It was a muggy day when I first stepped into the Skoda Fabia estate and had that been the only time I spent in it I may well have been rude. The CLIMAtronic (sic) system is gutless and while it had a crack at getting to the temperature requested, on a humid British Summer day, it just couldn’t make it. Which made the Volkswagen Golf-like heavy duty upholstery seem thick and scratchy like some wild animal’s coat.
But, like a good sportsman fighting back from a difficult first round, the Fabia assiduously picked up points in every category until I was impressed by everything but the price tag (and CLIMATronic).
In car parks, when it is lined up with other cars, you notice that it is a very tall, narrow car. It is obviously not as big on the outside as a Kia Ceed’d or Peugeot 308. This is refreshing in a world where cars seem to be getting fatter and gaps narrower. The chamfered panels and striking lines make it look like a compressed BMW. You won’t mistake it for a 3- or 5-Series, but from a ¾ view you wonder if it was inspired by the Munich manufacturer. Yet inside, the boot, leg and head room all feel equal to those chunkier motors. What’s interesting about all this is how it positions the Fabia as neither a competitor to the majority of small family cars out there or conventional small cars like Fiestas and such. It falls between two stools.
In driving experience, especially with the 1.9 turbo diesel engine of the test car, it is closest to a Vauxhall Astra. There is (for such a car) immense torque as you make to pull away and as a result, screeching a wheel now and then is inevitable. It is a little easy to stall in town, but that is something only likely to happen when you are still getting to know the car.
When a friend was late for a family barbeque he asked me to ‘see what I could do.’ I was sceptical that a car as tall and narrow as the Fabia, with 3 grown men and luggage aboard was going to be able to do much but roll about. But the car maintained poise and found masses of grip as we weaved through Oxfordshire’s country lanes. The engine put in a spirited delivery, provided I was in the right gear and it was hard to criticise the dynamics in anyway.
Equally, on motorways the car cruises like a bigger car, with better refinement than either a Kia or a Ford diesel.
Who is buying them?
Skodas used to be a budget purchase, but increasingly they are priced to reflect their quality. Rather than being bought by a particular type of driver – like families for the school run or company reps – they are bought by a particular type of spender. Someone who is not image conscious, but is budget conscious. So very few are traded regularly, staying instead, in the hands of each owner for several years as they look to get value back from their initial purchase. The estate is a late edition to the line up and broaden the appeal to a younger family audience.
What’s the market like?
There are very few in the market which keeps prices high. Those that enter the market in their first 2-5 years are well maintained and have clear service histories. Taking the more popular 1.9 turbo diesel model, prices for nearly new models start at £10,000 and then drop £1,000 a year. The petrol units, unlike most of its small car competitors, have a similar nearly new price point and lose slightly less as time goes on. This is due to a small supply of petrols in the market.
What else can this budget buy?
The Fabia doesn’t feel (or look) as big as mainstream small family cars like the Ford Focus. It feels like a competitor to the Kia Rio. But unlike the Rio, it is not a Focus/Astra sized car at Fiesta/Corsa money. It is almost as much as a Vauxhall Astra at around £9,000 for a 1 year old car. So this budget will buy almost any of the small cars on the market and with a bit of haggling, many of the slightly bigger, ‘small family cars.’
The first Skoda to feel distinctive in design. It is an attractive family estate which is built to last. A thoroughly capable all-rounder that you can depend upon as it offers great trim quality, plenty of interior space for a family and excellent dynamics. But be careful not to overpay.
By: Matthew Tumbridge