EVEN THOUGH IT HAS SOME MODERN TOUCHES, FABIA STILL RETAINS ITS INHERENT QUIRKINESS
I’m the first to admit that I’m something of a Skoda tragic — there’s something about the little VW-owned car brand from the Czech Republic that I am rather fond of.
So I was relieved when they started making decent cars again a few years back.
The Superb, the Yeti, the Roomster and the last few generations of Octavia and Fabia have all been fine automobiles, yet they all had some weird quirk that sat them firmly outside the mainstream and made people like myself love them even more.
The Superb had odd proportions (particularly the brilliantly weird and pointless “double boot lid” of the sedan/hatch model), the Octavia sat weirdly between the small and mid-size segment and for ages offered a diesel as its performance flagship, the Roomster was just weird all over (and brilliant for it) and the Fabia was strangely (and endearingly) old-fashioned looking.
But that has all changed with the new Fabia, a striking, modern hatch that left me worried it might just have become a Volkswagen and not have that little bit of Skoda weirdness I love.
The all-new Fabia comes to New Zealand with a two-model line-up, featuring a single 1.2-litre engine with two different power outputs. The entry level $19,990 model comes with a 66kW/160Nm version of the four-cylinder petrol engine hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission.
The second model is the $24,990 81kW/175Nm version that comes with a DSG dual clutch transmission.
The 66kW model comes with all the expected safety features (and boasts a 5 star EuroNCAP rating), as well as remote central locking, manual air conditioning, cruise control (and a speed-limiting function), a multi-function steering wheel, electrically adjustable, heated, body-coloured door mirrors, 15-inch alloy wheels and Bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio.
The 88kW model adds 16-inch alloys, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, electrically folding exterior mirrors, rear parking sensors and a centre armrest with a storage box.
A “tech package” can be added to the 66kW manual for $1200 that brings $2300 worth of equipment, including LED daytime running lights, climate control, front fog lights and an upgraded stereo.
The “dynamic sport” and “colour sport” packages are available only on the 81kW car and bring $4225 and $3625 respectively in added equipment for $2000, including the tech package features plus rear window tinted glass, sports suspension, sports seats, a sports steering wheel, and sports pedals.
The dynamic sport pack also adds 17-inch alloy wheels, while the colour sport pack stays with the 16-inch alloys, but adds the now traditional (for Fabia) coloured roof and side mirrors that are matched to the alloy wheels.
When you start adding these packages, Fabia’s otherwise solid appeal starts to stagger a bit.
As good value as they are, adding a pack nudges the Fabia uncomfortably close to the price of the VW Polo, which is available with a 1.2-litre engine and a DSG. The Fabia’s open and spacious interior is as fresh and modern as the exterior.
The sports seats for the two sports packages are brilliant, easily worth paying the extra $2k on their own, while the upgraded audio system is also good. While there is still quite a lot of hard plastic used, it is disguised in the new car and kept out of the driver’s reach.
But this is the main area the Fabia can’t quite foot it with a similarly priced Polo.
On the road, both Fabias are lively performers and eager to rev. The 81kW car is noticeably quicker than the 66kW car — not that the lower-powered car is slow. The 66kW car is arguably more fun for the enthusiastic driver, thanks to the slick, five-speed manual transmission.
The DSG is a slick, fast transmission and, while the 81kW engine packs more performance, it is gruffer and more vocal than the 66kW.
Ride comfort is exceptionally good for a small car, but both models are fun on a winding road, as we found out on the roads around Cambridge where Skoda NZ held the local launch.
And, following another Fabia, I discovered that all-important bit of weirdness that makes all Skodas just more interesting than other cars.
The driving experience — like the new Octavia — offers some serious competition to its more expensive VW-badged in-house competition. But it is the view from the direct rear-on that is weird.
Somehow Skoda’s designers have managed to get a modern, all-new design — which looks fantastic from every other angle — to look weirdly out-dated when you follow it on the road.
Thank God they did something weird — intentionally or not — because it was starting to look all a bit modern, sensible and accomplished for a Skoda traditionalist weirdo like me ...