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    Skoda Fabia 2021 review

    Though about to celebrate its seventh birthday, the current, third-gen Fabia still looks sharp. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    Daily driver score

    3/5

    Urban score

    3/5

    Extinction alert!

    Superminis – or light cars as they're also known – are an endangered species in Australia, with their ranks thinning seemingly by the day despite rising urban densification in our major cities.

    Kudos, then, to good old Skoda for hanging in there, and even going one better by offering a handy little wagon iteration to boot.

    This year marks a decade since the Volkswagen Polo-based Fabia arrived locally, and 22 years since the Czech runabout hit Europe in a big way, replacing the pre-VW era Felicia/Favorit (1987) and rear-engine 100 range before that (1969).

    The model we have here is the final of the third-generation, NJ Series II version that debuted in Australia in mid 2015, unimaginatively called the 'Run-Out Edition' (ROE for short). Fabia ROE. Sounds like caviar.

    Let's see if there's anything fishy about this ageing supermini favourite of ours (puns intended), as we put the cheapest automatic Fabia – the 81TSI DSG – through its paces in the urban environment where compact hatchbacks like this are born and bred for.

    Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

    The NJ Fabia is based on the sixth-generation (2009-2017) 6R Polo and thus sits on the old PQ26 platform, albeit the update launched in 2014. Its larger, roomier and more-modern successor was revealed earlier this year and is expected in Australia sometime in 2022. Fingers crossed.

    So, a last hurrah then. For the most part, Skoda has priced this well-equipped supermini quite keenly – though it isn't without a few glaring omissions.

    The Fabia ROE in seven-speed dual-clutch transmission guise is priced from $23,790 plus on-road costs, or $24,990 driveaway. This nets you a more powerful 81kW version of the three-cylinder turbo petrol engine known in VW-speak as 81TSI DSG, compared to the standard 70kW five-speed manual 70TSI opener – which saves you a whopping $3000, by the way. The fab wagon adds just $1000 to each variant.

    Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity do imbue the interior a more modern veneer than its years suggest. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity do imbue the interior a more modern veneer than its years suggest. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    Interestingly, the 85TSI ROE is reasonably well equipped, approximating the old sporty Monte Carlo version that's now discontinued, brandishing stiffer suspension, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and racy blacked-out grille, mirrors and alloy wheels. Saucy.

    These come on top of a tilt/telescopic steering column, seat-height adjuster for the driver's seat, reverse camera, 6.5-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity, surround sound system, dual USB ports for rear-seat occupants, multi-function trip computer, remote central locking, power windows, air-conditioning and space-saver spare wheel.

    A front centre armrest, mobile phone holder, door-sited umbrella, folding luggage hooks and cargo netting are handy little extras typical of the brand. Nice.

    Standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual frontal, side chest and side head curtain), autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, fatigue detection, multi-collision braking (that applies the brakes after an impact should a vehicle following strike from behind), hill-launch assist and tyre-pressure monitors, as well as the now-mandatory electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake-assist.

    The MY21 Fabia 85TSI Run-Out Edition comes with alloy wheels. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The MY21 Fabia 85TSI Run-Out Edition comes with alloy wheels. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    If you expect Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA) safety, they're bundled in with a $3200 Premium Pack, which also adds desirables like keyless entry/start, LED headlights, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights, auto dimming rear-view mirror, climate control and an alarm.

    However, even with this option bumping the Fabia ROE's price to a hefty $28,190 driveaway, satellite navigation, digital radio and a rear-seat folding armrest with cupholders are not present.

    Adding premium/metallic paint costs $550.

    So, how do key rival superminis fare?

    In-house Polo rival first. Closest to the 81TSI ROE's features is the Polo 85TSI DSG Style from $25,690 before on-road costs, or a tenner under $30,000 driveway. However, that's before adding the $1500 for the Driver Assistance Package that brings adaptive cruise control and other safety/convenience items. That bumps the price up well over $30K. The VW is grown up in more ways than one.

    It comes with LED headlights. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) It comes with LED headlights. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    The Kia Rio GT-Line and Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo, too, are close to the Fabia in specification – also being 1.0-litre three-pot turbo motivated – and cost from $24,990 (before on-road costs)/$26,990 driveaway and $27,790 driveaway respectively. Note that they both include most of the ROE's $3200 Premium Pack gear (though not RCTA in Rio), so actually come in a bit cheaper when that's taken into consideration. The same applies to the mid-grade Mazda2 Evolve.

