What Car? says...
Some small cars are cheap and feel it, others have a premium price tag without giving you much extra for your money. And then there’s the Skoda Fabia.
The Fabia has always seemed to offer more than the sum of its parts, and that’s one reason why more than 4.5 million of these small hatchbacks have hit the roads since its original launch.
Why else are people drawn to the Skoda Fabia? For many reasons, including the Skoda ‘Simply Clever’ philosophy. It’s about providing clever solutions to simple problems that help make life, well… simpler.
Are iced-up windows a bugbear of yours? There’s an ice scraper clipped to the inside of the fuel flap to cover that. Do you hate getting caught out by sudden downpours? Then grab the umbrella that slots into the front driver’s door of some models ready for a rainy day.
The range of engines Skoda offers for the Fabia is simple, too. They all run on petrol, with power ranging from 78bhp to 148bhp, depending on which version you go for. It’s not all about simple stuff, though. This fourth-generation model is available with full LED headlights and tail lights, digital instruments, and even a heated steering wheel and windscreen.
So, is the Skoda Fabia a better buy than its rivals in the small car class? After all, there are plenty, with low-cost entrants like the Dacia Sandero, mainstream alternatives such as the Ford Fiesta and Seat Ibiza, plus pricier choices, including the Peugeot 208 and VW Polo.
This review will tell you how it compares in all the important areas, including performance, comfort, practicality, running costs and more.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Skoda Fabia's entry-level 1.0 MPI 80 engine does without a turbocharger. We haven't tried it yet, but the official stats say it takes more than 15 seconds to get from 0-62mph, so expect seriously weedy real-world performance. We'd only consider this engine if you're a dedicated town driver.
Our advice is to go for the turbocharged 94bhp 1.0 TSI 95, which can do 0-60mph in around 10.5sec. Even that's not quite as zesty as an equivalent Seat Ibiza but acceleration is perfectly adequate for all types of driving. If you want to match that Ibiza, you’ll need to go for the 109bhp 1.0 TSI 110, which also comes with a six-speed manual gearbox rather than the five-speed you’ll find with the other two engines.
If oomph is your ultimate goal, the top-spec 1.5 TSI 150 will be the one for you. It’s only available with the top-of-the-range Monte Carlo trim, but it gives you 148bhp to play with and feels far quicker than the other versions, cutting the 0-62mph sprint time down to 8.0sec. There’s no manual option with it, so you’ll have to go with the DSG automatic gearbox (which is also available as an option with the 1.0 TSI 110).
Suspension and ride comfort
Around town and on A-roads, the Fabia rides almost all dips and divots very well. The payoff is that it pitches around a bit, swaying your head from side to side, but the effect is gentle. In this respect, it manages to just edge the Polo, which fidgets slightly more at slow speeds.
The Fabia’s steering is usefully light for city driving and tough to fault for accuracy, but it's worth using the Sport driving mode (optional only on Monte Carlo) for more reassuring weighting when driving along faster, winding roads.
Either way, there’s plenty of grip but also a fair amount of body roll. The Fiesta and Ibiza are better choices if you want a taut, agile small car that will put a smile on your face.
Noise and vibration
The Fabia's five and six-speed manual gearboxes are light and easy to use, if not as smooth and positive as equivalents in the Fiesta and Ibiza. The clutch and brakes respond consistently, making it an easy car to drive deftly in traffic.
In terms of engine noise, the 1.0 TSI engines boom and babble a bit, with small vibrations felt through the floor when you wind them up. They’re hushed when you drive sedately, though, and you'll barely hear them at all when cruising on the motorway
There's some suspension noise on broken roads, but with the smaller 16in wheels fitted, road roar and wind noise on motorways are restrained. In short, the Fabia is a quieter cruise than the Fiesta and Ibiza.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Skoda Fabia’s driving position is excellent. It’s also easy to set everything up just how you want it, with all trims offering seat-height adjustment. The seat itself is comfortable with plenty of shoulder support, and you get adjustable lumbar support to keep you in a good posture on longer journeys.
There are proper buttons and dials to control the air conditioning, so changing the interior temperature isn't too distracting (in the Peugeot 208 you have to use small icons on the touchscreen).
Colour Edition and Monte Carlo models come with a 10.3in digital driver display behind the steering wheel, while cheaper trims have analogue instrument dials. Both set-ups are fine, but the digital display lets you put more information (navigation maps and so on) right in front of your eyes.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Fabia is much easier to see out of than the Peugeot 208 and Vauxhall Corsa. For starters, the windscreen and middle pillars are much thinner than they are in those rivals, so you have a clearer view out at junctions and roundabouts.
The rear glass area is larger than on most small cars – including the Ford Fiesta – making parking easier. All trim levels have rear parking sensors to help you out a bit more, and you can pay extra for sensors at the front of the car and a reversing camera.
Basic LED headlights are fitted to all versions for good visibility at night. Full LED headlights are optional on all except entry-level SE Comfort models.
Sat nav and infotainment
The entry-level trim, SE Comfort, comes with a 6.5in touchscreen that’s smaller than what you’ll get in most small cars. That said, it’s easy to use and has physical shortcut buttons placed on either side so you can efficiently hop between functions.
The larger 9.2in set-up that comes with SE L trim and the 8.0in version that comes with Colour Edition and Monte Carlo trim may look a bit more upmarket, but they can be more prone to crashing and aren’t the most responsive touchscreens in the class. The system in the VW Polo is better, but the best in this class (by far) is the one in the Mini, with its simple iDrive rotary controller and intuitive operating system.
