SKODA is trying again with the third-gen Fabia Combi – a pert and practical compact wagon that finally exorcises the narrow clumsiness of its unpopular predecessor. As Australia’s cheapest wagon, there is plenty to commend, with appealing dynamics to boot.
WHAT IS IT?
The only B-segment supermini wagon on sale in Australia, the Mk3 Fabia Combi takes over from the radical but unsuccessful Skoda Roomster as an inexpensive yet quality five-seater family-friendly urban runabout. All-turbo direct-injection petrol drivetrains and Polo-based hardware underneath ensure competent Euro dynamics.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Skodas are improving all the time, with the Yeti and Octavia near the top of their respective compact SUV and small/medium car classes for value, space, practicality and enjoyable dynamics. Come July, and the Fabia is set to do the same in the supermini segment, with the redesigned Mk3 model. As Australia’s only baby wagon, the Combi version represents a unique and likeable proposition.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
If there is any justice in the automotive world, the upcoming NJ-series Fabia Combi deserves to be one of the best-selling superminis in the light car class, bringing in SUV-shaming cabin space and load-lugging capability with proper European dynamics and efficient low-emissions turbo-petrol powertrain performance. Throw in attractive design and an elegant interior, and the smallest Skoda wagon ought to be one of the sub-$20K sector’s biggest sellers.
PLUS: Compact, perky, involving and refined practical wagon alternative to hatch
MINUS: Small glovebox, firmish ride, no brilliant 3-pot diesel belter
THE WHEELS REVIEW
HERE’S an idea, Skoda. With the 2015 Skoda Fabia Combi as a case in point, how about not even bothering with your hatchbacks and, instead, become a wagon and SUV-only importer? It would differentiate your fine but underrated products from Volkswagen’s right there.
Adding about $1300 to the circa-$15,990 five-door hatch launching in July, the Czech-built Fabia wagon lobs in with a pair of 1.2-litre direct-injection four-pot turbos cribbed from the closely related VW Polo – a 66kW five-speed manual and 81kW seven-speed DSG dual-clutch auto.
The smallest wagon around (and sole class entrant), the Fabia is like a 75 percent scale version of its handsome Octavia bro. Stretching the body, wheelbase and tracks, lowering the roofline, and raking the windscreen finally banishes the previous version’s visual awkwardness.
Out back, the Combi appeals with a compelling 530L boot (up 25L from before), or 1395L with the backrests folded. Unlike in the hatch, the rear cushions will tip forward for a flat floor, while a removable shelf for versatile compartmentalisation is also possible. If you’re 155cm tall, welcome to your new crash pad. Nothing offers such functionality for the money.
A 21mm cabin-width increase equals more space up front, while sufficient all-round vision enhances an excellent driving position on firm yet supportive seats. Cosy but not cramped, even six footers will find the rear seat accommodating.
Smartly designed, with an appealing and contemporary symmetry, the Fabia’s dash scores for clarity, usability, and functionality, although the glovebox is small. All models include VW’s new ‘Mirrorlink’ smartphone tech, displaying navigation, audio, comms, and other apps from a paired device. Note that ours proved glitchy, however.
Hitting the road, the punchy yet refined 66kW 1.2 TSI manual easily overcomes the Combi’s nominal 24kg weight penalty. Allied to a sweet-shifting manual, the Skoda made short work of hauling three adults and luggage across a couple of hundred kilometres of Tuscan autostrada and countryside.
The Fabia also proved usefully agile in heavy public-holiday traffic, with enough low-down torque for the point-and-squirt driving vital when negotiating Italian city streets. However, though isolated and mostly absorbent, the ride on 16-inch alloys would occasionally jolt over larger bumps, while a bit more steering sharpness at lower speeds would improve an otherwise enjoyable handler.
Unfortunately no 81kW 1.2 TSI DSG was available for us to assess.
Perky, composed and comfortable, the Fabia wagon brings deft dynamics to a compact, attractive and practical package. The hatch version is fine, but there’s nothing like the Combi for the cash. It deserves Skoda’s full resources.
Model: Skoda Fabia Combi 66kW 1.2 TSI
Engine: 1197cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v turbo
Max power: 66kW @ 4400rpm
Max torque: 160Nm @ 1400-3500rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Fuel economy: 4.7L/100km
Price: $17,500 (estimated)
On sale: July