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Driven: Skoda Fabia Estate. Image by Skoda.

Driven: Skoda Fabia Estate
In a class of three, the excellent Skoda Fabia Estate is our favourite machine of all.

   



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Driven: Skoda Fabia Estate

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Good points: Clean exterior lines, simple yet highly effective interior, impressive kit, space, ride comfort

Not so good: Three-cylinder diesel can be raucous, could do with a six speed box, not much fun to drive

Key Facts

Model tested: Skoda Fabia SE L Estate 1.4 TDI 105hp
Price: Fabia Estate from 13,035; SE L 1.4 TDI from 18,155, car as tested 19,865
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged three-cylinder diesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 97g/km (120 first 12 months, 140 per annum thereafter)
Combined economy: 76.4mpg
Top speed: 122mph
0-62mph: 10.1 seconds
Power: 105hp from 3,500- to 3,750rpm
Torque: 250Nm from 1,750- to 2,500rpm

Our view:

A few years back, you couldn't move for supermini estates. Volkswagen slapped a cargo area on the back of its Polo, Renault used to knock out a Clio Sports Tourer and of course there was the Peugeot 207 SW. Which we're not saying was necessarily a good car, or even an average one, but it existed nevertheless.

Nowadays, the explosion in small crossovers like the Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Mokka and Citroen C4 Cactus seems to have killed them off. None of the successors of the hatchbacks listed in the intro above have estate versions. Ford and Vauxhall have never bothered 'booting up' either of the Fiesta or Corsa. And the proliferation of alternative vehicles that don't quite fit into easily compartmentalised categories, such as the Kia Soul and Suzuki Ignis, further muddies the water. A prosaic supermini-based estate no longer appears to be fashionable, would seem to be the message.

Skoda, though, is persevering with the Fabia Estate and we're very glad it is. If you want a supermini that can carry a load of stuff, doesn't cost the Earth to buy and yet feels like a cultured, upmarket machine, then this is it. The difference between this third-gen Estate and its predecessor is remarkable, as the current Skoda is a lot better in most disciplines than that which went before.

Without being particularly eye-catching, the bodywork exhibits all of Skoda's crisp lines, neat proportions and fuss-free detailing that results in a handsome car. It doesn't need a big bodykit, some sort of 'signature' bespoke grille design or whopping alloys, it just looks right. Like so many of Skoda's products currently do, if we're honest.

It's the same story for the interior, which again eschews flamboyant razzamatazz for the rather more useful attributes of space, fine ergonomics and a load of big-car equipment. You sit a little perched up behind the multifunction steering wheel, despite height-adjustable front seats, but in essence the driving position is great. And while the plain analogue dials, Maxi-DOT trip computer cluster display and relatively small touchscreen in the centre console might not bedazzle buyers in showrooms, they all display information clearly and concisely.

Also, the quality of materials feels much better than before, the Skoda's cabin getting close to Volkswagen's levels, while four adults could sit inside in great comfort - five, if the three across the back row were smaller types - and the boot is a mighty 530 litres. Turf those diminutive people out of the back and you can fold the rear chairs down to enlarge that to a colossal 1,370 litres. No hatchback from the class above could hope to get anywhere close.

You'll spot a theme emerging regarding the Fabia when we get onto the car's driving style. Don't, whatever you do, expect dynamic fireworks; like the exterior and interior, the chassis lacks sparkle. Skoda offers a range of modest turbocharged units in the Fabia Estate, with the most powerful petrol packing 110hp. This 1.4-litre TDI triple comes with three different outputs of 75-, 90- and 105hp, this being the most muscular version. What it also boasts is more torque than any other Fabia unit, a decent 250Nm being the relevant figure for daily driving duties. So no, the Fabia TDI isn't quick, but it is perfectly capable of squirting into faster flowing traffic without dropping a cog when cruising up the motorway. It also functions fine during stop-start town driving. You don't need 200hp in one of these things, truth be told, so the 1.4 is perfectly acceptable for the Fabia's requirements.