    If you're willing to forgo a bit of extra performance, the still-sparkling Swift GL Navigator Plus at $23,990 driveaway is a cheaper option than the Fabia – though like all Rios and $500-cheaper base (but hardly bare) Mazda2 Pure, it lacks adaptive cruise. You'll need to step up to the latter's range-topping $29K-driveaway GT for that.

    Meanwhile, the latest and thoroughly modern Toyota Yaris Ascent Sport is about $1000 more expensive than the Fabia ROE and offers less engine torque (plus horrendously aftermarket-esque hubcaps), but does include more comprehensive safety tech.

    Overall then, this Skoda scores a middling ‘C’ for value in its competitive set.

    Is there anything interesting about its design?

    Skoda's design team did a great job with the current Fabia's original styling, with it still looking crisp and contemporary, even though the car was first unveiled to the world some seven years ago now.

    It's remarkably faithful thematically to the 1999 original, certainly more so than the ungainly Mk2 we saw here from 2011 to 2015. More importantly, the upright design, deep windows and pert tail make the NJ hatch especially suited to slotting into tight parking spots, reflecting its European heritage.

    • The upright design, deep windows and pert tail make the NJ hatch especially suited to slotting into tight parking spots. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The upright design, deep windows and pert tail make the NJ hatch especially suited to slotting into tight parking spots. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)
    • Skoda’s design team did a great job with the current Fabia’s original styling. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Skoda’s design team did a great job with the current Fabia’s original styling. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)
    • It’s remarkably faithful thematically to the 1999 original. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) It’s remarkably faithful thematically to the 1999 original. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)
    • Plus, a 0.324 Cd drag co-efficiency is remarkable for such a short and stubby hatch. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Plus, a 0.324 Cd drag co-efficiency is remarkable for such a short and stubby hatch. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    Plus, a 0.324 Cd drag co-efficiency is remarkable for such a short and stubby hatch.

    And, yet, while properly small, the current Fabia is just roomy enough to cut it as a second car for smaller families.

    How practical is the space inside?

    The Fabia might be a small supermini but it isn't cramped or claustrophobic.

    The dash, while simple, is appealingly clear and logical, with an easy symmetry that enhances functionality as well as aesthetics. Skoda's distinctive analogue dials flanking the time-honoured digital screen displaying speed, vehicle operation, trip computer and other relevant driving data also has a somewhat timeless look about it.

    There are no complaints about the Fabia's driving position, either, aided by a tilt/reach steering wheel with perforated stitched material for added comfort and grip. That upright body and deep windows provide plenty of good all-round vision. And, while hard, the plastics do at least seem well constructed and hardy.

    The Skoda’s rear seat area is unexpectedly accommodating, with plenty to like. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The Skoda’s rear seat area is unexpectedly accommodating, with plenty to like. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    Shapely and inviting, the front seats make very short work of long trips, with infinite ratchet adjustability for rake and a driver's side height lever available for bodies of all dimensions to find an ideal position; the moderate side bolstering also do a good job in locating their occupants securely through tight corners. Additionally, being somewhat German in their firmness also makes up for the fact that no lumbar functionality is available.

    However, apart from the contrasting textures on the dash and seating, there is not much surprise and delight to be savoured inside, save for the little lidded bin that lives in the narrow door pocket shelf, passenger-door sited umbrella and floating and adjustable front-seat centre armrest.

    And while we applaud the simplicity and ease of the old-fashioned heating/air-con knobs and buttons, they do seem a little downmarket in a car that costs $25,000; we'd expect climate control at this price point.

    Shapely and inviting, the front seats make very short work of long trips. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Shapely and inviting, the front seats make very short work of long trips. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    That central touchscreen is moderately large, but is surprisingly low-resolution, and of course the missing digital radio (DAB+) and GPS is also conspicuous considering the ROE's positioning. Of course, given the Fabia's age, there is no wireless charging, though as mentioned earlier, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity do imbue the interior a more modern veneer than its years suggest.

    Note, too, that the front cupholders are too small for standard small bottles, but the door pockets make up for that for thirstier folk with a huge appetite for two-litre bottles.

    Inevitably, factoring in the Fabia's sub-4.0 metre length and 2.47m wheelbase, rear-seat access is fairly restricted, though at nearly 1.5m tall, at least the wide rear doors do their best not to hamper entry/egress.

    Once sat on firm but sculptured outboard seating that keep you sufficiently comfortable, the Skoda's rear seat area is unexpectedly accommodating, with plenty to like. These include two USB ports behind the centre front bin, overhead grab handles and light, coat hooks, two map pockets, small bottle storage and one-touch electric windows – classy. It's also smartly finished back there, if a little austere.

