Many small cars are designed to be cute, but the Czechs have given the Skoda Fabia a distinctive face. Its interior also wins with its packaging
This Czech will not bounce Skoda Fabia 1.4

IT SEEMS that the Volkswagen group is keen to give its Skoda brand something of a head-start.

The Skoda Fabia is the first car from the Volkswagen group that will ride on its small car platform, the same platform that will carry the next VW Polo.

Skoda does not need the help, though.

There might be some leftover resistance to the brand in markets where the truly awful Soviet-era Skodas were sold.

But under the Volkswagen group umbrella, the cars that come out of the Czech Republic factory these days are as good as anywhere else in the world.

The Fabia is a winner at first sight.

While too many small cars are designed to be cute, the Czechs have resisted that temptation, giving the small car a distinctive face and one that is vaguely reminiscent of the larger Octavia instead.

The Fabia's edges give it a thoroughly more modern feel, however.

That extends to the car's interior, where the sleek design is both clean and functional, if a little stark.

If the switches here feel familiar, then you have probably been driving a Volkswagen, and they probably come from the same factory.This is not at all a bad thing though; they work well and feel good in Volkswagen cars, too.

A slight disappointment is the four-spoke steering wheel, which looks fine but is not entirely comfortable to hold. 

Using that wheel can be relatively entertaining because the steering is quite fast and points the little Skoda with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

The suspension on our test car was on the firm side, and was hard-pressed to soak up the worst that the Czech back roads could throw at the Fabia. 

But the car provided was fitted with smart, but optional, 15-inch alloy wheels, and the standard 14-inch items are sure to add a little extra compliancy to the ride, but probably at the expense of steering accuracy.

The other controls are all as they should be in a car this size.

The clutch is a featherweight, so there is no need to take up gym membership if you choose a manual.

The gearbox is a little notchy to use but accurate enough, and the brakes offer both good feel through the pedal as well as the appropriate stopping power.

The little 1.4 engine needs to be worked hard to extract its best performance, keeping it above the 4,000 rpm mark does the trick, but that is where the noise comes, too.

Where the Fabia wins is in its packaging, particularly interior space.

Skoda claims rear head-room and leg-room are similar to those claimed for the Honda Accord.

Certainly, there is enough room to fit my 1.88-m frame in the rear without denting the headlining, but leg-room is not quite as generous.

Still, the Fabia offers enough room for four adults to travel in relative comfort, and that is a bonus in a compact like this.

Where it does get confusing for buyers is when it comes to choosing between the manual and automatic variants.

The manual comes in a lower level of trim, but does get a more powerful engine and much stronger performance, while the auto makes do with more than 25 per cent less power, and a much more leisurely pace.

Having sampled the manual variant only, passing judgment on the auto is impossible, but looking at the massive difference in acceleration times, it looks as though shifting gears for yourself pays dividends, not just in the hip pocket.

Without a boot, the majority of car buyers here will probably overlook the Fabia when it arrives in December.

It is a shame really, because in doing so they are narrowing their choices significantly, and missing out on the virtues offered by such cars.

FAST FACTS

Skoda Fabia 1.4

Price: $85,900 (A), $78,900 (M) including COE

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

Max power: 74 bhp at 5,000 rpm (A), 101 bhp at 6,000 rpm (M)

Max torque: 126 Nm at 3,800 rpm (A), 126 Nm at 4,400 rpm (M)

0 - 100 kmh: 17.0 seconds (A), 11.5 seconds (M)

Top speed: 166 kmh (A), 185 kmh (M)

For enquiries: Call JTA Automotive on 741-7119