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Skoda Fabia 1.4 MPI review (1999-2005)
Engine: 1.4 in-line 4-cyl
Fuel type: Petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Date of test: June 2002
What is it?
The Fabia is Skoda’s first-ever supermini, and has been on sale since early 2000. Based on the current Polo chassis, it had a two-year head-start over its VW cousin, helping it quickly build up good sales and a loyal customer base. Estate and saloon models followed later, but the five-door hatchback available from launch remains the key model in the range. There are various engine options, but the 1.4-litre petrol unit is the most popular. It is offered in 8-valve and 16-valve guise.
Where does it fit?
Fabias compete with the new breed of ‘larger’ supermini, characterised by Ford’s Fiesta and the latest Polo. This means they offer plenty of interior room and luggage space – they’re as spacious as some family cars of a few years back. And if you choose the 1.4-litre option, you’ve two options; the cheaper 8-valve variant, or the more expensive but ‘cleaner’ and much faster 16-valve variant. Really, the 8-valve unit should be seen as a rival for other manufacturer’s 1.2-litre options.
Is it for you?
As practical as any rival, Skoda’s Fabia offers the appeal to families wishing to ‘downsize’ typical of most models in this class. It is perfectly accommodating for small families, yet is much more wieldy for those confined to the city centre – parking it is naturally less of an issue. And if you’re one of the few who still worries about the Skoda badge, worry no more; the Czech manufacturer’s product is now good enough to be considered basically as discounted Volkswagens – a claim any value-led manufacturer would be proud of.
What does it do well?
For the money, the level of integrity shown by the Fabia is most impressive. It’s built to the same high standards as a Polo, and while the interior may look plainer and a little less indulgent than its German cousin, it’s still a refined, solid and reassuring car. Suspension comfort is particularly impressive, with few rivals soaking up bumps with more composure. Equipment levels are generous, the 16-valve engine is punchy and economical, and comfort for all passengers is very good indeed – thank generous space levels and firm seats.
What doesn't it do well?
Immediately obvious is the lethargic 8-valve engine. It may be cheaper, but those carrying loads or regularly using motorways will find the 16-valve unit a far more useably proposition. Soft suspension means the handling is rather imprecise too, though its overall composure on the road is rarely brought into question. The interior is plain, and the negative connotations associated with the Skoda badge still unfortunately exist in some places. Ignore them, as they’re wrong.
What's it like to live with?
Skoda dealers are quite possibly the friendliest in the country, which should make both buying and servicing a Fabia pretty painless and even quite enjoyable. Depreciation is quite low, meaning you should enjoy a good return on you money after a few years, while Volkswagen build quality means the Fabia shouldn’t rust, break down or fall to pieces. It’s a solid, quality item, and even though fuel economy isn’t up with some competitors, and insurance is above the class average, low list prices mean it won’t cost a packet to run.
Would we buy it?
We’d certainly consider it over most rivals – including the VW Polo, which enjoys more visual excitement inside and out but costs more, too. It’s a rare supermini which rides as well as a larger car, and is also almost as refined; choose 16-valve guise for a far more satisfying drive, thought the 8-valve still has merit for the less-demanding user. Only a measure of excitement is lacking from this otherwise excellent package.
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