    The dash, while simple, is appealingly clear and logical, with an easy symmetry that enhances functionality as well as aesthetics. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The dash, while simple, is appealingly clear and logical, with an easy symmetry that enhances functionality as well as aesthetics. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    However, the lack of any cupholders (they're usually found in the folding centre armrest that's also absent from the ROE) is an oversight in this day and age, while there is no shortage of road and tyre noise entering the cabin, making the rear part of the cabin not as quiet as you might hope it to be.

    Further back, the boot can be accessed inside the cabin via the 60/40 split fold seats; when the backrests are folded, the 330-litre cargo capacity (VDA) increases to a useful 1150L, while the Fabia's boxy proportions and tall-ish roof define it as quite the versatile supermini. Nets and hooks help secure loads down properly. And the hatch aperture is huge.

    But don't forget: just $1000 extra buys you something very different and unusual in this day and age – a compact yet highly-practical station wagon, quaintly called the Combi in its homeland. Seat-up volume is 200L more than the hatch at 530L, ballooning to 1395L. Both bodystyles share the same wheelbase length, by the way.

    • The boot can be accessed inside the cabin via the 60/40 split fold seats. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The boot can be accessed inside the cabin via the 60/40 split fold seats. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)
    • When the backrests are folded, the 330-litre cargo capacity (VDA) increases to a useful 1150L. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) When the backrests are folded, the 330-litre cargo capacity (VDA) increases to a useful 1150L. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)
    • Nets and hooks help secure loads down properly. And the hatch aperture is huge. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Nets and hooks help secure loads down properly. And the hatch aperture is huge. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)
    • It comes with a space-saver spare wheel. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) It comes with a space-saver spare wheel. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    Beneath the Fabia's flat boot floor is a space-saver spare.

    Overall, then, the 81TSI ROE's cabin is reasonably spacious and accommodating, but struggling to look and feel $25K's worth. Age catches up with everything.

    What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

    The Fabia 81TSI's 999cc EA211 1.0-litre three-cylinder twin-cam 12-valve direct-injection turbo petrol engine delivers 81kW of power at 5500rpm and 200Nm of torque between 2000rpm and 3500rpm. Tipping the scales at about 1140kg, it has a power-to-weight ratio of around 71kW per tonne.

    The Fabia 81TSI’s 999cc EA211 1.0-litre three-cylinder twin-cam 12-valve direct-injection turbo petrol engine delivers 81kW of power at 5500rpm. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The Fabia 81TSI’s 999cc EA211 1.0-litre three-cylinder twin-cam 12-valve direct-injection turbo petrol engine delivers 81kW of power at 5500rpm. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    Driving the front wheels is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission dubbed DSG. An ‘electro-hydraulically operated two coaxial dry multiple-disc clutch’ set-up, it includes a tip-shift manual function located as part of the gear lever assembly. Forward for up shifts, back for down shifts.

    The zero to 100km/h acceleration time in officially 10.1 seconds (some 0.7s faster than the 70kW 70TSI manual), while tip speed is rated at 194km/h.

    How much fuel does it consume?

    Small fuel consumption is a big reason why you'd buy a Fabia.

    Averaging 6.1L/100km pump-to-pump with a balanced combination of city and highway driving, the Skoda is a skillful sipper, helping offset the expense of requiring the costlier 95 RON premium-unleaded stuff. Lending a helping hand here is stop/start technology that extinguishes the engine at idle to save fuel, cut noise and decrease pollution. Electrically-actuated rack and pinion steering is also fitted, further boosting efficiency.

    Officially, the 81TSI DSG returns 4.7L/100km, for a carbon dioxide emissions result of 109 grams per kilometre. This EA211 engine is certified as Euro6 emissions standard. The fuel tank holds 45 litres. On those figures, this Fabia has a theoretical average range of over 950km.

    What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

    The Skoda Fabia was tested all the way back in 2015 by EuroNCAP.

    Standard safety equipment includes six airbags (Dual frontal, side chest and side head curtain items), Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, fatigue detection, multi-collision braking (that applies the brakes after an incident should a vehicle behind strike you from behind), tyre-pressure monitors, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake-assist and hill-launch assist.

    The speed range of the Fabia's AEB technology has not been disclosed. Note that its adaptive cruise control system is not a full stop-and-go-again set-up.

    If you desire Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert safety, that's bundled with a $3200 Premium Pack.

