With a brand new and more sharply-suited compact Skoda due towards the end of this year, Iain P W Robertson reflects on a Czech model, for which he harbours many happy memories.

skoda-fabia-1Before taking a brief look at the current Fabia model, in special Monte Carlo trim, I should like to reflect on the impact made by the range, since its introduction in 1999. For my sins, I owned the very first Fabia model off the boat and registered in the UK. To be fair, it served as a road test vehicle, owned by Skoda UK, for its first three months but, able to snaffle it up at a knock-down rate, it became mine and, six owners later, my local dealer (Horton Skoda) now owns it as part of his ‘heritage’ collection (as well as my first Octavia, which was also the first in the UK, in 1997…don’t be concerned, he is not stalking me!).

skoda-fabia-2There was nothing outstandingly special about the Fabia, other than it replaced the previous Felicia model and was a far better model name than that of the questionable forebear, my pronunciation of which I shall not elaborate on. Now totally owned by the VW Group, with enough funds to develop new model ranges, the same Belgian gentleman, who has been responsible for the design stance of current Bentleys, penned a strong and timeless profile for the Fabia. Look closely and you will see Dirk van Braeckel’s teensy design signatures on both cars. It is not a joke.

Underneath was a VW Polo, a respected compact Euro-box. The same platform underpinned the Seat Ibiza and, later, the Audi A1. While the rest of the engineering was solid and dependable, it lacked a bit of imagination, until the arrival of the vRS model in 2003 (an example of which I also felt compelled to own). skoda-fabia-3In essence, it was a GTi by any definition, although, using its relatively light weight and powering it with a 130bhp version of the VW Group’s venerable ‘Pumpe-Duse’ turbo-diesel engine, it was a high-efficiency, diesel-only model that shocked the market and generated a raft of loyal friends. Skoda was definitely on its way and Fabia was a shining light.

Yet, the Mark Two version arrived in 2007, celebrated by Skoda UK’s much-publicised ‘made of cake’ advertising campaign. Initially, I was not a fan. Amazingly, the car had been narrowed and raised a few millimetres taller than the original version. Its interior trim was not as good. However, Skoda, ever-resourceful and always making improvements on the production lines, recognised that it was losing all of the impetus gained by the previous generation car. Slowly, the Mark Two evolved into what it is today.

skoda-fabia-4Once again, in 2011, I re-invested in a Fabia, having emerged from a run of Octavia vRS models. My ‘Kermit Green (with white roof and alloys)’ example was actually a very strictly Limited Edition of just 200, just 25 examples of which were supplied to the UK market and sold under the handle of ‘Fabia S2000’. Powered by a turbocharged (on the exhaust) and supercharged (on the inlet) 1.4-litre petrol engine (no diesel option) that developed a wholesome 228bhp, even mated to a 7-speed DSG (twin-clutch automated, with paddle-shift) transmission, its verified top speed of 158mph, with a 0-60mph benchmark acceleration of just 5.8 seconds, cannot be described as anything other than ‘bloody quick’!

The standard vRS Fabia kicked out a still respectable 180bhp but the S2000 was produced as part of a programme that would enable Skoda to rally its new Fabia in the S2000 competition classification. I have always felt that my erstwhile colleagues in the motoring business have given the Fabia vRS a more scathing repute than it deserved. It is a very competent five-door compact hatch. Built in a hewn-from-the-solid way, it is a no-nonsense genuine classic in the making, mark my words.

skoda-fabia-5The most recent iteration of the car in its sporty Monte Carlo trim is a profusion of shiny piano-blackness and contrasting (in this case) acid yellow paint that retails for an immodest £14,330 (plus extras), which I feel is around £2k too expensive for a car of this size and class. Yet, it sells, so what do I know?

Powered by a 1.2-litre, 102bhp, turbocharged petrol engine that emits 124g/km of CO2 and returns around 45mpg (53.3mpg Official), it drives through a slick 5-speed manual gearbox. Its top speed is quoted as 119mph, which is difficult to confirm in the UK but I reckon is within bounds, while it nips from 0-60mph in a smidgen below ten seconds. There is nothing remarkable about the Fabia. It is simply a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of family car that does everything rather well but in an unspectacular way.

The Monte Carlo version gains privacy glazing, 17-inch black alloys, air-con, leather covered stuff, a rear diffuser, sports suspension, sporty cloth seats and a decent demeanour. The paint is loud, the car is not. It drives exceptionally well, feels well-planted, is lively enough and spacious (largest in the class) both in the cabin and in the boot.

skoda-fabia-newAs to the new version due later this year it will make much more of a design statement. The current version looks a bit too ‘Essex’ for my liking. The new model will be wider, lower and more chiselled, in some respects closer to the first version but falling into line with the current styling language chosen for the rest of the Skoda range. The Fabia has been a hugely satisfying model line-up so far. It has been singularly responsible for putting the brand onto the UK’s (and the rest of the world’s) road-map. Not to recognise its importance is to miss the point completely.

Conclusion: While feeling that the whole Fabia phenomenon has been somewhat played down, not least by the UK’s motoring media, I would contend that the next generation will find a true fan-base that will introduce some automotive awe. No longer a jest, Skoda is fast coming of age.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).