It's not massively refined, though. Presumably Skoda wants you to focus on the distinctive burr of the three-cylinder TDI's exertions and think of it as characterful, because it sure isn't quiet. You'll find it noisier all of the time than a similar-power, small capacity four-pot diesel and there can be quite a few vibrations transmitted into the car if you're lazy with the five-speed manual. On that point, there's enough torque here to merit the Skoda having an extra gear. It could certainly use closer-spaced ratios and then a longer sixth 'overdrive' for more strenuous A-road driving, which is where the 1.4 TDI feels most out of its depth.

The rest of the controls are above average, if not scintillating. The steering is reasonably light without being airy-fairy and yet not hugely informative about what the front tyres are up to. That's not such a big issue, as the Fabia has plenty of front-end grip and a refreshing lack of understeer at moderate speeds, so fizzing steering feedback is not an essential, although start getting energetic with the estate and the nose will ultimately wash wide. Body control is good, with pitch, dive and roll present but not intrusive; reasonably soft springs and dampers do lead to fantastic ride quality, though, while there's obviously quite a lot of sound-deadening in the Fabia because - once you get the 1.4 up to its cruising speed - the engine dies back a touch and the Skoda feels like a properly large, executive car for long-distance cruising.

This was good news for our driving week with it, because we first of all had to schlep 300 miles to Heathrow and back in the first few days, before then heading in the opposite direction for a 500-mile return trip to Edinburgh. Our initial plan was to hypermile the Fabia. With a 9.89-gallon tank and a theoretical 76.4mpg combined economy, nearly 760 miles on one lot of diesel should have been possible. Although, as the car arrived brimmed with fuel and 485 miles to empty showing on the trip computer, it looked an optimistic hope to do both our trips in a week without having to visit the pumps.

And so it proved. It's impressive if you can stick entirely to motorways, as down to Heathrow it maintained a healthy M1 pace and yet gave back 68.2mpg; a corollary of the Fabia Estate's 1,114kg kerbweight. However, the trip to Scotland saw us head up the A1(M) to Darlington, before spearing off up the A68 to go the direct route to Edinburgh. And it was this flowing, undulating A-road where the Skoda's small capacity diesel started to feel the strain.

We didn't go at the marvellous route over the Cheviots hammer and tongs, but even so the Fabia's numbers dipped to 57.1mpg on the run up to the Scottish capital. Not bad, but not enough to save us from refuelling - and, indeed, we then nearly emptied the second tank, covering 486 miles from the pump to our final total of 868 miles, by which time the Fabia's fuel light was glowing again and its distance to empty read 45 miles.

That said, for practicality and eminently reasonable running costs, the Fabia really can't be criticised. We got back an average 58.2mpg after the best part of 900 miles and more than 18 hours behind the Skoda wagon's wheel. Also, its roster of impressive standard kit - including an Arkamys surround sound system, Bluetooth, climate and cruise controls, DAB radio, Kessy Go keyless start and stop, among much more - plus a few choice options (Amundsen touschscreen satnav with WiFi for 500, and a panoramic sunroof for 600 were just two) made for an estate that felt mature and premium. And yet it would still cost less than 20 grand so specified.

It's a great little car, the Fabia Estate. Nothing flashy. Nothing exciting. Just well executed competence in all departments, with a nice, clean and spacious body clothing the lot. And as there aren't the same number of supermini estates there used to be, it's perhaps no surprise that we reckon the Fabia wagon is the class leader. But just because it's operating in a narrow automotive niche doesn't make it a bad car; indeed, we like the Estate more than the Fabia hatch, and in the greater scheme of the supermini class (considering all body styles: estates, hatches, crossovers, the lot), it's a damned good vehicle all round. Perhaps one of the very best, in fact.

Alternatives:

Dacia Logan MCV: There's no cheaper estate car on sale in the UK than the Logan MCV, which starts from a fiver less than seven grand. Have the Skoda, though. No, really; treat yourself to the Czech.

Ford EcoSport: There's no Fiesta wagon and there never has been, so if you need a bigger boot from the Blue Oval, you have to go for this underwhelming crossover.

SEAT Ibiza ST: Same car but in a fancy Spanish frock. SEAT will tell you the ST is better to drive, Skoda will claim the Fabia is more practical. In reality, particular brand loyalty is all that's going to sway buyers in the end.


Matt Robinson - 18 Dec 2016



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