Skoda Fabia 2-0 Sedan Extra

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Keywords: Skoda Fabia 2-0 Sedan Extra

Description: Baby wagon offers a strong alternative to emerging compact SUVs.

Traditional sedans, wagons and hatchbacks will soon be outsold by SUVs as the Australian private buyer market moves away from regular vehicles.

Last month saw 20,153 non-fleet buyers take home a new SUV, just shy of the 22,326 people who chose a regular car.

There is more front occupant space in the Skoda Fabia Wagon than in its predecessor. Photo: Supplied

Baby SUVs such as the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V lead the fight for crossovers as buyers migrate way from affordable city cars.

Skoda hopes to claw back ground with a value-packed, more practical wagon version of its new Fabia hatch what could have buyers questioning whether they want to follow the crowd of SUV owners.

Gone are the days when choosing a compact car meant missing out on life's little luxuries. The Fabia Wagon is loaded with gear such as a colour touchscreen stereo with SmartLink mobile phone connectivity featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – more on that later – plus rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitors, 15-inch alloy wheels a multi-function steering wheel and more.

The range also features autonomous emergency braking in what Skoda calls front assist with city emergency brake, using radar to scan the road ahead before warning drivers of potential collisions and applying the brakes if necessary to prevent a crash.

The system has four levels of intervention, choosing the most appropriate setting according to closing speeds and the distance to traffic in front of the car.

That's not bad for the $15,990 Skoda asks for an entry-level Fabia, though you can factor in an extra $1150 for the wagon body shell that adds plenty of extra space, and an extra $4300 for the more powerful 81TSI model tested here that includes a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Call it $21,440 plus options such as a $1200 sports pack with 17-inch wheels, lower suspension, LED daytime running lights, front fog lights and fatigue detection systems, while a $2600 premium sports option builds on that with automatic lighting, tinted windows, a three-spoke flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, keyless entry, an alarm, climate control and digital radio.

Those packs also include what Skoda calls the "colour concept" which allows customers to have their roof, A-pillars, wheels and mirror housings finished in a choice of black, white, silver or red paint that also extends to plastic panels throughout the cabin.

Beyond that, metallic paint costs $500, a panoramic sunroof is available for $1000 and satellite navigation is $950.

Few buyers are likely to opt in for satnav once they realise how clever the car's stereo is. Connecting to popular smartphones via USB cable, the system replicates key phone features such as mapping, music, contacts and messaging as well as entertainment options including podcasts and audiobooks.

There is 505 litres of storage space which expands to a very generous 1370 litres with the rear seat folded flat. Photo: Mark Bean

When plugged into an iPhone, the Skoda uses Apple's Siri voice assistant to control CarPlay features – you can ask it to navigate to the airport, find a restaurant, read new emails or compose a text message – and the car can do it all without the need for drivers to touch their phone. It's a brilliant feature, one likely to cut down on collisions as drivers have no need to fumble around with a physical handset.

The downside is that it relies on mobile data plans and decent phone reception to work properly. While great in the city, the feature may be less of an asset in the bush.

Leaving CarPlay aside, the Skoda's 6.5-inch touchscreen is crisp and immediately responsive, though we'd like to see a reversing camera fitted to the car as way to shore up strong safety credentials nailed down by six airbags, a solid body structure and up-to-date driver aids.

The business of driving is taken care of with a nicely finished three-spoke steering wheel adjustable for height and reach, looking sharp thanks to leather trim for the steering wheel, handbrake and gear selector that match chrome-look highlights placed neatly around the cabin.

The Fabia stays true to Skoda's "Simply Clever" pitch with a range of practical touches such as a door-mounted rubbish bin, storage nets attached to the front seats and cup-holders in the front and rear.

Front occupant space is decent thanks to a body that is 10mm longer and 90mm wider than its predecessor, though the rear still is a little squishy for adults.

This Fabia's point of difference over competitors is a wagon-shaped body with plenty of room, offering 505 litres of storage with the rear seats in place or 1370 litres with the seats folded flat. The Czech wagon also has a full-size spare wheel, increasingly rare in new cars.

While there are no baby wagons on sale that directly compete with this model, the Skoda's rump has more storage than most compact rivals such as the Mazda2 sedan or Holden Trax.

Skoda's entry-level offering is a 66kW petrol motor tied to a five-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels, while the premium 81TSI tested here brings another 15kW along with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

A stop-start system and clever brake regeneration system keep fuel economy for both versions pegged to a thrifty 4.8L/100km – lower than much less practical rivals such as the Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris.

The Skoda's little turbo motor offers a strong torque peak of 175Nm that arrives early in the rev range, turning up for work at 1400rpm and staying on board until 4000rpm, shortly before peak power arrives.

Tuned for economy, the seven-speed automatic hurries through the gears to find tall ratios, which means the engine rarely feels noisy or strained. Its Volkswagen-sourced dual-clutch auto may not be to all tastes as the transmission can be a little hesitant getting away from rest, and it is possible to wrong-foot its gear selection, resulting in an uncharacteristically abrupt shift.

For the most part it is fine, helping the car zip effortlessly around town or on the motorway, reaching 100km/h in 9.6 seconds and a top speed just shy of 200km/h. While you can't drive at high speeds in Australia, a European test of the wagon earlier this year found it can comfortably cruise at more than 150km/h.

Owners are looked after with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty that extends to five years with a $1799 car pack that also looks after the first three years or 45,000 kilometres of servicing.

Sharing the bones of its platform with several cars including the latest Volkswagen Polo, the latest Fabia is up to 112 kilograms lighter than its predecessor, with a 30mm-wider track that lends increased stability in the bends.

Sharp, well-weighted and progressive steering across the range is a fine companion to the lower sports suspension of the model we tested. The Fabia feels crisp and agile on the road, with a superior ride and dynamics than most of the new breed of high-riding baby SUVs.

The model's MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension offers a quiet and fairly supple ride for a car of this size, helped by the wagon's superior aerodynamics over the hatch. Drag and wind noise are reduced, lending a higher top speed and fuel economy to match the smaller model despite being 24 kilograms heavier.

Engineers sharpened up the new model with a quicker steering ratio from the sporty Fabia RS, also adding the Volkswagen Group's XDL electronic differential that gently brakes the inside wheel during hard cornering to maximum grip across the front axle.

The Fabia wagon has plenty going for it. Affordable, fun to drive and loaded with tech, it makes a strong case for the traditional car in its fight against emerging baby SUVs.

Factor in its excellent cargo space and strong safety credentials anchored by standard autonomous emergency braking, and it's clear that the smallest wagon on sale belongs on the shopping lists of Australia's city car customers.



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