    As per usual, a pair of rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as a trio of top tethers for straps are included.

    What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

    The Fabia includes a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is standard industry fare nowadays but behind Mitsubishi's 10-year conditional alternative. There's also one-year's roadside assistance. Every year's service at a Skoda dealer reactivates roadside assistance for another 12 months.

    Service intervals are at now-typical 12-month or 15,000km intervals. A three-year/45,000km and five-year/75,000km service packs are available at the time of purchase for $750 and $1350 respectively.

    The Fabia includes a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The Fabia includes a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    What's it like to drive around town?

    No shock here. The Fabia is a fine round-town companion – bar in one important respect.

    Good stuff first. The upright design, deep glass areas and compact proportions afford fine all-round vision, aided by an available lofty seating position thanks to the relatively tall ceiling. The result is a confident view out looking forward. And back too, helped out by the camera.

    The Fabia's acceleration off the line isn't instantaneous, however, because the combination of the turbo spooling up and the DSG dual-clutch transmission's inherent delay create hesitation, which can be frustrating if instant ‘attack’ is what you're after.

    You won't find it here. If you're not forever crawling in traffic and want something that can swiftly and smoothly slot into gaps, the DSG may not be for you. Past experience has also demonstrated to us that the $3000 cheaper 70TSI five-speed manual is a slick and easy alternative that doesn't quite feel so languid in such situations. We'd go for that instead and pocket the change.

    Skoda and suave yet affordable Euro city-car chic go hand-in-hand, as the current-series Fabia has so ably demonstrated over its six-year career in Australia. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Skoda and suave yet affordable Euro city-car chic go hand-in-hand, as the current-series Fabia has so ably demonstrated over its six-year career in Australia. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    That said, all the 81TSI requires is a couple of seconds, when it can then whoosh away with determination, punching quickly and cleanly through the gears, to become a fast and responsive performer. So refined are the Skoda's mechanicals that the three-cylinder engine's distinctive thrum is barely audible, even with the revs up high.

    Along with the aforementioned excellent all-round vision, light yet beautifully-weighted steering and a decent turning circle make zipping in and out of parking spots a breeze, further underlining the Fabia's urban focus.

    Away from the big smoke, the Skoda continues to shine. At speed, with the engine spinning hard, the DSG is far quicker to react to your right foot's requests, meaning that overtaking duties are quite effortlessly dispensed of, while at high speeds, the 81TSI tracks along like a much larger car.

    Hurry through a series of mountain bends and the Fabia's up for fun. Being a ROE with ‘sporty’ suspension (consisting of the usual MacPherson-strut style front and torsion beam rear end set-up), it feels solidly hunkered down, taking tight turns with a brisk confidence. In these situations, the turbo triple feels equally athletic, pulling strongly and without fuss. This isn't a hot hatch by any means, but there's more than a bit of spiciness to the Skoda's handling character.

    The Skoda Fabia is right at the end of its lifecycle, but you’d never know it in some ways. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The Skoda Fabia is right at the end of its lifecycle, but you’d never know it in some ways. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

    On the flipside, that firmer chassis tune makes for hard-riding suspension. Out in the country, deep in heavy peak-hour traffic, around the burbs… in fact, everywhere where the roads aren't super-smooth, the Fabia's firm state of tune makes for a stiff and jittery ride. It essentially spoils the car.

    Furthermore, the fact that it's all accompanied by loud thumping and way too much road and tyre noise further undermine the finesse we know lurks within. Frankly, we were shocked to learn that the wheel/tyre package only rides on 215/45R16s. It feels more like a set of 19s.

    As always, drive on the roads you intend to commute on before you buy.

    The Skoda Fabia is right at the end of its lifecycle, but you'd never know it in some ways.

    From the elegant styling and well laid-out interior, to the lively performance and exceptional economy, this Czech-made Euro delivers premium supermini smarts in a very likeable package. It possesses more joy and character than the Polo equivalent.

    However, the Run-Out Edition's firmer suspension tune detracts from the Skoda's civility, particularly around town, where bumps and thumps punish posteriors as well as the peace. The DSG lag is also annoying, but at least the sweet manual option still exists – and for that, we're grateful. You will be too.

    At this price point, our advice is to stretch a little more to the newer-generation and better-equipped Kamiq baby SUV, check out a lower-grade Polo or wait for the next-generation Fabia due in 2022.

    That's if Volkswagen Group Australia doesn't join the rats abandoning this end of the sinking market.

    Daily driver score

    3/5

    Urban score

    3/5
    Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.