THERE was a time when Skoda and its products such as the Felicia and Favorit seemed to feature strongly in most comedians' repertoires on the club and theatre circuit.
But, back in the spring of 1998, the Czech manufacturer put a stop to all that with its introduction into the UK of the Octavia.
This roomy, well put together and very well priced family hatchback came blessed with parent company Volkswagen engines and engineering while much evidence of the VW Golf and Passat was couched within some smoothly styled bodywork.
Launched to great acclaim in 2000, the Fabia supermini then took up the baton to help extend Skoda's reputation as one of the fastest growing car brands in the UK. Another example of Skoda's 'extra bit of car' the Fabia was built, say Skoda, 'with the needs of owners and their families very much in mind' and more than 1.5 million have been sold to date.
The Fabia set new standards for size, comfort and versatility among smaller hatches. It quickly became highly decorated lifting both What Car? magazine and Auto Express Car of the Year awards in 2000.
The Fabia Mark I received a facelift in 2004 and, until the second generation model came on stream in May 2007 more than 130,000 were sold in the UK.
With the latest Fabia the range has been simplified. Gone are the likes of Classic, Ambiente and Elegance trim levels with all models now being sensibly badged Fabia 1, 2 or 3.
The new face of Skoda has given the new Fabia a powerful and dynamic look. Although instantly recognisable as a Skoda, it stands well on the tarmac, its pronounced wheel arches and sculpted bonnet gel well with a dramatic rising waistline..
On board this five-seater there is an abundance of kit with the entry level Fabia 1 coming on stream for under £7,000 with the likes of central door locking, electric front windows, four airbags, four-speaker sound system with CD and MP3, dual front and side airbgs, ABS braking and immobiliser as standard, but no air con.
The Fabia 2 does include air con, trip computer, remote central locking, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, 15 inch Antares alloys and eight-speaker sound system while the range-topping Fabia 3, driven here, adds Climatronic air con, cruise control, rear parking sensors, front fogs, curtain airbags, curtain airbags and 16-inch Atria alloys.
Longer and higher than its predecessor, which translates into more head and legroom for up to three rear seat occupants, the new Fabia also delivers some class-leading boot space, with all seats taken a very generous 300 litres being available for cargo while with the rear seats folded flat, the figure increases to 1,163 litres which is quite amazing for this type of car.
In addition to handsome looks, the Fabia has always been renowned for the quality of its interior and the newcomer is no exception with fine craftsmanship and high quality materials combining to deliver cabin quality of the highest order.
Instrumentation has been set up with the user very much in mind resulting in a neatly set-out dashboard and easily navigable centre console while overall vision from the driving seat is good.
There are seven engines from which to choose, four petrol from 1.2-litre 60bhp, through 1.2-litre 70bhp and 1.4-litre 86bhp to the 1.6-litre 105bhp, with 1.4-litre 70bhp TDI PD, a 1.4-litre 80bhp TDI PD and the range-topping 1.9-litre 105bhp TDI PD making up the diesel offerings.
The flagship diesel model is powered by the 1.9-litre VW sourced engine paired with a five-speed manual transmission which does justice to its 105bhp. With 0-62mph coming in under 11 seconds and plenty of mid-range pull available there is much to commend the new Fabia - not least fuel economy in the region of 60mpg.
The ride is comfortable in all parts and handling is a joy courtesy of a chassis well designed for the job. It makes smooth work of most surfaces.
The latest Fabia recently lifted the 2007 Scottish Car of the Year Award as best supermini which is little surprise as this is a car which comes with the added bonus of favourably low running costs and perhaps a promisingly satisfying return in the residual stakes when the time comes for a change.
Skoda Fabia 3 1.9 TDI PD 105
Mechanical: 105bhp, 1,896cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 5spd manual gearbox
Max speed: 118mph
0-62mph: 10.8 secs
Combined mpg: 57.6
Insurance group: 4
CO2 emissions: 129g/km
BiK rating: 18%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles, 3yrs paint, 10yrs anti-rust