Skoda Fabia, motoring review: This new hatchback is Fab to drive, but lacks character


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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: £13,390
Engine capacity: 1.2-litre 3 cylinder petrol
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 89 @ 4,200
Top speed (mph): 113
Fuel economy (mpg): 60.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 107

With a dose of hindsight it's easy to see when and why petrolheads stopped making bad jokes at Skoda's expense. Until about 15 years ago they would joke in the pub about how you could double the value of a Skoda by filling the tank. Then, like Hyundai and Kia a few years later, Skoda got its act together. And it was the launch of a truly excellent and affordable hatchback in 2000 that put an end to the outright mockery.

That hatchback, which also came in estate form, was the Fabia. Based on a new platform from parent company VW, it was a revelation to a brand associated with cheap and cheerful cars that broke down a lot, by which I mean, all the time.

Instead, the Fabia was affordable, well-built, pleasant to drive and, most importantly, reliable. There was even a super-quick hot hatch version called the vRS that came in all sorts of lurid colours, made lots of noise and quickly garnered a cult following.

Fifteen years later and Skoda is still going from strength to strength, with success in the World Rally Championship boosting its credibility. Sales figures show that the Skoda jokes have long turned sour, as rivals like Vauxhall and Ford struggle to respond to the once insurgent challenger.

Enter the new Fabia, which in 2015 is in its third generation and is charged with taking the Czech car brand even further. As is the way now, it shares much of its underpinning and interior dials and switches with the excellent VW Polo. Like the Polo, the Skoda Fabia is an excellent drive, with new headlights, tight hunches, a larger grille and smart headlights, giving it a sportier look than the model it replaces.

It's just that, well, if it were safe to wear a blindfold and drive, I'd struggle to tell whether I was driving the Skoda or the VW, so similar is the feel on the road. Yes, the Skoda interior is more workmanlike and less "premium" than the VW, but the cars share basically the same engine line-up; in my test car's case that's a brisk but efficient 1.2-litre petrol unit.

Forgive my griping, but despite the improvements in quality, that's a real shame, especially if, like me, you prefer your cars to have a character.

I suppose that's progress; good to drive, but a lot less funny down the pub.

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