By on May 17, 2015

fabia_front_side_against_sky

Small cars used to be for the city. Now, they say a small car can work just like a big one. To find out what’s what, I borrowed a current Škoda Fabia, then took another new Fabia on a 400 mile trip.

I’m writing this in a hotel room balcony with a beautiful view of the Alps and Wörthersee lake, paid for by Škoda. The company wanted me to see the tuner culture at Wörthersee GTI Treffen (more about that in later article) and some of their concepts. To do that, they handed me the keys to a new Fabia, almost identical to a press tester I drove not even a month ago.

fabia_rear_down

Both cars are fitted with the most powerful 110 hp 1.2 TSI engine in quite unlikely (at least for Czech market) “journo spec” with tons of options (price as tested around 400,000 CZK [MATH ERROR CORRECTED: $16,600 USD] including 22% VAT). The only important difference, save for colors, is the transmission. The one I drove at home for a week is equipped with a six-speed manual. On the trip to Austria I drove one with the seven-speed DSG automatic.

Both are very good. Hardly any Škoda made today is bad. But after yesterdays 7-hour drive, I think the automatic is the better option. I never thought I’d say that about a small car, but the DSG suits the Fabia’s character much more than the manual. The reasons for it are pretty much what defines the Fabia and sets it apart in its class.

To show what I mean, let me digress for a little bit. Last week, I drove a current Mazda2 in relative poverty spec (rare sight among journo cars) powered by the 75 hp Skyactiv 1.5 engine with a price of 311,000 CZK (approx. $13,000 USD, including 22% VAT). It was one of the most brilliant small cars I have ever driven. Yet, it couldn’t be any more different from Fabia.

The Mazda is playful and dynamic in its design, both inside and out. It’s immensely fun to drive with tail-happiness on throttle lift-off and an engine that’s just splendid, even in its least powerful form. I didn’t think it was possible these days to make a small, naturally aspirated engine that’s so rev happy, so pleasant to the ear and so joyous to use. But, the Mazda is also a bit cramped in the back thanks to a really small trunk and the doors make a tin sound when closed. Even if we discount for the cheap spec and slow engine, it just wouldn’t be the car you would want to take on a road trip. Alternatively, around town or on backroads, it’s wonderful. It was great on my 100 mile trip in the countryside. But a great car for long journeys it isn’t.

fabia_facing_right

The Fabia is just the opposite. It’s design is not very playful. In a world of today’s aggressive cars, it’s not. It’s square. It looks like something Volvo could have made – if it was still in the business of making Volvos and wanted to make a small car. And it’s not different inside. The interior is clearly that of a Volkswagen product. Of course, the materials are cheap even when compared to the Polo, but the cold German style and precision is still there. It looks like a cheap, baby Audi. A nice place to be, but not very fun to look at.

It’s the same story with driving. The 1.2 TSI is one of the better examples of downsizing. With reasonable grunt at low revs making it feel like a much larger engine, and with great fuel economy (we did 5.8 l/100km on the way here, at fairly quick European highway speeds), it’s still not very fun companion. You can rev it, and it seems you have to rev it a little bit more than the old 1.2 TSI, but there’s no fun in it. And, at most speeds, there’s no point. It sounds nice, with a pleasant growl, but it won’t excite you like the Mazda. And while the shift action is nice, the car just feels better with the DSG automatic.

It’s the same with suspension. The Mazda is agile and surprisingly supple, but the Fabia is more stable, slightly better at smoothing out broken surfaces and feels much more “grown up”. With the manual, you can even find some fun hustling it around back roads – especially if you don’t drive small cars regularly and transferred to it from your full-size American sedan. But adjusting the line with throttle? Revving the engine just for the hell of it? Nah. It’s kid stuff. The Fabia doesn’t like that.

Fabia_stoh

Where it works surprisingly well is on the highway. During the seven hours I spent behind the wheel, it felt right at home on both Czech and Austrian highways. And I felt right at home inside – the interior was roomy and nice enough for spending long periods of time, and my arse only started to get sore in the last 30 or so miles. After whole day, I got out of the car not really fresh, but not beaten up either.

In fact, the only thing that gave away I was driving a supermini and not a Golf of Focus sized car was the lack of power. Even with the most powerful engine available, the Fabia was quickly lost its oomph over 80 mph, and trying to keep up with two 170 hp 2.0 TDI Octavias required flooring it regularly with the DSG downshifting two or three cogs at a time. It can cruise at 110 mph, but even at 85 or 90, every time you brake due to other cars and get up to speed again, the Fabia feels strained. An American, used to large, powerful engines as standard on the other side of the pond, or a stranger to the idea of having to floor a car and rev it to the redline, would probably consider it unbearably slow with the 1.2 TSI.

But us Europeans are different and we even consider the lower powered variant of this engine to be acceptable for the much larger Octavias or Jettas.

The Verdict

The Fabia is a small car only in size, not in character. It’s not fun and lovable like a little puppy. It’s like the kid that’s all grown up, wants to wear grown up clothes, prefers talking to grown ups and hates playing kiddy games. It’s not very fun, and if you want your small car to behave like it, you won’t be satisfied. But if your reason for buying a small car is simply because you can’t afford a large one, and even if buying said small car is a sign of your status and what you’ve achieved in life, it’s exactly the car for you.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

24 Comments on “2015 Škoda Fabia European Review...”


  • avatar
    daniel g.

