► Skoda’s sturdy Fabia supermini gets estate versatility
► Borrows 75bhp 1.0-litre triple from Citigo
► Priced from £12,460 on the road
In the great Venn Diagram of all things automotive, the Skoda Fabia Estate occupies a very small niche indeed. Despite their enhanced versatility and (invariably) better looks, small estates are traditionally not big sellers in the UK. Which is a head-scratcher because this pocketable loadlugger is, despite its formal and straightlaced looks, a slow-burn winner.
It’s certainly no looker…
Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I think this a quietly stylish estate, although as a former Fabia Estate owner myself I’m probably a little biased. With its crisply creased lines and spot-on proportions the Fabia is, to our eyes, a conservatively handsome estate.
It’s underpinned by VW’s modular MQB chassis architecture that not only results in a useful loss of weight – the Estate weighs in at 1004kg – but also creates an impressively spacious cabin along with 530 litres of luggage space.
That’s 200 litres more than the hatchback, and flipping the rear seats flat boosts that to a mountain bike-swallowing 1395 litres.
What’s the cabin like?
Workmanlike, in a word. It's low on visual flair and high on common-sense versatility. The dashboard is cleanly and clearly laid out, the plastics you touch are soft and those you don’t aren’t, and every control is exactly where you want it. You know, like Volvos from the 1990s.
The driving position is pretty decent, too - the reach and rake steering wheel feels good to hold, the comfy driver’s seat can be dropped down low and the pedals are ideally positioned.
It may not be something your passengers ooh and aah over, but they’ll appreciate the generous spec. All models come with six airbags, a lexicon of safety acronyms, stop-start, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
Move from the S to the SE (which we drove) and you get alloys, air-con, a very tactile leather steering wheel, parking sensors, an impressively good sound system, Mirror Link (something to do with using your phone to run apps and satnav) and Front Assist autonomous emergency braking. Top-dog SE L adds niceties like cruise control, bigger alloys, LED DRLs, climate control and keyless entry.
What’s it like to drive?
Ah, now we come not so much to the chink in the Fabia Estate’s armour, but the huge Kimberley Mine-sized hole in its dynamic repertoire. It’s slug slow. The naturally aspirated 1.0-litre triple beneath the stubby bonnet dishes up just 75bhp at 6200rpm and only 66lb ft at 3000rpm. That translates into a 14.9second crawl to 62mph.
Which means incredibly relaxed acceleration with just the driver on board, and glacial progress when totting a family and their weekend luggage. Fast and busy roundabouts are palm-dampeningly tricky, motorway onramps call for nerves of steel and overtaking demands a week’s notice.
Which is a great pity because the estate rides and handles with smooth aplomb. The softly sprung suspension and high-profile tyres do a good job of sponging away all but the very worst intrusions to deliver a comfortable and compliant ride. The steering is nicely weighted and pleasingly direct, the gear lever slots through its gate cleanly and the brakes feels strong and capable. Although there’s a fair degree of body roll through corners and curves, the Skoda never feels loose or baggy.
Refinement levels are good, too. Tyre and wind noise are well supressed and even when you extend the rev-shy engine – something you’ll be doing very often, so good luck with that official 58.9mpg combined economy figure – it remains smooth and unobtrusive.
Okay, it handles neatly and tidily, but my, it’s the slowest car in the world
Don't be put off – help is at hand in the shape of the 1.2-litre TSI engine. With 90bhp, it may only have 15bhp more to play with but because it’s turbocharged there’s a massive (relatively speaking, that is) 118lb ft of torque that sashays in at just 1400rpm. Result.
Opting for this punchier and more charismatic engine is a complete no-brainer: CO2 drops from 108g/km to 107g/km, combined economy increases from 58.9mpg to 60.1mpg, while the 0-62mph time plummets from 14.9seconds to a far more palatable and spritely 11seconds.
You don’t even need to pay a wallet-wilting premium to get this transformative engine. In the mid-range SE trim the flaccid 1.0-litre model costs £13,905. Stepping up to the tumescent 1.2-litre model costs £14,535. That’s the best £630 any Fabia Estate buyer will ever spend.
In our sleek and widescreen digital world, the Fabia Estate is a chunky Swiss army knife. It may not be very cool or now, but it’s solid, versatile, intelligently designed, well equipped and exceptionally easy to use. Just make sure you opt for the right engine.