By the time the second generation Skoda Fabia arrived on the scene, the joke wasn't funny anymore. Skoda had successfully completed its transformation from Eastern bloc laughing stock to serious mainstream manufacturer – shortening the stand-up routines of some journeyman comedians by up to ten minutes.
You might think that this rejuvenation under Volkswagen Group stewardship meant it was all plain sailing for Skoda, writes Andy Enright. Not a bit of it. The brand's new found equality meant that the Fabia couldn't merely be good 'for a Skoda'. It needed to be good full stop. With a whole cluster of superminis bidding for the public's attention, the hard work was just beginning.
The Fabia is a nice enough car to look at and its blacked out pillars even serve to differentiate it from other superminis – with the exception of the MINI and Suzuki Swift of this era which employ the same stylistic device.
Although it's small in the grand scheme of things, the Fabia is quite a size by supermini standards.
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The Fabia definitely has space on its side but the interior itself is less impressive.
We're not talking from a build quality standpoint here as the fascia and the whole of the interior generally seems soildly screwed together.
The problem is the materials themselves with the Fabia employing a plethora of uninviting hard plastics that do little for the ambience.
They're likely to wear well but a little more quality in the materials could have brought the best out of what is an attractive and functional design. The Fabia outwardly appears to be a sturdy piece of fit and that impression shouldn't be tarnished too much by the ownership experience.
The engines are simple, proven units, if a little on the elderly side in many cases.
Complaints include those relating to leaks around the A pillars on early cars, which were addressed by a modified exterior cover, and vibrations in the cabin that can develop over time.
Keep a look out for those and you should be OK. With the exception of the 1.2-litre 3-cyliner engines which have a chain cam, all of the Fabia's powerplants need a timing belt and tensioner change every 4 years or 60,000 miles.
Whilst the previous generation Fabia was never really focused on keen drivers, it remained a very civilised steer. This model used many of the same engines with improvements to others.
With four petrol units and three diesels available, there's no shortage of choice. The petrol range kicks off with the three-cylinder 1.2-litre HTP engine, developing 60bhp. The next step up is the 70bhp 1.2HTP 12v, followed by the 85bhp 1.4 16v. A 1.6-litre 16v engine was also offered with an optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox option. The trio of diesel engines starts with two 1.4-litre TDI units in either 70 or 80bhp guises with a 1.9-litre TDI that's good for 105bhp at the top of the range. If you want the 80bhp 1.4 TDI, you may be able to find a Fabia hatch or Estate in ecologically-friendly 'GreenLine' guise which reduces emissions to just 109g/km and improves fuel economy on the combined cycle by nearly 8mpg to 69mpg.
By the time this second generation Fabia was launched, Skoda had earned the right to be judged as an equal to the leading mainstream brands. This was a double-edged sword, however, with the Fabia representing a major step forward over its predecessor but lacking in polish when compared to class acts like Ford's Fiesta, Vauxhall's Corsa or even the Volkswagen Polo which was based on the same mechanicals. Competitive pricing gave the Skoda a fighting chance but some of the engines let the side down and equipment levels aren't stellar. On the used market, the Fabia's tough build, space and simplicity make it a sensible option, if not a particularly thrilling one.