A car that suits the current economic gloom, the Fabia feels more plush than other small hatchbacks. It is built solidly and holds the road impressively
Back to the basics with Skoda Fabia With its fairly primitive engine gone, the more refined Skoda Fabia is much more likeable

THE Skoda Fabia has been a good drive except for its fairly primitive engine.

With the entry of a new Comfort variant, the Fabia is now available as an automatic. More importantly, it gets a more up-to-date, multi-valve engine.

That might seem like a small detail, but the old engine kept Life! from declaring the Fabia a peach of a car. With that gone, the little hatch is much more likeable.

Refinement is up, and apart from a slight tingle felt through the steering wheel while you wait at traffic lights, the new engine is a much smoother device on the whole.

It also packs a more powerful punch, delivering 75 horsepower (compared to the manual Fabia's 68 bhp) and more torque, with a peak of 126 Nm (versus 120 Nm).

The 16-valve engine revs more readily, too, and the automatic Fabia moves along more smartly than the manual, straining less when you accelerate hard.

The manual Fabia's clutch was also vague. On the whole, the automatic car provides a much more relaxed driving experience.

In common with most of its rivals, the Skoda does without certain extras. Some are frills, like electric mirrors and alloy wheels. Some are desirable, such as anti-lock brakes.

It also lacks a three-point seatbelt for the centre rear passenger, which earns it automatic criticism.

It is, in essence, a back-to-basics car that suits the current economic gloom.

However, in a number of details, the Fabia does feel more plush than other small hatchbacks like the Opel Corsa, Peugeot 206 and Renault Clio.

It is built solidly, rides well for such a small car and holds the road impressively. Even if the cabin architecture is sober and straight-laced, the cabin materials are a cut above the cheap plastics found in its rivals' interiors.

It also has a trip computer, two airbags and an electric latch for the tailgate, two touches of luxury that are usually found in cars costing twice as much.

On the whole, even though it is a baby-sized car, the Fabia feels pretty grown-up in character, and could do a reasonable job of passing itself off as a miniature VW Golf.

At $78,999 with COE, it competes head on with the Opel Corsa, and offers more refinement, but less youthful appeal. The Fabia Comfort is also priced perilously close to Skoda's own Octavia Classic, which is a much larger car for about $6,000 more.

That might make it a tough sell, but with the new drivetrain, there is little doubting that the Fabia is now much more attractive than before.

In reviewing the manual Fabia a few weeks back, Life! wrote: "Assuming your pocket will allow it, the automatic version, which will be launched soon, might be worth waiting for."

It was.

SPECS

Fabia Comfort

Price: $78,999 with COE

Engine: 1,390 cc 16-valve in-line four

Gearbox: Four-speed auto

Power: 75 bhp at 5,000 rpm

Torque: 126 Nm at 3,800 rpm

0 - 100 kmh: 17 seconds

Top speed: 166 kmh

For enquiries: Contact JTA Motors on 741-7119