You half expect a small car to be peppy. Lightweight, modern and efficient motor with reasonable power? That’s got to make for a quick ride. Nowhere is this more true than with the Skoda Fabia.

The Fabia is part of our mission to find New Zealand’s best cheap car, in the $20K Challenge.

Note that our review Fabia had the $2,000 Tech Package added to it, which includes Climatronic air conditioning, Daytime Running Lights, front fog lights and the ‘Bolero’ radio + Smart Link pack. This package pushes the price up of the base Fabia to over our $20,000 target. We dismiss these features for this review to concentrate on the car you would get for $19,990.

First Impressions

This is a good-looking car. I thought the Suzuki Swift was a good looker in this $20K bracket, but the Fabia has that euro-modern look which is very appealing.

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The rear of the car is a little more ‘normal’ looking but the front is really crisp and sharp – there’s no mistaking the Fabia coming towards you, and (in my view) it’s far better looking than the Barina, Micra, or Panda. The front fog lights of the Tech Package could help with this, but at any front-on angle the Fabia is pleasing to the eye.

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Initially I thought I had jumped into an upspec model by mistake. This is a well-equipped car, especially when compared to the Swift I had handed back on the same day. Bluetooth with steering wheel controls, heated/electric mirrors, cruise control (with Speed Limiter), all power windows (auto up/down for the driver), engine start/stop system, height adjust for driver and passenger seats,  Hill Start Assist, a great touchscreen display (no reversing camera though), and another digital display of nice resolution between the speedo and the rev counter. The Fabia has a lot of standard equipment. The Fabia without the Tech package comes with ‘normal’ air conditioning.

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For your $20K you also get a 5-speed manual gearbox and a darling of a 1.2 litre, 4 cylinder, turbo-charged 66Kw/160Nm engine. Yes, 160 Newton-Metres of torque in a 1.2 litre car – and you can feel it. This car can boogie. The problem is, it’s one of those cars that wants you to make it boogie. Throttle addiction, thy name is Fabia. When you drive this car, you can just feel the performance the first time you give the throttle a good push – in return you get a good push in your back, as that torque propels you forward. Hit just 2,000rpm and it’s all on.

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There’s a tiny turbo back there, and boy does it help…

One thing in the drivetrain that was a small problem was the clutch. It’s super light, which normally would be quite good, but there’s almost no feeling to it, so you find it a bit hard to tell when the clutch is going to start taking up. Not a biggie, and probably the only thing I didn’t like about the entire car. When I say, “didn’t like” – I mean it was the only thing I could find that wasn’t good/great. By the end of the review I was more used to it, and with the torque of the motor, you don’t have much chance of stalling it anyway.

The gearbox on the other hand is a delight to use. A reasonably short throw, nice little snicks between changes, it really made you feel like a bit of a race car driver – or maybe it’s because we’ve had such a run of autos lately. Around town driving was no chore – engine torque meant you could leave it in a higher gear for quite a while without changing down.

The Fabia has an NCAP rating 5 Stars, just like the Swift. This is achieved in part by driver and passenger air bags, front curtain and side airbags. During my week with the Fabia, I was constantly comparing it to a Swift – is the Fabia a serious contender to the Swift’s sales success? After a week of driving it, I believe so.

If you pop into a Skoda showroom, you don’t get to take away a small printed brochure to peruse at home. Instead you get a 70-page glossy, full-colour book that has every detail of the Fabia. Very classy and just another pointer that this really isn’t a budget car, even though it’s priced as one.

This book also lists all the extras you can purchase with your Fabia, including things like a Flat Tyre Indicator ($100), a Front Assistant to stop you crashing into someone else ($600), KESSY – Skoda’s keyless entry, push button start/stop and alarm system ($1250). Front and rear parking sensors ($1200 or $550 for rear only) are also available as extras, among other things.

What’s it like to live with?

As you use the Fabia more every day, you find little touches that make life easier. Once you connect your phone via Bluetooth (which was simple), when you turn the car off, the display reminds you to make sure you have your phone. Passive anti-theft, if you will. Does your cellphone knock about in one of the cubbys while driving? Use one the cellphone holders on the front seats to keep it safe.

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The glovebox is big for a small car – long, deep, tall. You can fit a 1-litre bottle of water in there, apparently. In the glovebox is the extensive manual for the car, including a USB stick that you can put in your PC and get access to all sorts of things, like the manual, service centre information etc. Handy.

Parked on a spot where you have a ticket to put in the window? Just use the ticket holder that’s halfway up the windscreen, so the dash doesn’t end up with your ticket floating around on it. Sure, it’s just a piece of plastic, but it’s also a great idea.

One other nice touch was the gear indicator on the dash. Very much normal on an auto nowadays, but not so much on a manual. Another difference here was the little arrow suggesting (for example) that you should change up from 3rd to 4th right about now. The added bonus here is that the gauges are really clear and easy to read at a glance.

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Some other tricks that Fabia can do is to hook up to certain apps on a Smartphone. For example, even though the Fabia doesn’t have SatNav, if you have the Sygic GPS app on your smartphone, you can have the driving instructions and map from Sygic appear on the display. Other apps also integrate with the touchscreen – check out the website link further down to see the list.