All Fabia's have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay so you can mirror your smartphone and use selected apps on the touchscreen, which is especially helpful because only the SE L’s 9.2in system comes with built-in sat-nav as standard. You also get DAB radio, Bluetooth and a punchy stereo. There are USB-C sockets in the front, and for a small charge you'll get a couple more in the back and one under the rear-view mirror (for windscreen-mounted devices). Wireless phone-charging is available as an option.
The Fabia’s interior is far from plush, but neither is it at all offensive. It's smarter than the Hyundai i20 interior, for example, and not far behind the Seat Ibiza and Polo – although both those cars do have a soft-touch dashboard (the Fabia's is rock hard).
SE L trim adds some fabric covered areas, which adds a bit of variety to the surface finishes, but otherwise it’s tad bland (even Colour Edition doesn't add any colour). Top-spec Monte Carlo trim adds some red coloured decorative elements to the dashboard.
If you want a small car that’s significantly classier inside, the leader of the small-car pack is the Mini, with its swathes of soft materials and pleasant-feeling knobs and switches. That quality comes with a mighty rise in price, though – not to mention a loss in practicality.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Skoda Fabia offers plenty of space for those sitting in the front. You don't get quite as much as you do in the Honda Jazz but there’s still oodles of head and leg room for anyone over six feet tall. You won’t feel pinched at the sides, either, thanks to the generous width (for the class) between the doors.
There’s storage space to match, including well-sized door bins, trays, cubbies and a massive glovebox.
As long as the front seats aren’t slid all the way back, you’ll be able to carry two tall rear passengers without any moaning. It’s a tight squeeze for three adults in the back and there's a hump on the floor that hampers leg room for the person in the middle, but three children will fit just fine.
There are some handy touches in the back, including pockets on the backs of the front seats for maps and mobile devices, and higher spec models come with rear air vents (something of a rarity in this class).
Seat folding and flexibility
This is where the Fabia falls behind the Jazz, which rules the roost here thanks to its flip-up rear seat bases that create more storage options.
Skoda gives you 60/40 split folding rear seats, which is par for the course among small cars and isn’t as versatile as the 40/20/40 split in slightly larger – and admittedly more expensive – family cars like the Mercedes A-Class.
Boot space in the Fabia is very impressive. We managed to fit six carry-on suitcases under the parcel shelf, which is the most we’ve fitted into any small car and is a match for cars from the class above, including the Ford Focus.
There are lots of accessories available to add versatility. If you pay extra for the Simply Clever Package 1, you'll get nets to stop items sliding around and clip-on devices to divide up the boot.
There is a pronounced drop down from the opening to the boot floor, but this can be mitigated by adding an optional height-adjustable boot floor (part of the Simply Clever Package 2).
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
As a cash purchase, the entry-level Skoda Fabia looks good value, undercutting the starting prices of the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo and costing only slightly more than the Vauxhall Corsa. In fact, even the top-of-the-range Fabia Monte Carlo is only slightly more expensive than the entry-level Honda Jazz.
Officially, the Fabia 1.0 TSI 95 can do more than 55mpg, but in our real-world tests it only managed 41.3mpg. That's not bad, but the equivalent Seat Ibiza proved slightly more frugal, while the Jazz and Yaris, which have hybrid power, both deliver much better economy, especially around town.
Equipment, options and extras
At the time of writing, there are four trims levels available with the Fabia: SE Comfort, SE L, Colour Edition and Monte Carlo. If you want to keep things cheap, the entry-level SE Comfort trim gives you plenty of standard kit, including alloy wheels, LED headlights, air conditioning and various infotainment features.
Colour Edition brings visual upgrades, with rear privacy glass, black colour coding on the roof, wheels and door mirror caps, and a 10.3in digital instrument panel. If you don’t mind spending a bit extra, SE L trim is tempting, because it costs a little more than an entry-level Polo but gives you 16in alloy wheels, electric rear windows, cruise control, ambient lighting, a larger 9.2in touchscreen infotainment system, built-in sat nav and dual-zone air conditioning.
Top-of-the-range Monte Carlo trim gives everything a sportier edge, introducing 17in alloy wheels into the mix, alongside sportier styling, artificial leather and fabric sports seats and carbon fibre details on the dashboard.
Skoda came 13th out of 32 manufacturers in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. That’s a decent showing, and puts the Czech brand above Audi, Ford, Renault, Peugeot, Seat, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. Who did better? Well, Toyota came out highest among small-car makers, finishing in second place, behind only Lexus. That brand was followed by Hyundai, Suzuki and Kia.
For peace of mind, every Fabia comes with a three-year warranty that has unlimited mileage for the first two years and then a cap of 60,000miles in the final year. That’s nothing special among small cars – it matches the warranty you get with the Jazz, Ibiza and Polo but doesn’t come close to the five-year unlimited mileage warranty that you get with the Hyundai i20.
Safety and security
When it comes to safety, the latest Fabia was awarded five stars out of five when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2021, so it should do a good job of protecting you and your occupants if an accident proves unavoidable.
That said, the Polo also claimed five stars and even better ratings in all areas that were tested. The Jazz and Ibiza got five stars too, but were tested in 2020 and 2017 respectively, making it impossible to compare with the Fabia because the tests become more stringent every year.
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The Skoda Fabia is one of the best small cars on sale, offering a spacious interior with a big boot and good value for money
The Skoda Fabia share its engines with Volkswagen hatchbacks, including the Polo and Golf
Yes, thanks to a fairly supple ride and lower noise levels than a Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza, the Fabia is good on the motorway.
|RRP price range||£18,600 - £24,700|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||4|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||49.9 - 55.5|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£990 / £1,417|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,980 / £2,834|