Fabia wagon: Big call for the small

The small car category is a cut-throat sector teeming with choice. How does the Fabia wagon stack up?

For: Well-built, VW safety technology, capacious.

Against: Conservative looks, usual Skoda price advantage not so obvious.

Score: 3.6/5

SKODA product tells a great value tale in the medium to upper reaches of car-dom; truly, it’s difficult to beat the Octavia and the Superb as introductions to European levels of quality and sophistication.

Curiously, though, that story is less coherent with the smallest car bearing the VW Group budget badge.

The Fabia is obviously clever and definitely benefits from having a lot of parts shared with the well-regarded VW Polo, and the newly-added $26,990 wagon here obviously has practicality advantages; it’s not as small as it looks. There's room for four full-sized adults without the need to compromise rear legroom and cargo carrying capacity is great. With the seats folded, the wagon offers 1370 litres. Many small to medium SUVs have less usable room.

So that’s good, yet, when you look at and drive it, the one thing that seems absent is the overwhelming sense of satisfied oneupsmanship that accompanies any Octavia and Superb experience.

Those latter cars seem almost too good for the money, whereas a Fabia just seems … well, adequate but more unremarkable. It’s cost-effective by Euro standards, of course, but there are so many small cars from other parts of the world to compete with and, in their company, it feels a bit cheap, still.

Some of this is just perception, of course. For instance, safety-wide is about as good as it gets. Yet the visual impact, even with the latest Skoda face, is a bit old-school. Trademark square edged Skoda styling looks better on the bigger cars and the interior trim materials, though undoubtedly hard-wearing, look a bit dowdy. The equipment level is a bit sparse, too, even though there’s a touchscreen with functions including smartphone connectivity.

What about that engine, a 1.2-litre petrol outputting 81kW/175Nm? Well, yes, capacity-wise it’s also a baby, but it has a strong heart and the automated manual gearbox it marries to is, technically-speaking, better than any option offered this category.

For sure, it has to work; the wagon is quite a lot larger than the hatch Skoda also offers, so presumably that has added weight. The powerplant doesn’t feel gutless, but needs to be revved and handshifting the seven speed box can also be beneficial, which potentially hurts the economy, though is hardly set to be injurious.

The new chassis, which is based on VW's MQB platform, does a good job. Handling is neat and predictable, there's good steering feel and until you push really hard the dynamics are pretty well neutral. Interestingly, the extra weight in the extended tail of the wagon compared with the hatch has added to this neutrality.

It clearly has strengths. Just not a particularly high desirability factor. For me, at least, the spark to know it better just wasn’t there.