2015 Skoda Fabia Estate first drive

By the time it was replaced at the start of 2015, the old Skoda Fabia was a bit long in the tooth, and even the most die-hard Skoda fan would admit the all-new version that’s taken its place couldn’t have come soon enough.

The new Fabia hatchback has, luckily for Skoda, been received with rapturous applause from critics for its combination of frugal-yet-pokey engines, a comfortable ride and a far more agreeable look than the old model.

Like the previous generation car, Skoda’s offering the new version in a more practical estate bodyshell, and that’s what we’re in Nice to test. Nice!

Design

If you’ve owned the previous-generation Fabia estate, you’ll instantly recognise the new version as a Fabia, but one that’s had all the ungainly blobbiness of its predecessor removed. It’s certainly a less challenging look, and its design is smart too.

Although it’s 8mm shorter than the old car in terms of total length, at 4.26m, there’s more interior room, and there’s 21mm more width, which is actually far more noticeable than you’d think. No longer do you risk unintentionally flirtatious brushes of your passenger’s thigh every time you change gear, thanks to the extra room between the seats.

All about that boot

The Fabia’s real trump card is its boot. By extending the body of the Fabia hatchback, Skoda’s created a small car with truly impressive carrying abilities – we’re talking 530 litres with the rear seats up, or 1,395 with them folded almost perfectly flat. Carrying capacity can be improved further, with a two-level boot floor that costs an extra £110, but increases the flexibility of the available space. Even with this in place, there’s still a useful amount of underfloor boot space, and even if you opt to tick the ‘spare wheel’ box on your order – there’s still an area about the size of a motorbike helmet set aside.

With that optional two-level boot floor on its highest setting, there’s no drop from the boot lip to the boot floor, so you can slide objects in rather than lifting them up and over the boot lip – great for those spine-troubling trips to the garden centre.

The least convincing part of the interior, other than some hard plastics, is the dubious addition of personalised images on the dashboard fascia in front of the passenger’s seat. It’s not clear whether this optional feature (which works by uploading an image to a website and getting it applied by a dealer) will come to the UK. If it does then we’d certainly avoid getting our test car’s dead-eyed stock-photo children plastered on our dashboard (see above). Luckily, it seems the sticker will peel off easily should you wish to sell your Fabia to someone other than a direct family member.

How does it drive?

Really well. On the roads winding out from Nice into the dramatic hills behind it, the new Fabia Estate instantly feels better to drive than its forebear. Gone is the slightly unintuitive steering and tendency to follow ruts in the road; now you get the feeling you’re driving a bigger, weightier car. The sense is you’re driving something far more upmarket than the £12,460 starting price suggests – something even (dare we say it) getting close to Volkswagen Golf levels of refinement.

A downfall of the previous Fabia was its younger brother, the Citigo. Released in 2012, this upstart really showed the elderly Fabia up. Despite being a fair bit smaller than the Fabia, the Citigo felt like a much more planted, larger car. This new Fabia, however, puts its sibling back in its place, taking the on-road refinement to another level.

The ride is surprisingly plush and refined, and bumps in the road are dealt with well. You do notice larger knocks being transmitted through the back wheels, and you hear their gentle thud in the rear of the cabin. It’s not a real bother – cruising over the hundreds of speed bumps along the Cote d’Azure isn’t the bone-jarring experience you might brace yourself for.

On the motorway you’re not bothered by wind noise like in the old car, but a noticeable level of tyre roar does make its way into the cabin on rougher surfaces – overall, though, you still won’t need to shout to hold a conversation.

Heading into the hairpins that lead to Vence and the Fabia – again – gives off a grown-up vibe that, previously, you simply didn’t get at this end of the small car market. Granted, it’s not as fun to drive fast as a Ford Fiesta, but the ride and well-weighted steering means it’s easy to get into a flow flicking through sweeping turns and braking into really sharp hairpins.

Engines

We tested the range-topping 1.2-litre, 109hp petrol engine, which, if you’ve not driven modern small petrol-engined cars, might not seem on paper to have the punch to haul along a small estate car.

