In at the deep end; a baptism of fire; call it what you like, but spending five intimate hours with someone you’ve only just met is somewhat daunting and will certainly reveal their personality, warts and all. Half an hour after it was delivered, I drove two hundred miles down to a launch event in Somerset, at the wheel of ŠKODA’s new Fabia, the WhatCar? ‘best small car’ and overall ‘car of the year’ for 2015.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - rear 34b

It comes as no surprise that the new Fabia sports ŠKODA’s latest family face, bringing it in line with the Czech firm’s other models. The first generation Fabia looked classical and subtly elegant but perhaps a little unexciting. The second generation Fabia, of which my uncle and a friend proudly own examples, had a more cheerful air about it and strengthened the model’s appeal to customers of all ages, the cake television advert sticking in my mind. A 2015 Fabia in SE L trim does look more attractive than the SE spec’ car I spent ten days with, and Corrida Red is admittedly my least favourite colour, but even so, ŠKODA has got the styling of the Mark III just right. Its lower stance, crisp lines, new grille, sleek headlights, C-shaped rear lights and accentuated curves and panel shapes result in a thoroughly modern, aspirational and actually rather aggressive overall look, which once again talks to younger and older buyers alike.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - front 2

The Fabia finds itself in an incredibly competitive group that includes the new Corsa and Mazda2 along with the i10, Rio, Fiesta and of course its sister, the Polo. A Fabia specified with LED daytime running lights, fog lights, sunset glass, 17” Savio alloys and metallic paint carries more visual appeal than a Fiesta or an i10, in my view, and holds its head up high alongside other rivals.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - side

The exterior fit and finish is excellent, as one would expect from a Volkswagen Group product, and such solidity is evident inside the new Fabia, too. Actually, many of the surfaces struck me as being too solid, lacking in tactility and softness. Still, at least buyers can be confident that it should stand the test of time, especially if children are on the scene. The dashboard is essentially a brushstroke of black lacking in any particular visual appeal, although the piano black inserts around the infotainment system and on the leather-trimmed steering wheel were welcome touches. The handbrake lever was also finished in leather and all the driver controls felt robust and ergonomically effective. The black and grey upholstery was a little sombre and I couldn’t find any lumbar adjustment, but the front seats were surprisingly supportive and I arrived in Somerset free of any spinal complaints.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - cabin

The Arkamys surround sound package is particularly impressive, quality remaining intact with the volume cranked up. SE trim means DAB digital radio, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth, USB, MirrorLink for pairing your smartphone up with the Bolero infotainment screen, and ŠKODA’s Maxi-DOT trip computer. For the £15,915 as-tested price, I was a little disappointed to find that the heated and electrically-adjustable wing mirrors only fold manually, and the air conditioning system is manual, too. If you want to brighten the proceedings up a tad, you can specify a SE Fabia with blue upholstery and white dashboard inserts in place of gloss black.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - back seats

I sometimes think of ŠKODA as the automotive IKEA, championing practical, functional solutions – and the Simple Clever package for the Fabia certainly delivers in this area. I can’t say I can recall previously driving a car fitted with a waste basket. The vertical holder for smartphones and music devices is also a welcome feature, positioned by the gearstick. The doors also contain holders suitable for 0.5-litre bottles in the rear and 1.5-litre bottles in the front, a generously-sized glovebox and useful door bins. The net pockets located on the sides of the front seats are very thoughtful, too. My weekly supermarket visit was aided by the Fabia boot’s selection of nets, hooks, holders and compartments, and the overall cabin felt roomy, providing decent space and comfort for four adults on long journeys, or two adults and three kids. The practical Fabia’s cake was topped by several cherries, from the storage boxes under the front seats and the ice scraper found attached to the fuel cap, to a ticket holder fitted to the windscreen, plus USB, Aux and 12V sockets. It was a novelty finding a proper spare wheel, too.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - Simply Clever boot

