Is the Skoda Fabia the new small car to beat?

Many buyers are being tempted away from hatchbacks and into crossovers, but the new Fabia aims to reverse that. JACK EVANS finds out what it’s like.

Given the ever-increasing popularity of crossovers and compact SUVs, you might think that conventional hatchbacks are becoming somewhat redundant. However, these value-focused models continue to provide the backbone of many manufacturer line-ups and are a common sight on the monthly list of best-sellers, too.

So you can understand why companies like Skoda aren’t content with just creating crossovers and SUVs, but want to make hatchbacks that’ll fit the bill for buyers too – like the new Fabia that we’re looking at today.

The Fabia has been a mainstay in the Skoda range for many years now and this new one – which enters into the car’s fourth generation – is larger than ever, courtesy of a longer wheelbase and more generous dimensions. In fact, there’s 50 litres more boot space than before with an impressive 380 litres now on offer.

Photos: PA Media

Elsewhere, we’ve got a revised exterior with more premium touches and a cabin peppered with the very latest Volkswagen Group technology – but more on that in a bit.

Our particular Fabia came equipped with a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 108bhp. There’s a more powerful 1.5-litre should you need a little extra punch, but it feels like this engine occupies a real sweet spot in the range, owing to its great mid-gear acceleration and decent fuel consumption. Skoda claims up to 54.3mpg and emissions of between 117 and 128g/km, depending on wheel size. There’s also the option of a non-turbocharged 1.0-litre engine but, unless you’re after the very lowest insurance possible, we’d trump for this turbocharged version given its added versatility and refinement at higher speeds.

We’ve got a six-speed manual gearbox here too, though there’s the option of a seven-speed DSG automatic on certain models too.

The Fabia is a great example of what a no-frills driving experience should be like. The engine is responsive and punchy while the six-speed gearbox is accurate and light. The brakes are nice and sharp too, while good visibility and a comfortable seating position mean that newbies to the Fabia will be able to get acquainted with the car quickly.

The ride is good too and could be improved further by opting for smaller alloy wheels as opposed to the 17-inch versions fitted to our test car. We’d like there to be less road noise – which is quite noticeable on the motorway – but this, again, could be helped by fitting a smaller wheel. Overall, the Fabia manages to feel like a much larger car than it actually is in terms of driving feel.

The look of this new Fabia is a very pleasant evolution on that of its predecessor. It’s in keeping with the rest of Skoda’s latest line-up, with the large front grille close in design to that on the latest Octavia. Again, the exterior has a really ‘grown-up’ feel to it, with the LED headlights at the front and rear giving it a more cutting-edge look than before.

The inclusion of more chrome adds to a premium feel, too, but thankfully good access to the rear of the cabin and a light, easy to operate boot means that practical features have been remembered just as much as styling ones.

As we’ve already alluded to, a new platform means that the new Fabia gets a whole lot more technology than before. All cars come with a 6.5-inch central infotainment screen as standard, but our car came with the upgraded 9.2-inch version. It’s clear and easy to use and, while it did stall slightly when connected to Apple CarPlay – requiring a quick reset – it was largely reliable.

But you can’t fault the space on offer. There’s plenty of room for those sitting up front, while those in the back get a generous amount of leg and headroom. Our car even came with a panoramic glass roof – traditionally a headspace-reducing option – but even this couldn’t diminish the amount of space on offer.

Skoda has established a reputation for creating cars that offer a good amount of value for money and the Fabia is no different. Prices for the Fabia line-up start from £14,905 and even entry-level S models receive LED headlights, that 6.5-inch infotainment screen and air conditioning.

Our test car, meanwhile, came in SE L trim. These start from £18,980 and include a large infotainment screen with in-built navigation as well as upgraded interior upholstery. That said, options such as 17-inch wheels (£470), a park and go package with parking sensors at front and rear (£700) and that panoramic glass roof (£745) quickly ramped up the Fabia’s price up to £23,695. At this price, you’re very close to an entry-level Octavia which offers considerably more space.

The Fabia feels like a car that showcases why crossovers aren’t the be-all and end-all of modern motoring. It’s compact yet spacious, easy to drive yet efficient and good looking without being overladen with ‘look at me’ features. Much like Fabias of old, it still has practicality on its side, with the increased boot size set to be a hit with those who might have found the older car a touch too constrictive.

We’d just say to go easy with the optional extras in order to keep the Fabia’s price in that ideal window. Do that and there’s very little reason why this little Skoda won’t prove appealing to all manner of drivers.

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