Is the 1.4 diesel the best Skoda Fabia engine?

The all-new Fabia launched in early 2015 to almost uniformly positive reviews from UK critics. It took the previous-generation Fabia’s reputation for good-value motoring and added a bit more style while taking the Czech city car’s refinement to another level.

When it comes to choosing an engine for the new Fabia, the majority of reviewers suggest the small 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engines are worth the outlay. When we drove the estate version in early 2015 we couldn’t help but agree – it’s a perky engine that gives you the smoothness you need in town and on motorways, with enough acceleration for most occasions.

There’s a bit of an elephant in the room, however. The Fabia also launched with one of the latest Volkswagen Group diesel engines – a 1.4-litre engine with three cylinders. We’ve spent a week with a diesel Fabia to find five things you need to know about it, and whether some of the common grumbles actually matter in real-world driving.

It accelerates quickly – but not as smoothly as you’d think

The UK motoring media’s consensus for the Fabia’s engine range goes something like this. In terms of petrol engines, the 1.0 MPI 74hp is generally thought to be too weak to help a fully-loaded Fabia accelerate quickly enough (although it suits the lighter Citigo perfectly), but the 89hp and 108hp 1.2-litre petrols are spot on.

The 1.4-litre diesel we’re testing here is the only diesel choice for the new Fabia, and it’s available with 89hp or 104hp – the more powerful unit is only available on top-spec SE L models.

In mid-range SE trim, the 89hp diesel costs from £14,825, or £15,825 if you want a DSG automatic gearbox. It has ‘just’ 89hp, but it pushes you back gently in your seat from about 2,200rpm – although the power comes in fairly suddenly and tails off towards the top of the rev range as most diesels tend to. Below 2,200rpm it doesn’t have a huge amount of go, so some drivers might find the sudden arrival of turbocharged torque and resultant acceleration a bit annoying when trying to drive smoothly. 

Half of our test team thought this surge of power gave the car an amusingly nippy feel, wheras the other half just found it irritating.

Sounds like…

Speaking of revving the engine, you’ll perhaps not be surprised to learn that, when you start the little diesel, it sounds rather gruff and has quite a clattery idle noise – though it’s no worse than VW’s larger 1.6-litre unit. 

Accelerate around town, however, and you’re rewarded with quite a pleasant thrum from the three-cylinder engine layout – if you like to rev an engine as you dart about then this is one of the better-sounding diesels out there. If you thrash it, the 89hp version will get you to 60mph from rest in 11.1 seconds.

The fuel economy is great

Modern diesel engines are best suited to longer journeys when they can warm up properly and can run efficiently. On a 72-mile round trip from London to Hindhead along the A3, our diesel Fabia returned a claimed 60.6mpg at a UK motorway cruising speed.

Used in stop-start London traffic, the average dipped towards 50mpg. With a lighter foot and judicious use of the standard cruise control, we’d expect to nudge into the low 70mpgs on motorway runs – a way short of the claimed 83.1mpg, but still impressive and easily enough for a 500-mile tank range.

The 1.4 TDI is the engine to pick for longer journeys

We’d be tempted to buy the 1.2 petrol if we were going to be doing more short journeys (petrol engines tend to warm up faster and rev smoother), but if you’re planning on taking the Fabia on long motorway stints then the extra torque and fuel efficiency the 1.4 diesel offers would be hard to resist.

The manual gearbox and clutch are light and easy to use smoothly, and we didn’t experience any of the low-rev stalling anxiety other publications have noted. Buyers will notice the long gears in the manual gearbox, which often mean you’ll have to be a gear lower than you’d expect for the given conditions – it’s something you learn to adapt to quickly, however.

What about the rest of the car?

We’ve already covered the Fabia in great detail, but the diesel car we drove was just as refined and had the same grown-up, large-car feel we’ve praised the Fabia for before.

The SE trim includes quite a lot of kit for a mid-range model, too: DAB digital radio (with attractive colour logos for your favourite stations on the touchscreen), six speakers (which are impressively bassy if that’s your thing), cruise control (which displays a distance warning in the instrument cluster when you’re a bit close to the car in front), and nice leather trimmings on the wheel, gear knob and handbrake keep things feeling plush enough.

Like all Skodas, the practical things are well taken care of

All in all, the diesel Fabia has a lot going for it. It doesn’t use much fuel, it springs away from traffic lights and settles down to a quiet motorway cruise which doesn’t leave you shouting to chat to your passenger. 

If that sounds like we’re damning it with faint praise – we’re not. It’s simply because the Fabia is an excellent all-rounder that does everything a small car should exceptionally well, but without any drama – which is exactly what the majority of car buyers want.

Absolutely Fabialous?

Read our Skoda Fabia review for a broader look at the the Czech brand’s latest supermini. If you need more room then our Fabia Estate review will be more up your street. Don’t forget to head over to our Fabia or Fabia Estate deals pages to see how much you could save on a brand-new Fabia from official Skoda dealers.

Skoda Fabia

Very capable, safe and well-made supermini
£10,750 - £18,025
Read review Compare offers

Skoda Fabia Estate

A small car with a big-car boot and driving experience
£12,630 - £19,310
Read review Compare offers
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