does have that ‘floating roof’ effect courtesy of the blacked-out pillars. The latest facelifted models also feature a reworked grille and larger headlights what work to widen the car visually for a more dynamic stance.

There’s a good amount of space inside the Fabia, particularly for rear seat passengers. The materials aren’t quite up to the standards set in Volkswagen products but the similarities in the design are easy to spot and the same robust build quality can be seen throughout. Inside and out, the Fabia’;s design keeps it simple which is a big part of the car’s appeal.

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 extended dimensions have helped Skoda engineers achieve a 480-litre boot capacity with the seats up. 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.

Despite the success of the Fabia, Skoda still recognises the limits of its badge equity and its place within the hierarchy of the Volkswagen Group. As a result, the Fabia is priced realistically but Skoda is emphasising the quality and technology in the package to fend off competition for brands with a value-orientated marketing mix. Models like the Hyundai i20, Kia Venga and Suzuki Swift would be natural rivals for the Fabia but its build and engineering give it the legs to also challenger the Vauxhall Corsas and Peugeot 207s of this world towards the upper end of the supermini market.

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.

The engines chosen for the Fabia give the car strong fuel economy. All units are compliant with Euro5 emissions regulations and the advanced combustion systems of the TDI diesel and TSI petrol units in particular give rise to excellent returns at the pumps. Even the DSG automatic gearbox is designed not to hamper efficiency with the 105bhp 1.2 TSI model equipped with that transmission returning 53mpg on the combined cycle. Co2 emissions for the TDI diesel fall below the 110g/km barrier.

These days, Skoda is a car brand that demands to be taken seriously. With the might of the Volkswagen Group in the background, it has access to some of the finest vehicle platforms and technologies going, many of which are showcased on the latest Skoda Fabia supermini. This isn’t a car that makes a song and dance about its qualities but look beneath the unassuming surface and there’s a highly accomplished package that’s only made more appealing by the price.

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