For a small, short car the boot is an excellent 305 litres, compared to 210 for the Swift – that’s a 30% bigger boot. The rear seat down size is 1130 litres, compared to 505 for the Swift (55% bigger). That is a huge difference. On one day, I managed to tee up with Rob Clubley who was reviewing the Kia Picanto for our $20K Challenge. The difference in boot sizes between the two cars was huge. Similar to the Swift, the Picanto has 200 litres of space with the seats up, and 870 litres with the seats down. Our test car had the optional storage drawers under the front seats, which cost an extra $50. Quite handy though.

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Rear seat legroom is not exceptional or on par with a Jazz, but very much up there at better end of this $20K Challenge cars. Rear seat passengers tell me there’s no feeling of being cramped up at all.

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I have to mention the performance of this budget car again. For $20K, this is a bargain, if not just for the engine. It’s smooth and reasonably quiet. When it’s not quiet, it almost sounds rorty, in a sporty way, and at times it reminded me of a Fiat 125 engine (I kid you not). Nice sound. But that performance…even my wife mentioned it while she drove it, and she’s not a car person at all (in fact, she’s almost anti-driving). It may only put out 66Kw, but the torque at 160Nm is what makes a difference.

Build quality on the Fabia…great. Sorry to keep using that word, but it sums up the Fabia. I kept having to remind myself this car is under $20,000 new. The Swift is well built and has excellent fit and finish, but the Fabia trumped it. It exudes quality, no matter what part of the car you are looking at. Doors? They shut like a Mercedes Benz. Thunk, door shut. Love that sound.

The leather steering wheel is a delight to use, a nice thickness and the feel is superb. Just holding it, you can feel the quality. When I jumped into the Kia Picanto and drove it, I noticed things like the steering wheel. The Picanto also comes with a leather steering wheel, but it’s a lot less grippy than the Fabia and just didn’t feel as good as quality. The Fabia also comes with a leather handbrake lever and gear lever boot as standard.

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I took the Fabia on the same twisty road that I took the Swift on the other day. You could call it my Handling Measurement Road. The Swift definitely sits flatter than the Fabia, especially on the 20Km/h corners, but the Fabia has more grip. The tyres on the Swift let go much earlier than the Skoda. Overall the Swift was better, but the Fabia is still better than say the Barina Spark. The Fiat Panda was more fun than the Fabia, but it certainly rolled a lot more. After driving the Picanto on the same road, I felt like the Fabia was more of a ‘real’ car, than a short, light budget car. On the other hand, for the target market any of the cars would be fine for most drivers.

So much the same but so very different. Both black, 5-door cars under $20K.
So much the same but so very different. Both black, 5-door cars under $20K. I know in a heartbeat which I’d rather own.

The suspension is a little on the harder side, but not unpleasant.

For those drivers who want something more than just an A to B car, the Swift or Fabia is a good choice. Don’t discount the Panda for fun though!

What it’s up against

As the Skoda Fabia is part of our $20K Challenge, you can check out its rankings on the updated table here.

The good and the bad

ProsCons
  • Performance
  • Gearbox
  • Driveability
  • Grip
  • Handling
  • Design
  • Fun factor
  • Value for money
  • Warranty
  • Lack of clutch feel
  • Top end of our price cut-off

What do we think?

I want to buy a manual Fabia. I love this car. The performance, handling, build quality, smoothness, roominess, the design touches. I can absolutely see why Skoda Fabia owners love their cars.

Not convinced? My wife hates driving. She does not like manual cars. We went to go out one night (night time driving she hates even more) and she said, “I’ll drive!” I was tempted to ask who she was and what she had done with my wife. It looks like the Fabia can convert car-haters to car-lovers. It will become my benchmark car for lots of reviews from now on.

I have no hesitation in giving the Fabia a 5 Chevron rating – my first test car to achieve that. What a fantastic car for under $20,000 brand new. The Suzuki Swift was at the top of my personal choice list for this $20K Challenge, but it’s just been toppled. The Swift is great, but the Fabia is better. Long live King Fabia.

Chevron_5out5

 

 

 

Autoclique would like to thank Gazley in Wellington for supplying us with the review car.

We would not have been able to complete the $20K Challenge without Gazley’s kind assistance.

gazleyVWNS

Read more about the Skoda Fabia on Skoda New Zealand’s website

Vehicle Type5-door Small City Car
Starting Price$19,990 (manual)
Tested Price$21,990
Engine1.2 Litre 4-cylinder DOHC petrol turbo, 66Kw/160Nm
Transmission5-speed manual
0 – 100 kph10.9 seconds
Kerb Weight1025 Kg
Length x Width x Height3992x1732x1467
Cargo CapacityRear seat folded: 1130L

Rear seat raised: 310L

Fuel Tank45 Litres
NCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
Warranty5-years, with Roadside Assistance

 

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi there,

    Very interested in the Fabia but have been unable to find out what the after market servicing costs are like for Skoda. How do they stack up in relation to Japanese vehicles?

    • HI Pete
      That’s a good point. I’ve certainly heard of some other brands (I won’t mention who) that have horrendous spare parts costs – and that’s not a euro brand. That info comes from my local mechanic, so I know it’s straight up.

      For the Skoda, sorry can’t help with your research on that one. You could always call your local Skoda dealer and ask them for a base service cost, to give you an idea what the dealer would charge?

      FYI friends of mine bought a new Fabia after reading my review, and absolutely love it.
      I do too – I just read this review again, and I’m smiling. Fantastic car for the money.

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