Skoda’s Fabia has long been seen as an affordable, sensible alternative to the big-selling Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo. Nothing wrong with that, but the Czech manufacturer's aspirations for the new model are higher than simply being a cut-price competitor in the small car class.
Skoda hopes the new car can take on the best on when it lands in dealerships in January 2015. The Fabia really is an all-new car too. A different set of chassis components – linked, in no small part, to those in the latest Polo - underpin things and the engine line-up is extensively revised too.
Two three-cylinder diesels from the VW Polo are set to appear, while the entry-level 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrols in 59bhp and 74bhp outputs are shared with the Skoda Citigo.Two versions of the current car's turbocharged 1.2 TSI four-cylinder motor are also on offer, with either 89bhp or 109bhp.
What’s the 2015 Skoda Fabia like inside?
As with most Skoda products, the Fabia’s cabin is about functionality, rather than flair.
It’s a little wider than the previous-generation Fabia, so there’s more shoulder room up front, and rear passengers benefit from the slight increase in space between the wheels, because there’s more kneeroom in the back than before. The same generous level of headroom is present and correct.
Ultimately, the Fabia does feel roomier in the back for a couple of adults than either a Ford Fiesta or a Volkswagen Polo, but three adults will still struggle to sit side-by-side and feel comfortable for long.
The dash is logically laid out, with a five-inch central screen on entry-level S editions and a larger 6.5-inch screen on SE and SE-L cars. All have big, bold shortcut buttons at either side to take you directly to the main features without needing to scroll through needless menus.
The graphics on the larger screen we tried were razor sharp, and the swipe function works extremely well, but our experience of Mirror Link - a standard feature from SE upwards (an option on the Polo) that allows you to mirror your Android smartphone's apps on the dash screen - wasn't so positive. Some of the menus suffered sluggish responses in this mode, and the navigation confused itself more than once.
There’s precious little joie de vivre inside, too; everything is neat and well screwed together, but it’s a sea of various black textured plastics, apart from a single strip of gloss plastic across the dash. At least all the switches feel solid enough, with the exception of the dials to adjust the temperature and speed of the air-con fan, which feel a little more flimsy than we’d like.
The boot is an impressive 330 litres; that’s 40 up on a Fiesta, and 50 more than a Polo has, but most importantly, is more than enough for a week’s holiday luggage or the proceeds of a large weekly shop.
The boot opening is wider than before, although there’s a bit of a lip to lift items over. The Fabia's rear seats split 60/40 and fold to open up the cabin, but do lie at an angle once folded down.
All Fabias come with Bluetooth, DAB radio, electric front windows and a tyre pressure monitor. SE trim adds alloy wheels, the larger touch-screen system, a leather steering wheel and gear lever and air-con.
Range-topping SE L models then add on luxuries such as larger alloys, cruise- and climate control and a keyless entry system.
What’s the 2015 Skoda Fabia like to drive?
First, let's talk about those new engines. The 74bhp 1.0-litre petrol feels less urgent than it does in Skoda's own Citigo or the VW Up. That's partly to do with the Fabia's extra size and weight, but its widely spaced gearing also means it has to be worked harder to make decent progress.
Accelerating in-gear on the motorway and particularly hilly roads are where it's weakest, to the extent you'll find yourself changing down several times to maintain momentum. Around town, though, it feels a lot more relaxed and comfortable.
Skoda expects the 89bhp 1.2 TSI petrol to be one of the biggest-sellers, and we can see why. The engine spins up smoothly, and it has a decent amount of low-down shove, so you don’t need to work it hard to make swift progress. At higher speeds the engine’s limitations become a bit more obvious, but it rarely feels short of power.
In fact, it's so good that we wouldn't bother spending the extra on the higher-powered 109bhp 1.2, which we tried with Skoda's slick seven-speed automatic DSG gearbox. It's faster, yes, and pulls harder in gear, but for most people the 89bhp unit will cope with town and country driving perfectly.
We also tried the more powerful 103bhp three-cylinder diesel, which provides the most in-gear shove of the all the engines we sampled. It tends to run out of puff quite soon into its rev range, with a narrow power band though, so it can't claim to be the quickest in an outright sprint.
The diesel is also the noisiest of the bunch, with plenty of engine noise entering the cabin even at medium revs, although it remains quite smooth at the wheel and pedals. There's more of that buzz from the three-cylinder petrols, which are fine around town, but start to become less refined as the revs build.
The 1.2 petrols are both vibration-free, but the lower-powered engine is quietest from the cabin and the sweet-spot in terms of refinement for the whole range.
You're likely to be bothered by wind noise in any Fabia, though, particularly from around the upright windscreen pillars and the door mirrors. All cars have a light, but rather notchy gearchange, too.
All the Fabias we tried struggled to smooth out bumpy surfaces at low speed effectively, and while this is less of an issue at speed, its still unsettled, because its body begins to bob around over undulating roads.
The Fabia fails to match the class best Fiesta on its handling, too, because it suffers more body lean and its steering provides little sense of what's going on at the front wheels. That said, while it might not be as sharp as a Fiesta or Polo, it's handling is at least safe and predictable in tight corners.
Should I buy one?
The Fabia is one of the most spacious cars in its class, comes well equipped and undercuts both its main rivals - the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo - on list price, with competitive CO2 emissions.
In fact, go for the sweet-spot of the range (the 89bhp 1.2 TSI in SE trim) and you'll be buying one of the finest small cars on sale today. In this guise, it has the makings of a five-star car.
It trades blows with Volkswagen's Polo, though. The VW might be smaller inside and cost more to buy across the range, but its likely to hold on to more of its value. Its cabin feels a step up in terms of quality, and it also feels more agile and can be specced with the same smooth 1.2 petrol.
The Fiesta is still a compelling choice too, with large dealer discounts reducing the gap in price, and it remains the class benchmark when it comes to handling. We'd probably still give it the nod over the Fabia, but Skoda's supermini is closer than ever to the class best.
What Car? says...
1.2 TSI 90
1.2 TSI 110 DSG
1.4 TDI 105