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If you're in the market for a small car, and have ever settled down to read any of the car magazines, then you'll probably be aware that the Fabia, Skoda's new baby, has won almost all accolades for the supermini sector. It has been declared the "definitive small car" in the last 5 years. Some praise considering the launch of the new Mini.
However, down at the pub when trying to explain this to the lads (please excuse the sexist nature of this review), all you seem to get is smirking. Now any (modern) Skoda owner will be able to sympathise with me here.
"It was the 'What Car?' Car of the year for 2000, and Best supermini for 3 years." I say. "Err..mate...its a skoda" "But...but...(trying to calm their laughing)...it's won all the group tests, and beat the Fiesta in head to head review" "Yeah but it breaks down every 5 minutes" "No it doesn't. Skoda is now owned by VW and bulid quality is excellent, while the reliability of the car is the best in the sector" "(Amid more laughs) What do you call a Skoda with no roof" Well now you're just being silly...and childish" I stammer. "A skip!" At this point all listening to the conversation erupt in laughter, leaving innocent Skoda owner (me) red-faced, angry, and wishing they'd listened to John Prescott and bought a bicycle instead (or copied him and bought a chauffer-driven Jag).
However, the saddest thing about this loutish behaviour, is the fact that Skodas are actually quite good now. And in the Fabia's case, extremely good. So good in fact, that it now has the following trophies adorning its mantelpiece:
What Car? Car of the Year 2000 What Car? Best Supermini 2000 Auto Express Car of the Year 2000 Auto Express Best Supermini 2000 What Car? Best Supermini 2001 Diesel Car Best Diesel Supermini 2001 What Car? Best Supermini 2002 Auto Express Best Used Supermini 2002
Some record. And I wonder what the odds of that would have been ten years ago. Or even 5 years ago.
As soon as you get into the car, if you manage to prise off the glaring green badge off the steering wheel, you'd be hard pressed to say that you're perched inside a Skoda. Although rather unadventorously styled, possibly even austerity of the dashboard, VW ownership means that quality of plastics, and indeed fit and finish are second to none in the supermini segment.
Turn the key, and the 1.4 litre engine sparks in to life. Despite being home to just 68 ponies, there is sufficient urge in all gears to make town driving a stroll. And as always, the payoff for less than stupendous performance is excellent fuel economy. So you'll be depriving Mr Brown of more fuel duty in this car than in most other petrol superminis, with a combined cycle of 48 mpg.
In town, not even the most valiant attempt by sleeping policemen, potholes, cola cans, or horse dung will succeed in upsetting the Fabia's imperious balance. And that is what sets this Czech wonder apart form all other small cars. When out on the road, you would swear that you were in a vehicle several classes up.
Passenger space is very good, in both front and rear if not exceptional like in the new Honda Jazz. 5 adults can quite easily travel in comfort.
However, it is out on the motorway that the Fabia really comes into its own. The refinement is sublime, with wind noise all but absent, and a ride comfortable enough to lure you into thinking that you were cantering along in a shiny new BMW 3 Series. That is until you pull up in some traffic and see some kids in the back of someone else's car laughing at you.
When it comes to driving thrills, this car won't delight you in the way that a small car bearing the blue oval might, but it won't cure your bout of insomnia either. The steering has a 'big-car' meaty feel to it and as a matter of fact, this car drives very, very well. SO well in fact, that it now has the following trophies adorning its mantelpi...oh wait, I've done that one already.
So, if you don't drink, despise pubs, or simply don't mind bearing the hefty brunt of some childish jokes every so often, and you're looking for a small car, then your mind should already be made up.
If on the other hand, you are overweight, enjoy a good brawl every now and again, and somehow find yourself as Chancellor of the 52nd State of America, then a nice shiny Jaguar would be more your thing.