New car had its global debut four months ago at Paris show
The new Fabia five-door hatchback, on sale this month in Britain, is shorter but roomier and weighs an average 65kg less, boasts the largest boot in its segment and is competitively priced (from GBP10,600). But gone, sadly, is the vRS.
Why the lack of a sports variant? It seems that we Brits were the main buyers of the now former vRS so it was hard to justify the necessary modifications needed to create a new generation car. Which is a shame. Still, the similar looking Monte Carlo edition is to return later in the year and this was one of the most popular Fabias in the UK. Also coming is a new Greenline, the low emissions version. Not that the launch range isn’t already fully Euro 6 compliant, and with some cars having a CO2 output of just 88g/km. The Greenline will emit just 82g/km and have a Combined cycle average of 88.3mpg.
What one person loves can be loathed by another, but lacking the new optional Colour Concept paint (white, silver or black paint for the wheels, mirror housings and roof) the third generation car is suddenly dated. It’s also differently sized, as generation four is 30mm lower and 90mm wider but 8mm shorter. Length x width x height are 3,992mm x 1,958mm x 1,467mm, with a 2,470mm wheelbase.
My rule of thumb is that if a car’s curves and features have to be explained, then the Design department is trying too hard. There again we live in a world where the name of one person will be elevated to star status as a car’s chief stylist, whereas in truth multiple people create the exteriors and interiors. Not to say the new Fabia doesn’t look good. Just that when the brochure speaks of the ‘crystalline design of the headlights’, you tend to, well, glaze over. We are meant to think ‘Czech crystal’ or rather Bohemian crystal. Well, maybe, but they’re just plastic headlight modules.
There’s more: “the new design language is spelt out in the crystal-shaped space for the number plate”. That means it has the same diagonal slashes on the tailgate as most other Škodas. What matters more than the florid prose is the Fabia’s stance - are the proportions right? Yes, they are, and the estate also looks spot on.
From the driver’s seat there is a visible ridge that runs the length of the bonnet and this links the little car to larger models. There is an upward sweep on the rear doors, a bit like what Lexus used to do, and the tail lights look similar to those on the Octavia. The Combi has its own back doors and these do without the rising metal at their ends. This, the estate, will be in UK showrooms in time for the 15 registration plate.
The new range builds on what was a tremendous year for Škoda UK, its market share rising above 3% for the first time and overall sales having increased for the fifth year in succession. The total was 75,488, which represented a YoY gain of 14.24% in a market up by 9.35%. Having long ago caught and passed Fiat, SEAT and Renault, the Czech brand’s next targets for 2015 might be Kia (77,525 in 2014) and Hyundai (81,786).
Jonathan Harris, Škoda UK’s product manager for small cars, says the dealer network should remain close to its current 134 outlets for the time being. He also points out that while prices for the new Fabia have risen, so too has standard equipment. Even the base ’S’ model grade has DAB; Bluetooth; body-coloured mirrors, bumpers and door handles; carrier bag hooks in the boot; plus heated, electric mirrors. You have to choose the trim level above this for alloy rims though - the S has plastic wheel covers and it also has to do without A/C. Where formerly this was known as Elegance, it’s now SE, and above this is SE L. The SE brings with it leather-wrapping for the steering wheel and handbrake, manual A/C, 15” ‘Mato’ alloy wheels, acoustic rear parking sensors, and black roof rails on the estate. You can tell the SE L by its front fog lamps and LED daytime lights, while inside there is cruise control, climate control and what Škoda calls KESSY GO (keyless engine stop/start).
Engines? There’s a 999cc, three-cylinder petrol in 60PS and 75PS forms, a 1,197cc TSI (direct injection turbo) that produces 90PS or 110PS, and a 1,422cc three-cylinder TDI which comes with 90PS or 105PS. If you like twin-clutch automatic gearboxes, you’re in luck as a seven-speed DSG available for the 90PS diesel and the 110PS petrol. The manual transmissions have five or six ratios depending on the engine. The UK importer believes the best seller will be the 1.0-litre 75PS SE, followed by the 1.2-litre 90PS SE. The majority of the outgoing Fabia’s sales were to retail customers, with the remaining 35% to fleets.
The new model takes over from a car which was the brand’s second best seller in the UK last year after the Octavia. Registrations of the hatchback numbered 12,700 in 2014, plus a further 4,100 estates. Jonathan Harris wouldn’t make a prediction for 2015 other than saying that volume will be “in the teens”. It seems the success of B-crossovers is making everyone cautious about making sales projections in the small hatchback and wagon class.
The fourth generation car feels like a step forward in the handling department, as it should do, coming seven years after the last model. The wider stance is immediately noticeable on both the SE and SE L versions I sampled, with 15- and 16-inch wheels respectively, and the SE L 1.2 TSI 110 also had optional (GBP120) sports suspension. The DSG is well sorted and there were no delays or shunts when moving in slow traffic, as has been the case in the past other Volkswagen Group small cars’ twin clutch transmissions.
The new Fabia won’t excite its owners, but that’s hardly the point. The people who buy it will love the fact that the boot is 50 litres up on that of a Polo, that the rear seat occupants have more room and that for what you pay, it’s excellent value. Some squishier plastics for the dashboard would be nice, as would electric rear windows - they’re manual even on the top-spec SE L - and the optional (GBP250) Colour Concept can be Simply Silly in some combinations (white alloys?) but other than that, this is a car that will sell very well.
Due to where it’s built and the combination of MQB architecture with selected modules evolved from the old car, the new Fabia is also surely going to make good money for Škoda. And help push the brand’s worldwide sales above the million mark in 2015, for the second year in a row.