First drive: the new Skoda Fabia
A new suit, much gadgetry, but is Skoda playing just too safe?
The brand new Skoda Fabia, you say?
Exactly how brand new are we talking?
Just nine per cent of the old Fabia has been carried over. It uses the Volkswagen Group's flexible MQB architecture, but only for the engines, infotainment system, sensors and electrics. We're told it's 41 per cent MQB. So semi-skimmed VW, as opposed to full fat.
The Fabia's body structure is entirely new, it's 65kg lighter than its predecessor - with the base 1.0-litre model weighing in at just 980kg - is both longer and wider too (5mm and 30mm respectively), gets a new generation of engines that are 17 per cent more efficient, and features an enormous boot (for this class) of 330 litres, and is bigger inside, too.
True, but you'll notice the new Fab looks rather dandy too in its new suit, with head design man Jozef Kaban using elements of the excellent VisionC concept as inspiration. It's certainly funkier than before, though be careful with the spec - there are 15 different body colours and three colour options from launch for the wheels, roof and exterior. One of our test cars was light blue with a white roof and white wheels. Be careful when speccing.
So what's it like to drive?
Good, if a little safe. There's little steering feel, but it's quick and accurate enough and - most importantly - light enough to twirl easily and comfortably around the city and through modest curvature. Skoda's engineers reworked the power-steering system for exactly this benefit: lightness.
It's comfortable, too. The ride is supple, and it's easy to get a nice, relaxing cadence very quickly. It can fidget sometimes, but on the whole it's easy pace.
Not that you should be opposite-locking a small-engined Fabia anyway, but its tendency leans towards understeer. You'll likely never go anywhere near the limits, but at reasonable pace the body control isn't too shabby, and it feels stable and - there's that word again - comfortable.
We tried the 1.0-litre 75bhp engine, which felt like it had too big a job on its hands. Around town speeds you'll manage ok, and once up to motorway speeds it's refined and quiet. But boy, does it take a while to get there.
Better to plump for the larger 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine. This feels much more eager and willing a participant, enjoys a light thrashing and feels pokey enough, with 0-100kph arriving in 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 182kph.
There's also a higher-powered 1.2-litre with 109bhp and a double-clutch automatic gearbox (0-100kph in 9.4s), as well as a three-cylinder 1.4-litre diesel capable of 35.3kpl (that's the 88bhp version).
And what if I want to go faster?
Might we suggest some nitrous? Skoda told TopGear.com last year that the Fabia VRS won't make a return for this new generation, as hardly anyone bought the old model. You will get the option of ‘Greenline' variants next year, however, which promise 82g/km of CO2 and up to 38.7kpl.
The current diesels range between 88g/km to 94g/km of CO2, while the petrols range from 106 to 110g/km. So clean enough, then.
And what about the toys?
The base ‘S' level Fabia gets a DAB radio, Bluetooth, and stop/start, while the ‘SE' is where things get interesting. It gets the cool ‘Mirror Link' system, which hooks up to your Android phone and replicates the phone onto the car's touchscreen. It's a fine system that works very well indeed. Apple users will be getting iOS functionality at some point next year.
The top spec ‘SE L' gets 16in wheels, cruise control, climate control, front fog lights and LED daytime running lights on top of all the other equipment. Decently kitted.