Thanks to turbocharging, it punches well above its size, and wafts the Estate along with a decent amount of speed while getting a claimed 53.3mpg – a 5mpg improvement over the 1.2 petrol in the previous Fabia. It won’t set your hair alight, but equally you won’t have any qualms about joining a motorway – it gets you from 30mph to 70mph without any painful delay. Despite being on the unfamiliar side of the car, joining the busy French motorways was actually a cinch, thanks to excellent over-the-shoulder visibility, letting you judge with a glance whether it’s safe to move over.

Where the 1.2-litre’s turbocharging lets the side down slightly, however, is out of slower hairpins. Exiting in second gear and centring the steering wheel while accelerating, you get a decent wait before you get any acceleration, thanks to the turbo not working well at low revs. This turbolag suddenly disappears with a chirp of wheelspin as lots of power suddenly arrives at the wheels. It’s not dangerous or even disconcerting, but just disrupts the Fabia’s newfound sense of smug plushness.

Wheelspin is unlikely to be a problem you’ll get in the base 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine which lugs the Fabia Estate along with 74hp while returning 51.4mpg using a manual gearbox. It’s the same engine as offered in the Citigo, and critics suggest it does struggle a little with the Estate and wouldn’t be the one to choose if you’ll often fill the cavernous boot for long trips.

The 109hp 1.2-litre petrol is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG automatic, or you can opt for the cheaper 89hp version of the same engine which gets a five-speed manual only. We tested both DSG and manual ‘boxes, and the latter operates smoothly, proving the perfect companion for negotiating rush-hour Monaco and school-run queues in the hills above it. The manual’s no slouch either, and it has a slick action that’s less rubbery than the old one.

Diesel buyers won’t be left out – you’ll get to choose from one of two 1.4-litre, three-cylinder diesel engines, with either 89hp or 104hp. We didn’t drive a car with this engine on the launch, but other testers said it gives you a decent amount of acceleration from low in the rev range, sounds throaty and is an enjoyable engine to use. Both versions are claimed to get around 80mpg and emit 88 and 90g/km respectively.

Options and trim levels

The cars we tested on launch were in top-spec SE L trim, which sits above the SE and entry-level S. If you’re a Skoda fan then get used to the SE L name – it’s replacing Elegance as the top-of-the-range trim.

All trim levels get DAB radio and Bluetooth, six airbags, Stop/Start and electric front windows, whereas SE trims include manual air-con, 15-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, radar-activated emergency auto-braking, surround-sound speakers, USB and SD card connections for your portable music, and a leather steering wheel.

That’s a generous amount of goodies as standard, and the top-spec SE L only adds bigger 16-inch alloys, climate control, coming-home lights (which stay on for a while after turning the car off) and keyless ignition. The middle SE spec makes the most sense in terms of value for money, and that’s where Skoda imagines most customers will put their cash.

Using Mirrorlink to stream sat-nav from a phone

Infotainment

Skoda’s pinched some of the best infotainment units Volkswagen Group has to offer, and the Fabia Estate is available with Mirrorlink technology. This is standard on SE and SE L models and displays what’s on your phone screen on the car’s touch-screen display – as long as you have a compatible phone and apps.

This means you can order a Fabia Estate without built-in sat-nav, and simply mirror a suitable navigation app from your phone to the car, saving you having to use an ugly suction mount for your mobile device.

We tested the system using a navigation app on an Android-based phone, and it worked flawlessly to the point of embarrassment – the in-built Skoda navigation system on another Fabia we tested got lost several times on the test route above Monaco.

Verdict

Skoda predicts one in five Fabia customers will buy the Estate version, and our first drive suggests that the Czech brand is has another winner on its hands. If you’re an owner of an old Fabia then we think you’ll be be impressed and the night-and-day difference in the way the new car drives – it really is that good. The fact that the Fabia Estate’s only direct competitor is SEAT’s outdated Ibiza ST can only help the Czech car’s cause.

Specify your Fabia Estate wisely, don’t be put off by the petrol engines and you could have a sensible, comfortable, economical estate car with very few drawbacks.

Should you buy one?
Buy one if… Look elsewhere if…
You want lots of space for not much money Driving thrills rank high among your priorities
Volkswagen-level refinement appeals to you You want eye-catching styling
You want fuel-efficient, smooth engines You crave big diesel engines

 

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