We have an exclusive first drive of the new fourth-generation Skoda Fabia
4.0 out of 5
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In terms of size, the new Fabia stretches the supermini class more than ever. The MQB A0 chassis is a revelation, enabling the Skoda to catch up with its Polo counterpart and start to rival the Golf. However, in some ways it cannot hide that it’s still the budget member of the group.
Skoda has been putting in a lot of effort to grab your attention in recent years. A flurry of new SUVs – cars that appeal to a more upmarket customer base – has underpinned this strategy, and let the brand push further into the electric market. Plus, two new family cars in the form of the Scala and the latest Octavia have seen the maker turn on the style in their sectors, too.
Virtually every core model in the brand’s line-up has been reinvented, but the Fabia supermini has, until now, not been a part of this turnaround. Finally it has caught up, and the fourth-generation Fabia – the latest iteration of the evergreen rival to the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo – is something of a quiet revolution. That’s because, lurking beneath the slightly metamorphic redesign, is a car that’s new in almost every way – and a contrast to the old Fabia that was out on a limb for some time as the only VW Group supermini in Europe still using the old PQ26 platform. That changes here, as the Fabia comes right up to date by sitting on the MQB A0 platform – the shorter version of the ubiquitous MQB architecture that is the base for so many other VW Group cars.
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The effect of using this latest platform is transformational on several fronts. Given that it’s no longer held back by those older underpinnings, the new Fabia sees significant gains in infotainment, driver-assistance tech and, perhaps importantly for its customer base, space and practicality.
That new platform means it’s had quite a growth spurt. The car is 111mm longer than the old model, with 94mm more in the wheelbase, and it’s a bit wider, too. In fact, it lands the distinction of being the largest supermini you can buy, almost blurring the lines between small B-sector hatchbacks and family-sized models.
To contextualise that, it’s slightly taller than the latest VW Golf and very nearly as wide, if not quite as long. Its boot space is extremely generous for a car of this size, too; boasting 380 litres of room with the rear seats in place, it trumps the Polo’s load area to precisely match the Golf’s.
What the new, larger dimensions mean for passengers is that the rear bench is now big enough to comfortably accommodate a couple of adults. Upmarket touches such as an optional glass panoramic roof make the cabin light and airy, too. It feels a world away from the cramped cabin of the old car.
The benefits of the new platform don’t end there, because the MQB A0 platform allows the interior to be reworked with a new level of tech. Analogue dials are still standard, but digital instrumentation is optional for the first time in the Fabia, using a 10.25-inch screen shared with other VW Group cars. A comprehensive dash redesign is crowned with a new central infotainment screen of up to 9.2 inches, too.
It’s a huge improvement on the previous car’s interior tech, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the interior is premium. While a new, smart-looking, two-pronged steering wheel is easy on the eye and feels good to hold, and touches such as a wireless smartphone-charging pad bring the cabin bang up to date, the materials that are used inside the Fabia are still somewhat simple. The fabric trim on the dashboard goes only so far to take your attention away from the hard, grey plastics elsewhere.
There’s still some familiarity to be found in the engine line-up, because no electrification takes place. Until next year’s arrival of a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo with 148bhp, the car we drive here will be the range-topper. It’s the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder TSI turbo that was found in the old model, developing 108bhp and sending drive to the front wheels via a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox.
With this established engine, some of the foibles of the Mk3 car remain. The impressive refinement of a Renault Clio is missing, although you can make otherwise brisk and trouble-free progress. You get a little lag on acceleration, a bit of hesitation from the DSG when selecting gears and on kickdown, and stop-start that feels like it could be better integrated. The car is economical enough, though – a claim of 52.3mpg is a strong figure considering the automatic transmission, although if you want to do the shifting yourself there is a six-speed manual.
That MQB-derived chassis deserves only praise, however, because it has really modernised the Fabia’s drive. While the handling is hardly sporty, everything tallies up to create a car that feels fundamentally better. The steering seems more natural and smoother, while ride quality has improved, too. Combined with the changes to the dimensions and bigger interior, this feels like a small car you’d very comfortably be able to cover a lot of miles in.
Complementing this newfound sure-footedness are the very latest driver-assistance tech and active aerodynamics – kit previously reserved for cars in the sectors above. The cooling shutters on the front air inlet can close to boost aerodynamic efficiency, while features such as parking assistance and traffic-sign recognition are present. Skoda’s version of VW’s Travel Assist set-up combines adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist, while still on the safety side, up to nine airbags are optional. With this fourth-generation car, the Fabia feels like it has grown up, and fast.
|Model:||Skoda Fabia SE L 1.0 TSI 110 DSG|
|Engine:||1.0-litre 3cyl petrol turbo|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed automatic, front-wheel drive|
|On sale||Late 2021|
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