A facelift and updated engines for the big-selling Fabia have arrived at just the right time for Skoda, helping the brand into ninth place in the European region, placing it ahead of Toyota for the year to the end of October.

ACEA’s numbers for last month show Skoda delivering 56,741 cars, which pushed its year-to-date total up to 618,773 units. That was enough to keep it ahead of the Toyota brand, which, even though it had a better month (57,359) couldn’t pull ahead, ending the ten-month period with 617,729.

Rising UK sales as market falls

Along with Germany, the UK is a major driver of the Czech make’s ongoing success in Europe, with sales here defying the overall trend. Even though the overall market dipped by 2.9 per cent compared to October 2017, Skoda saw its registrations rising by three per cent to 5,094 vehicles. Year to date, it’s 63,199, which is a fall of seven per cent, although market share is steady at three per cent.

Even with the Chinese market having been in decline and the ongoing problems for the Volkswagen Group getting its divisions’ vehicles WLTP-certified, Skoda has seen its worldwide sales rising. During the first ten months, the total reached 1,038,500, a year-on-year gain of 6.1 per cent, even with a 7.1 per cent fall in October itself due mainly to a 21 per cent drop in China. The company saw good performances from 1 January to 31 October in Europe (+4.3%), China (+12.5%), Russia (+28.7%) and India (+2.4%). The Octavia remains the firm’s number one model worldwide, followed by the Rapid and then the Fabia.

The addition of models such as the the Karoq and Kodiaq have certainly helped the brand’s rise, and also to offset the loss of the popular Yeti. The Fabia and Octavia though, have maintained their popularity both in Britain and multiple other regional European markets. The smaller of the two dates to 2014 in its current generation so it was no surprise to see the debut of a revised model line-up at the Geneva motor show back in March. The UK market release commenced a few weeks ago.

Pricing, engines and trim levels

The exterior revisions aren’t major, the facelifted model looking fairly similar to what went before. Pricing hasn’t changed much either, the entry level 1.0 MPI hatchback in S trim opening the range at GBP12,255. With the former 1.4 TDI having been dropped, all Fabias are now powered by 999cc petrol engines. The 60 and 70PS versions are normally aspirated, with turbocharging for those with outputs of 95 and 110PS.

SE is one level up from S and that also gives buyers the option of a DSG transmission although only with the 110PS 1.0-litre turbo. The same applies for the SE L model grade. Curiously, with top-spec Monte Carlo variants, only the hatchback can be ordered with this self-shifting gearbox. The most expensive Fabia, by the way, is the SE L estate automatic, which costs GB19,065.

Between SE and SE L, Skoda slots in two variants called Colour Edition. These cost GBP14,975 with the 75PS engine or, in the form I tried, GBP15,395 with 95PS. The CO2 output is an admirable 106g/km and the VED band is F but I would have to choose either an SE L or Monte Carlo as the extra 15PS is needed. You also only have five ratios for the manual transmission which can make motorways a less than highly economical experience. At least the ratios are well spaced – this is not one of those underpowered cars in which you are constantly having to shift down to maintain a decent speed.

White wheels (or grey or black)?

Aside from the want for extra power and torque, the Colour Edition has much to recommend it. Forget the white alloys and instead choose silver or my preference – black – so that brake dust and general road grime don’t spoil their appearance within minutes of cleaning them. The dark wheels would be a suitable match for the black cloth upholstery and contrasting dashboard trimmed with what looks convincingly like matte aluminium.

Skodas always come with a decent level of standard equipment, although the Simply Clever slogan also applies to the company’s ability to tempt buyers into paying extra for certain essentials. You will look in vain for a space saver spare, floor matts or electric back windows in the Colour Edition, although at least the first two can be optionally fitted for GBP110 and GBP55 respectively. Handy and or keep-you-safe things which are standard extend to an umbrella under the front passenger’s seat, hooks in the boot for supermarket bags, cruise control, heated mirrors, parking sensors at both ends, height adjustment for both seats and tyre pressure monitoring.

Is it an engaging drive this car? Not overly so, which is fine as lots of Skoda drivers tend to prefer being sensible most of the time. There are some however, who would hate to be described that way and you see them behind the wheel of the Octavia vRS, usually with mountain bikes on the roof, so the brand accommodates pretty much anyone who thinks Audis are too expensive and who wants something a bit different to a Polo, Golf or Passat.

Skoda has some of the industry’s highest levels of customer retention and it’s easy to see why. The cars usually offer strong value for money, even if they aren’t as cheap as people tend to believe. You can see and feel high quality, long-lasting components and construction throughout, the updated Fabia being if anything even better than the outgoing model. The interior space is often greater than most class competitors, usually due to the respective models having additional length in the wheelbase and crossover-like seating positioning. The boot and the glass areas are usually big, the cars easy to park and cheap to insure – all commendably sensible assets.

Platform and life cycle

The Volkswagen Group’s MQB architectures have been around since 2012, the first one, A/B, debuting with the Audi A3. Skoda has its own special version of MQB AO which is said to have carried over certain elements from the previous Fabia in the interests of keeping costs down. In around 2021 or 2022, the next Fabia could well be the first Volkswagen AG model for a new group platform which some believe will be called MQB AO Evo. Basically, the first evolution of AO, updated and future-proofed for all manner of small models set to appear throughout the 2020s.

While it’s too early to say where the Fabia’s successor will be built, the existing hatchback and estate come down the M1 line at the the main Mladá Boleslav works adjacent to Skoda’s headquarters. Production of the facelifted model commenced in August. The same factory has been sending SKD kits to Algeria for assembly there since earlier this year. There is also production in China and this is part of the SAIC Volkswagen JV. Build started at the Anting factory in 2015.