First Drives

15 August 2018

Review: 2018 Skoda Fabia

Ageing Fabia drops diesel and gets new tech. Spoiler: it's still good

Tom Harrison
Car image

What is it?
Well what it’s not is an entirely new car. In the last couple of years its stablemates – first the Seat Ibiza, then the Volkswagen Polo and just recently the Audi A1 – have been given all-new platforms (the same one, obviously, called MQB A0) and complete re-designs. But not the Skoda Fabia. This is just a facelift, which means it still rides on an older, less sophisticated VW Group platform, and is therefore effectively a generation behind when it comes to engines, technology and so-on.

Launched in 2014, Skoda’s shifted almost 700,000 third-generation Fabias so far. Changes for 2018 are limited to new front- and rear-fascias (both optionally featuring LED lighting for the first time), better standard equipment across all grades, additional active safety technology and an engine line-up that does entirely without diesels. Mainly because nobody buys them. We will not mourn its death.

What it also does without (and a death we are very much still mourning) is a hot vRS performance variant, which died with the second-generation car. Fast Skoda enthusiasts will need to keep making do with the Octavia.

What is it like on the road?
There are four engine options for this ‘new’ Fabia, none diesel and none with more than three-cylinders or over 1.0-litre capacities. 59 and 74bhp versions do without turbocharging and are supplied with a five-speed manual gearbox. We haven’t tried them, but with 0-100kph times of 16.6 and 14.9 seconds respectively, they’re best ignored. Because ain’t nobody got time for that. They’re not even any more economical than either of the two turbocharged engines.

A 94bhp turbocharged variant does 0-100kph in an acceptable 10.8 seconds. Only the range-topping 109bhp variant gets six-speeds and the option of an automatic – a seven-speed dual-clutch.

We tried 94bhp model alongside the more powerful 109bhp model, and can confirm that yes, it is the one you ought to buy. Not fast, by any stretch of the imagination, but entirely adequate in a car like this. It’s not as involving or willing an engine as Ford or PSA’s triples, but it’s as (if not more) smooth and refined. Most people won’t feel the extra 15bhp of the 109bhp version, so that’s really only worth going for if you want the option of an automatic gearbox. Both manual and automatic gearboxes do the job just fine – though the auto doesn’t come with paddles, is a bit lazy and so feels much more at home when you’re just tooling about.

That’s what the Fabia’s for, really. Small, light, slow cars like the Fabia are inherently fun for all kinds of reasons, but this is not a car you’ll enjoy driving quickly in the same way you might a Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza. There’s very little to the steering, and the chassis isn’t the most involving we’ve come across. Comfortable, though, with a good driving position, decent seats and a well-damped ride. The Estate, which Skoda says about 30 per cent of people go for, feels a little heavier and less wieldy, but for the most part much the same as the smaller, lighter hatchback.

On the inside
Not especially interesting in here, but big, with 1,150 litres of space with the rear-seats folded or 350 with them upright. About the same as the current VW Polo (which is on a new platform, remember), and more than the Ford Fiesta, which only manages 1093/292 litres. And that’s just the Fabia Hatchback – the Estate is bigger still, and quite unique insofar as it doesn’t really have any rivals. Ford doesn’t do a Fiesta Estate, nor do any of the French manufacturers or indeed anyone else within the VW Group. There’s enough head- and leg-room in the back for two adults to sit comfortably, if not three, but it does get a bit dark if you haven’t chosen the glass panoramic roof.

The fake carbon fibre trim and upholstery of the ‘Monte Carlo’ is a bit much, and not entirely in-keeping with the Fabia’s way of going about its business. Plainer trims suit this cabin, which is otherwise well-built (if a bit brittle in places), well-equipped and chocked-full of those little details that make Skodas easy and satisfying to own. Details like the umbrella under the passenger seat, ice scraper and tread-depth gauge in the fuel-filler cap, waste bin in the passenger’s door pocket and nets on the sides of the front seats. As someone once said, it’s the little things. Pity the class really has moved on in terms of interior style. The design and layout of the Fabia’s cabin is where it really feels its age.

The range-topping ‘Amundsen’ infotainment system is the only one we’ve tried. The screen is a bit small at 6.5-inches and the graphics are a bit low-res, but it’s as easy to use as any other VWG system (and will be familiar to those who’ve used them) and feature-rich.

Solidly-built, great value and with lots of little touches that will make long-term ownership stress-free and satisfying, the Fabia is a great option for someone who doesn’t really give a damn about driving. Its engines are smooth and refined, but it’s not especially enthralling to drive. New tech and better equipment levels of the facelift add to the appeal.

Tags: skoda, fabia, audi, ford, a1, vw

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