On the road

The Fabia’s running-gear is wholly conventional. McPherson struts in conjunction with an anti-roll bar take care of the front wheels, while at the rear there are trailing arms attached to a torsion-beam and coil springs. The torsion-beam acts as an anti-roll bar, but interferes with the independence of the wheels’ movement. This type of rear suspension is becoming almost universal among mass-market front-wheel drive cars, not least because it is cheap and easy to build as a sub-assembly and is capable of delivering decent results most of the time.

The Greenline features some interesting alterations to its running-gear compared with a standard TDI 80. The car’s ride-height has been dropped by 15mm, which might suggest some loss of pliancy in the ride and an improvement in handling. On the other hand, tyre equipment looks like a throwback to the eighties: the Greenline’s 165/70R14 Dunlop SP10s are the same size as the Michelins worn by the definitive diesel supermini of that era, the Peugeot 205 GRD.

In practice, the Fabia Greenline’s set-up works pretty well. Ride quality has not suffered significantly from the lowering of the car’s running height: it is firm but well controlled and absorbent, even on very poor surfaces, and it remains one of the Fabia’s strengths. Grip is good, wet or dry, belying the modest contact patch of the tyres. Although the rear often hops a little out of line on a bend with a broken surface, this does not set the Fabia apart from its peers, and it’s never a problem.

With ample torque and modest tyres, understeer is obviously the predominant handling characteristic under power, but this will only prove a problem for the terminally stupid. Backing off the power tucks the Fabia reliably back into line. Pushed hard in tighter bends, body-roll provides the ultimate limit to handling, rather upsetting the Fabia’s normally fine composure. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that we are talking about deliberate provocation: the Fabia might not be a sportscar, but it’s a highly competent machine that delivers its best easily.

If there is a down-side to Škoda’s choice of tyres, it’s turn-in and steering feel, both of which are a little soft. A generation ago, that iconic Peugeot handled splendidly on 165/70s, but the Fabia is 24 per cent. heavier than the 205. Side-wall rigidity is important in defining how a car turns in and how small forces are conveyed from the road to the driver’s hands. The heavier the car, the stiffer the sidewalls must be to provide handling precision and a sharp turn-in. The Greenline is actually quite an enjoyable little car to drive across country, even if its steering is a trifle more rubbery than the standard model, or its turn-in a fraction softer.

Overall, although these things are rather subjective, we would rate the Fabia as ahead of the Vauxhall Corsa for road behaviour but not quite a match for the outstanding Fiesta.

Refinement

Volkswagen’s Pumpe düse unit-injector engines have never been the paragon of refinement, being distinctly intrusive in urban driving.

Three- and four-cylinder variants have always had distinct vocal characters. While the four-cylinder 1896cc version delivers a rather nondescript roar, the three-pot has a uniquely off-beat sound accompanied by a curious whirring that’s notably absent from the vocal repertoire of the 1.9. It’s a singular combination, and not unpleasant in small doses. Unfortunately, the Greenline’s widely-spaced gear ratios mean that it’s hard to keep engine speeds down in urban driving: particularly, the need often to hang on to second gear in traffic means that the TDI’s eccentric engine note inevitably becomes a little wearing. Not surprisingly, this three-cylinder unit produces noticeable vibration across the rev-range, though this is never particularly objectionable. At idle, vibration and resonant booms are commendably absent, and the engine’s voice is quite subdued.

Out of town, the picture changes radically. Drive the Greenline briskly across country and the little diesel’s voice makes a quite agreeable accompaniment as you pull out of a bend in third, fading obligingly into the background as you back off and select fourth. Then, road- and wind-noise predominate: road roar is certainly quite loud over the coarsest surfaces, but it’s no worse than average in this class, and the hatchback bodyshell delivers no unpleasant resonant booms.

In top gear on the motorway, the Fabia’s engine is virtually inaudible, a distant hum that turns to the gentlest beginning of a growl as you maintain speed up an incline. It’s just enough to remind you that you do actually have an engine connected to the accelerator pedal, and a reminder of how effortless the Greenline is on the open road. Wind noise dominates at these speeds, though it’s not excessive; our car was rather spoilt by in imperfect seal at the leading edge of the driver’s door, though we’re happy to believe that this was a one-off.

:Previous page:Next page

All content copyright Under the Skin 2010 unless otherwise stated. We recommend Firefox.