Skoda Fabia long-term test review
Following the arrival of two excellent new small hatchbacks, does our 2015 Car of the Year remain a top-drawer choice?...
- The Car: Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 95 SE L
- Run by: Kris Culmer, sub-editor
- Why it's here: To see if our 2015 Car of the Year is still a top choice after the arrival of several new rivals
- Needs to: Be smooth, sufficiently powerful, economical and enjoyable during the daily commute, as well as able to cope with the odd haulage job
Price £16,505 Price as tested £17,625 Mileage 9191 Official fuel economy 50.4mpg (WLTP) Test economy 50.5mpg Options Brilliant Silver metallic paint (£595), Winter Package (£250), keyless entry (£165), temporary steel spare wheel (£110)
29 April 2019 – Sensible, if not spectacular
Usually in life, you have to do the sensible thing. I don’t really want salad for lunch, but then I really don’t want to be dangerously overweight either. I dislike living 70 miles from work, but renting in London is a waste of money. And I love that 1970s Lancia I’ve just seen for sale, but I live on the seaside and have about as much mechanical tact as my cat.
And for we lettuce-consuming, ISA-filling Beta Coupé shunners, the Skoda Fabia is about as appropriate car there is. Boring that may sound, but for the four months I spent driving mine, in just-above-average spec and with a little turbo petrol engine, it slotted into my life perfectly. There are no poor aspects to driving or ‘using’ it, I encountered only one small irritation (a rear-view mirror that was too small) and reliability worries seem irrational.
It couldn’t be a stronger contrast to my previous long-term test car, a Citroën C4 Cactus, which was disappointing to drive and got on my nerves in myriad ways. Certainly, while I can’t say I ever particularly looked forward to picking up the Skoda keys, I was never exactly disappointed to be doing so, either.
On my daily long motorway runs, the Fabia rode comfortably but felt relatively taut, rather than floaty, while blocking out enough noise for my Nurofen to stay in the glovebox. Of course, the big-boy BMWs were always going to outpace me and treat their drivers to much better refinement, but 94bhp really is enough to keep afloat in the swelling ocean that is rush hour – at least with this slick manual gearbox attached. Three-cylinder engines have come a long way. My test also proved they can be exceptionally economical, and that the new official WLTP fuel economy tests are substantially more accurate than the older NEDC tests.
While all this was going on, the Fabia kept me entertained with its truly excellent infotainment. The 6.5in touchscreen system could find a DAB radio signal every time or play music perfectly from my iPod via Bluetooth while ensuring I could be reached over the phone, all without ever glitching. It also featured an intuitive and effective sat-nav. That's too much to ask of some significantly more expensive cars I’ve tested lately, would you believe.
And in town? Sure, no problem. The Fabia, like any small hatchback should, rides and steers perfectly down tight roads, even if they’re scraggly. I don’t recall ever being punched through the base of my seat as I encountered lunar asphalt – again, not a minor compliment. Plus, compact dimensions combined with good outward visibility and rear parking sensors to ensure I never feared explaining dings or dents from the car park.
Anyway, I ought not simply rephrase old praise; the reason I ran our 2015 Car of the Year in 2018/19 was that it had been facelifted in order to stay competitive against newer rivals, chiefly the Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo. The latter pair looked even harder to beat; both join the Fabia in coming from the Volkswagen Group and use much of the same technology and mechanicals but are based on newer underpinnings.
To be honest, the update was too minor to have made a significant difference. You might struggle to tell the original from the new; I can only by its new headlights (which, by the way, I feel have removed a layer of cheery anthropomorphism). It doesn’t perform in a markedly better manner, either, nor is its interior what you’d call a revelation.
The Fiesta is less accommodating for rear passengers, but to compare its interior to the Fabia’s is swings and roundabouts. Drive one, though, and your eyes will light up at its fantastic steering and brilliant handling. Shame it's surprisingly pricey these days.
The Ibiza and Polo are more closely comparable in financial terms, but both are a tad more engaging to drive than the Fabia while offering the same fantastic engines. However, Volkswagen's versatile MQB platform makes them considerably more practical; the Polo’s rear seats and boot offer the space you would have expected from the Golf a decade ago.
So, as you may have presumed, the Fabia is no longer one of the best small hatchbacks. In my personal ranking, it sits fourth, behind those aforementioned models. But it’s still an excellent contender that offers practical, fuss-free and, yes, enjoyable motoring. Turns out some salads are actually quite tasty.
Skoda Fabia – test data
Dealer price now £12,639 Private price now £11,235 Trade-in price now £11,115 Contract hire £233 Insurance group 9 Typical insurance quote £385
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