Powered by a 1.4-litre, 90PS, 3-cylinder diesel engine capable of returning upto 83.1mpg, fuel wasn’t a worry as I set off for Somerset and at the end of the five-hour journey, I had averaged 70mpg, which was impressive considering the engine had only covered a few thousand miles previously. Realistically, one could expect to achieve mid-60s in real life. It’s not the most refined diesel engine I’ve encountered, proving quite noisy on initial startup, and it doesn’t really quieten down after driving for a while. Some may like the thrum sound it’s got to it, but for me, the main positive was the decent torque and pull in low gears; more than adequate for zipping around in the urban jungle. The 5-speed manual gearbox (DSG automatic is available, as is a more powerful 1.4-litre diesel unit with 105PS) is very pleasant to operate – and fortunately so, as I found myself changing down to fourth and occasionally even third gear in order to maintain momentum on moderate gradients. The gearing never got on my wick, though, and I learned to live with and work around both it and the engine’s relatively modest power. On the motorway, crosswinds buffeted the Fabia around but the car’s overall aura of quality meant I still felt safe, and all-round visibility was good due to its fairly square form.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - front 34c

Covering over 500 miles in the new Fabia in diesel manual SE guise, it was definitely possible to build a rapport with and an affection for it.  This was partly down to its surprisingly agile handling and well-mannered ride. The engineers have done a great job with the damping, which allows the Fabia to corner quite sportily, hanging on impressively when tackling sharp corners and roundabouts at speed. Undulations and poor surfaces are also soaked up and dealt with admirably, neither bumpy country lanes nor nasty traffic calming measures showing the new Fabia up. The nicely-weighted steering with decent levels of feedback, partnered to the slick gearbox and capable suspension setup mean that keen drivers will still be able to eke some enjoyment from even the diesel/manual/SE variant of the third generation model, which is 30mm lower, 90mm wider and 65kg lighter than the Mark II.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - multimedia

Boot capacity is 330 litres with the seats erect, which is 25 litres more than its predecessor, 45 litres more than a new Corsa and even 14 litres more than a Ford Focus from the group above. With the seats folded down, space drops by 13 litres compared to the Mark II Fabia. The boot lip isn’t as pronounced as on some other cars and the overall cabin, which is 21mm wider than before, is surprisingly spacious. All third generation Fabia engines are Start-Stop and Euro 6 compliant. The 1.4 TDI 90PS SE model I tested falls in insurance group 10E, so will be more attainable for younger drivers, plus it’s in VED road tax band A, meaning diddly squat to pay. Compared to the second generation’s closest diesel equivalent, the 1.6 TDI SE 90bhp, promising 67mpg, the new 1.4-litre unit will certainly prove more economical even if the 83.1mpg on paper translates to mid-60s in reality, and it emits 88g of CO2 per kilometre compared to 109g from the previous 1.6 TDI, which is around a second slower to reach 62mph. It’s a safe car, the Front Assistant’s (standard with SE trim) radar warning you if you’re about to crash, automatically braking for you if you fail to do so. The new electronic stability control system improves safety during cornering, the outer rear seats have ISOFIX child seat fittings, and six airbags keep occupants safe.

2015 new third gen Skoda Fabia hatchback 1.4 TDI SE full road test review evaluation motoring journalist Oliver Hammond - wallpaper photo - front 34e

The new ŠKODA Fabia hatchback is desirably styled, incorporating an edgier design without alienating more conservative Fabia loyalists. Considering how splendid the range of exterior colours is, it’s a shame more interior choices aren’t offered, such as beige, tan or even red. Fashion conscious Fabia buyers will need to choose 17” alloy wheels or indeed upgrade to SE L trim if funds allow. The SE model I tested wasn’t exactly bare but it would’ve been nice if climate control and cruise control are included as standard. The relatively sombre interior proved hard-wearing and comfortable but lacked soul. The Simply Clever package is well worth going for, giving the Fabia a slight practicality edge over its rivals. Although it’s not the most refined on the market, the 1.4 TDI 90PS diesel unit grew on me throughout the week, and the 5-speed manual gearbox had a pleasant action to it but needed working hard to stop the car running out of puff in some circumstances, and the ride and handling were surprisingly good, soaking up bumps and poor surfaces well but at the same preventing the car from cornering floppily. Competition is fierce when it comes to superminis and the new Fabia doesn’t strike me as a bargain quite as much as the predecessor did, plus it’s only around £1,000 cheaper than a comparable diesel SE Polo. I wasn’t completely blown away by it and low-mileage drivers should look to the 1.2-litre petrol engines, but as a solidly-constructed and practical compact hatchback, I’m confident it’ll do quite well.

© Author: Oliver Hammond, published motoring journalist, blogger & freelance writer

Advertisements