    Ok but $13.000USD vs $20.000USD is a lot money diference. Do you really feel it? Beside the fuel comsuption on the 2 cars is close or not?
    The other side: is more fun to drive the mazda 2 for less money and better mileage so…thanks skoda, I go to the skyactiv side.

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      The ~50% price difference between the Mazda and Skoda is very serious money to most folks shopping this segment.

      Realizing that it’s simply the comparison that was on hand at the time, this does speak to a frustrating tendency in auto journalism where writers naturally make comparisons that folks looking to spend real money should never be tempted to make. The purchase price matters.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      You can’t compare a US sticker price that excludes the sales tax with a European sticker price that includes a very high sales tax (VAT).

      In Europe, the list prices of the two cars are not so far apart.

      EDIT: Now I see what you mean, but the difference here is in the trim levels. The ranges of prices of the two cars are similar, but the test Skoda is better equipped than the base Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @Pch101,
        Your assumptions have proven you incorrect again.

        Most olden Iron Curtain countries are taxed at a lower rate than their EU counterparts in the “West” as a percentage of GDP.

        So, what is your assumption now?

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      1) I made a math mistake. 400,000 CZK is $17,000.
      2) The $4,000 difference between Fabia and Mazda2 is about equal to the price of options on Fabia. Base price for Fabia with this engine is slightly lower than the price of Mazda as tested.

      The $4,000 was spent on stuff like satnav, panoramatic roof and other things not really common in this class.

  • avatar
    probert

    I hate small cars designed to have the dynamics of sluggish large cars. The worst of both worlds.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Cramped quarters and boring driving dynamics is not a winning combo; however, you could also say it has great fuel efficiency and is easy to handle on tight roads, while still being usable for longer highway trips.

      I would prefer a larger car for highway travel as well, but it’s nice to have economical options that aren’t miserable on the highway. In the US, the Cruze and Sonic come to mind first. At probably higher transaction prices than the Cruze, you have the Golf. Refined small cars that can be criticized as boring seem to be a VW specialty.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Is there a good reason to spend more for a Polo, assuming that you wanted one?

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Yes, if you’re into quality plastics, fine-crafted details and prestigious badge.

      Other than that, I suspect the Fabia is at least on par with Polo in most areas, maybe even better.

      I didn’t drive the Polo yet, though.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        The current Polo is still on the old PQ25 platform. The Fabia (mostly) uses MQB. That should give the advantage to the Fabia, at least on paper.

        Would like to see your impressions after you drive the Polo.

        • 0 avatar
          Vojta Dobeš

          Fabia is only about 20% MQB, maybe even less. It’s some mish-mash of the PQ25 with MQB. And it doesn’t really drive that much different from the last Fabia, which was nearly identical to Polo.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I can’t believe this Fabia is new and MQB. It looks SO OLD! Like a 2004 Civic SI hatch for the most part.

          • 0 avatar
            Vojta Dobeš

            Škoda is the new Volvo. Or Europe’s Buick. Or something like that. A sensible, reasonably priced, practical car for reasonable, sensible people.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            From an American standpoint, Skoda has become something similar to Hyundai — a fair amount of the perceived quality of the market leader for family cars (Toyota and Honda for the US, VW for Europe), but at a lower price.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    A Skoda Fabia? The day after GM releases the new Camaro and all TTAC does is review a Skoda Fabia?? I know there are plenty of places to see / read about the new Chevy, but TTAC’s particular take is always of interest. Instead, we get the Skoda Fabia. Sheesh!

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    This Skoda looks more like an appliance than a vehicle to inspire.

    I do like the Skoda brand. The Yeti here in Australia has a cult following for the younger and Greener types. I shall describe them as alternates.

    Skoda could do much better if it could revise or better still replace that corporate grille they use.

    It’s as fugly as it can get.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “…even if buying said small car is a sign of your status and what you’ve achieved in life…”

    “I pity the fool who try and show status with a small car.”
    -America

    I thought Skoda was supposed to be the “value option” though, for brown shoes people who didn’t care about showing off badge. Flash Europeans get one of those fancy VWs, or perhaps a Seat if they’re feeling way sporty.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Škoda is “value option” in Western Europe. In Central/Eastern Europe, the “value option” is Dacia, Peugeot 301 (which is terrible) or, most typically, a 5 to 10 year old Focus, Golf or Octavia.

      New Fabia or Rapid is about as much car as you’re ever get as a blue collar/lower tier white collar worker in Czech Republic (or Poland, Slovakia etc.). Also, it’s actually more expensive than typical Peugeot or Renault or Fiat.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Thanks. I remember a Chris Goffey review of a Skoda Favorit, back when they were still a very eastern European company. I’ll find it for you to watch! I love old TG reviews, that guy did a great job.

        https://www. youtube. com/watch?v=liyEspSRbpA

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Old_WRX: @Lie2me, “I have no idea what that is” That, I believe. Figuring out the point is left as an...
  • lstanley: I love anecdotes because they prove nothing, but the only guy at the c-store this morning not wearing a...
  • deanst: For some reason their look reminds me of Hans and Franz from SNL.
  • slavuta: Cheapos. Couldn’t they price Mexican-made sedan just under 20K????
  • Art Vandelay: I’ll not have you sullying Beavis and Butt-Head with this nonsense. (Incidentally, they are...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber