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Skoda Fabia test drive

The Skoda Fabia has broad appeal, though solos and couples will find it easier to live with than small families.

Make and model: Skoda Fabia
Description: Small (supermini-class) five-door hatchback
Price range: £18,600 to £24,700 (plus options)

Skoda says: “Expressively stylish yet impressively versatile”

We say: The Skoda Fabia has broad appeal, though solos and couples will find it easier to live with than small families.


Introduction

If the Volkswagen Polo or Audi A1 are on your radar for your next new car, the Skoda Fabia should be considered too. Skoda has done a great job of packaging a stylish supermini with a punchy engine, plenty of comfort and competitive affordability, especially when it comes to a car in the VW Group family.

First impressions of the Fabia are unassuming. It’s an understated car design with nothing to really jar the eye. The typical Skoda grille is probably too large, but that’s pretty normal for car design these days and it fits the brand’s family look. Although the Fabia is available in bolder colours, choosing a more muted, neutral tone gives the Fabia an executive, premium feel.

What’s new about the Skoda Fabia?

The latest iteration of the Skoda Fabia was launched in 2021, replacing the previous generation that had been on sale since 2015. And with the demise of the Skoda Citigo city car, it’s currently the smallest model in the Skoda family.

As before, the Fabia is based on the underpinnings of the Volkswagen Polo – as are the SEAT Ibiza and Audi A1. This time it’s the current Polo, which was launched in 2017. It’s petrol only, with no diesel, hybrid or electric models available. As of May 2023, there are four trim levels available: SE Comfort, SE L, Colour Edition and Monte Carlo.

Unlike the previous model, there’s no estate version this time around, so the only bodystyle is a five-door hatchback.

How does it look?

As mentioned, the Skoda Fabia is entirely conventional and conservative in appearance, so you won’t find any wacky design ideas here. Depending on your point of view, it’s either bland or sleek – especially in silver, grey or black.

Entry-level SE Comfort models get silver 15-inch alloy wheels as standard, while the SE L and Colour Edition models get silver 16-inch alloy wheels and the top-spec Monte Carlo gets larger 17-inch wheels that look a bit bolder. Each model can be optioned up one inch in wheel size at extra cost, so you can take a Monte Carlo out to 18-inch wheels if you’d like.

The clean lines are echoed inside the cabin, which we’ll explore in more detail below. Skoda design has traditionally been more function than form, but the Fabia certainly gives the impression of being a more expensive car than it really is.

Not as good as: Hyundai i20, Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Volkswagen Polo
Better than: Citroën C3, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Mini hatch, SEAT Ibiza, Vauxall Corsa

What are the specs like?

Pring for the entry-level SE Comfort starts at £18,600 (on-road). This is a pretty basic spec by modern standards, so you miss out on any sort of luxuries. The stereo is a simple unit, with old-school bluetooth connection for your phone to play tunes or make calls. You do get full LED headlights, however, which provide lots of light and are very energy-efficient. Rear parking sensors are also standard, but not fronts.

The Colour Edition adds £700 to the price and offers decent value for the extra cash. You get a digital driver’s display, replacing the standard analogue gauges, along with larger alloy wheels, a start/stop button (so you don’t need to stick the key into the ignition) and a selection of two-tone paint combinations.

The next step up is SE L, which is £1,635 over an equivalent SE Comfort but not available in the cheaper engine versions. Key points for the extra spend include a higher-spec infotainment system with larger screen and satnav, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, larger 16-inch alloy wheels, electric windows all round and a centre armrest. You also get more chrome and nicer trim, which combine with the larger screen to give a more premium feel to the cabin.

Top spec is Monte Carlo, which adds more kit and a sportier flair. Visually, this means revised bumpers and larger 17-inch alloy wheels on the outside, with metallic red and faux carbon fibre highlights throughout the cabin, along with partial faux leather on the seats.

Monte Carlo pricing is £700 over an equivalent SE L, but there’s also a more powerful 150hp engine available as well (only with automatic transmision).

For all models, there are a few option packages that bundle up certain extras to suit your needs.

In terms of safety, things are pretty good. Tested in 2021, Euro NCAP awarded the Skoda Fabia a top rating of five stars, with good scores in all categories. In short, that means that the Fabia does well at avoiding an accident and also protects you well if a crash can’t be avoided.

Not as good as: Hyundai i20, Mini hatch, Renault Clio, Volkswagen Polo
Better than: Citroën C3, Dacia Sandero, SEAT Ibiza, Vauxhall Corsa

What’s the Skoda Fabia like inside?

The interior impression will depend on the spec chosen. Base models are pretty grey and plain, while higher-end models look more impressive and the Monte Carlo is certainly more colourful.

There’s no lumbar support making longer journeys a bit uncomfortable towards the end, while the fabric seats —while comfy on short journeys—aren’t the most practical surface to keep clean for pet- or child-based families. Mind you, that’s pretty much the same for most cars in this price range.

There’s a surprising amount of space in the Fabia, in both the front and rear seats. Boot space is also strong for this class of car, with 380 litre on offer – that’s more than many cars in the next category up.

There are impressive levels of standard kit, too, particularly at SE L and Monte Carlo levels. On these models, the nine-inch centre display features Bluetooth connectivity and integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On Monte Carlo, it also includes navigation (optional on SE L and Colour Edition). However, you might find yourself relying on Apple or Goodle for directions as, in our experience, the Skoda nav system can be frustrating. 

Other options include two USB-C ports and wireless charging, among a swathe of other features that bolster Skoda’s reputation for great value-for-money. Some options are only available as part of packages, so you’ll need to spend some time with the brochure and price list to work it all out.

Not as good as: Mini hatch, Renault Clio, Volkswagen Polo
Better than: Dacia Sandero, Hyundai i20, SEAT Ibiza, Vauxhall Corsa

Under the bonnet

Under the bonnet, you have a choice of 1.0-litre petrol engines for most Fabias. Lower-level SE Comfort and Colour Edition models have an 80hp or 95hp unit hooked up to a five-speed manual, while on any model you can also have a 110hp engine with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

Finally, the Monte Carlo also has the exclusive choice of a 1.5-litre petrol engine with a six-speed automatic.

We drove the 110hp unit with six-speed manual, which delivers peppy power. Not only is there a nicely measured delivery of torque at roundabouts and traffic lights, but the six-speed gear box shifts smoothly and quietly. The official fuel consumption for this combo is 50-55mpg depending on conditions, but 60mpg isn’t out of the question if driven gently. This is above average for a car without any hybrid assistance. 

Not as good as: Hyundai i20, Renault Clio, Toyota Yaris (hybrid), Volkswagen Polo
Better than: Citroën C3, Dacia Sandero, Peugeot 208, Vauxhall Corsa

What’s the Skoda Fabia like to drive?

As mentioned, the Fabia responds like a nippy city car half its size. The turbo of that tiny 1.0-litre engine works efficiently and the good fuel economy only adds more gold stars to the ‘plus’ column.

The steering is light, cornering is an easy affair and the car feels very reliable at higher speeds on country roads. The driving position is comfortable and the reversing camera, which comes as standard, makes simple work of parking.

The Fabia’s turning circle is a tick over 10m, which is less than for a Mini hatch. So it’s very capable as an urban runabout.

Not as good as: Volkswagen Polo
Better than: Citroën C3, Dacia Sandero, Mini hatch, Vauxhall Corsa

Verdict

With so many superminis in the market, the Skoda Fabia faces some stiff competition, not least from its Volkswagen Group stablemates at SEAT, VW and Audi. However, the Fabia has much to offer someone looking for a sensibly priced, sensible-looking car, with sensible running costs. 

Don’t mistake sensible for dull. That panoramic room doesn’t necessarily improve visibility – which is good with or without the sunroof – but with it, the car seems lighter and looks great. What’s more, Skoda is one of the few manufacturers providing helpful accessories to drivers as standard. Thoughtful equipment, such as an ice scraper that sits in the fuel port and the umbrella in the driver’s door, are – provided they always find their way home after use – some smart features that don’t involve ‘tech’ but can still get you on your way quicker.

The Skoda Fabia has broad appeal, though solos and couples will find it easier to live with than small families – unless it’s just you and the dog. In that case, it’s perfect.  

Similar cars

Audi A1 | Citroën C3 | Dacia Sandero | Ford Fiesta | Honda Jazz | Hyundai i20 | Kia Rio | Mazda 2 | MG 3 | Mini hatch | Nissan Micra | Peugeot 208 | Renault Clio | SEAT Ibiza | Suzuki Swift | Toyota Yaris | Vauxhall Corsa | Volkswagen Polo

Key specifications

Model tested: Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo
Price: £20,960 plus options
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol
Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Power: 110 hp
Torque: 200 Nm
Top speed: 126 mph
0-62 mph: 9.9 seconds

Fuel economy (combined): 50-55 mpg
CO2 emissions: 117-128 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (2021)
TCE Expert Rating: 76% (as of May 2023)

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Cat Dow
Cat Dow
Cat is a former contributor to The Car Expert and The Van Expert. She now writes for Top Gear.
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