The Fabia’s instrumentation and switchgear are clear and simple. Only two proper dials — speedometer and rev-counter — are fitted in the instrument binnacle; they’re easily read, though it pays not to think too hard about the rev-counter’s fine calibrations, which are rather baffling. Between the two dials is an LCD display: this carries information from the trip computer and trip mileage recorder, plus the fuel gauge in the form of a column of black segments. There is no temperature gauge, just a blue warning light that tells you the coolant is cold. Presumably it has a red counterpart to indicate overheating. We would prefer a dial.
Unlike older Fabias, our Greenline was not fitted with an instrument lighting dimmer, though the brightness seemed to us well judged.
The trip computer is operated from switches on the right-hand column stalk. It’s easy enough to use after a little practice. All lighting functions are operated from a rotary switch by the driver’s right knee; next to this is a control to adjust the headlamp beam angle.
Instrumentation is straightforward but limited. LCD panel in centre shows fuel ‘gauge’, trip computer display and trip mileage.
Accommodation for the driver and passengers has always been one of the Fabia’s strengths. It would be churlish to complain about the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel, not least because we doubt the lack will ever be felt. The driving position is very good for drivers of all sizes. The wheel, pedals and seat are properly aligned, height adjustment is provided for both the seat and steering wheel, and there is a good range of longitudinal adjustment for the driver’s seat. As a welcome bonus, a proper rest is provided for the driver’s left foot.
Long-distance comfort is mostly very good. Although the back support feels a little odd at first, with a marked lump for lumbar support at the bottom, the seat actually proves very comfortable after a couple of hours.
Driving position and seat comfort are good, though head restraints are a nuisance. Seat and steering wheel adjust for height.
Škoda’s preferred design of centre console does not present an elegant sweep from the dash to the floor. It might not be as pretty as some, but it’s markedly superior in comfort terms, because it doesn’t leave the driver’s shin pressing uncomfortably against a solid moulding. The bulky, impressive-looking consoles used by other manufacturers (Ford and Vauxhall take note) can be very uncomfortable to live with over an hour or two.
Inevitably, the picture isn’t quite perfect. The biggest problem is the front head restraints, which are quite intrusive. We suspect that Škoda is making its head restraints bigger in response to increasing concerns about whiplash — some quite elaborate anti-whiplash measures have surfaced on up-market cars recently. Whatever the reasons, the restraints fitted to the Greenline are annoying: there is a tendency either to lean forward, to prevent the back of your head from brushing constantly against the restraint, or to lean back hard against it.
Rear seats are comfortable and there’s ample space for two.
Accommodation for passengers in the back — as in the front — is exemplary. Obviously, no supermini is a proper five-seater — though the Fabia does come with three three-point belts in the back — but it’s a highly competent and comfortable four-seater. If you want to carry four people’s holiday luggage as well, there’s an estate version; otherwise, you get a 300-litre boot with a curious bendy plastic thing for keeping a bag of shopping under control. The parcel shelf can be mounted in the usual position — at the window-line — or lower down to allow light bits and pieces to be piled on top of it — accessible from the back seat — with other things underneath. Presumably someone will find this invaluable.
The rear seats fold with a 60/40 split. The base each side tips forward against the front seat back — presenting a foam underbelly to the load-bay — and the seat back folds down to leave a stepped load floor. The seat back release catches on the test car felt robust and took a firm tug to operate. The head restraints must be removed with the seat backs tipped at least a little way forward.
Accommodation for oddments is good. Curiously, there are two small glove-boxes, one above the other — there must be a reason for this, though we don’t know what it is. The front door pockets are long and have bottle-holders; those in the rear doors are very small, but there are seat-back pockets. At the front of the centre console are cup-holders and a small tray, while on the right-hand end of the dash there’s a small unlidded cubby.
Sockets for 12V power and audio output are fitted next to the handbrake. The radio gave a good account of itself, with as straightforward a control layout as we’ve seen recently. Adjusting the sound to suit different styles of music was easy in principle, though we wouldn’t attempt it on the fly.
The Fabia’s heating and ventilation system had plenty of work to do during the unpredictable spring weather of our test. The system fitted
to the Greenline is what Škoda calls Climatic: a simple thermostatic system using a single sensor, with separately-switched air-conditioning. While not all of our experiences with this system have been positive in the past, with sometimes quite wild cycling between hot and cold, the Greenline’s Climatic set-up behaved well. As usual, there is no facility to direct cooler air to the facia vents than to the screen or footwells, but once the temperature in the car has stabilised this isn’t a problem. The four-speed fan is quiet on its slowest setting and amply powerful on its fastest.
The heating and ventilation system’s switchgear is an object lesson in design, in sharp contrast to the confusing push-button creations seen in some other cars.
Finally, while we might be shouting into a hurricane, we have to declare an interest in spare wheels. That’s to say, we believe that every car should have one — and a full-size spare at that. The Fabia Greenline, to save weight, has no spare wheel of any kind.
As we write this, the three-cylinder TDI 80 Greenline has just been replaced, and we’re waiting to test one of the lastest cars, powered by Volkswagen’s 1.6-litre common-rail engine. It’s been an interesting re-visiting of the old unit-injector powerplant that served so many model ranges for 13 years: the combustion chamber has been used in engines with three, four, five, six, eight and 10 cylinders, and the basic block and head architecture used in this three-cylinder engine is much the same as that of the longer inline units. In its youth, this power-plant, with its tremendous injection pressures, was the most efficient car engine you could find.
But things have changed. Common-rail engines offer finer injection control, and injection pressures are improving to the extent that they’re not too far removed from unit-injector territory.
But a car is not just its engine. What of the Fabia as a car?
First, we have to say that this test confirmed what we already knew about the smallest Škoda: it’s a very capable and versatile little car with few faults and great strengths. Perhaps the Fabia does not quite challenge the Fiesta as a driver’s car, but we would confidently rank it ahead of the Corsa, and in some ways the little Czech motor has the edge on both of its more mainstream competitors. Driver comfort and ergonomics, for example, are a real Fabia forté, and the Fiesta certainly can’t match it on this score. We also rate the Fabia’s build quality — as much as one can, from nearly-new test cars — as easily the equal of the Vauxhall. The Ford — from our experience at least — seems a little superior in its fit and finish, but it’s not a decisive advantage.
In the end, though, the Fabia Greenline is a car that’s defined by its widely-spaced gear ratios and its rather peaky engine, and it’s not just enthusiasts who will notice the driveability problems that this combination brings. We await the new car with great interest.
* Our estimate, based on overall test fuel consumption
Luggage space is more than competitive. Folding seats gives stepped load floor. Bendy plastic panel (right) for controlling shopping bag is easily removed. Parcel shelf can be mounted in either of two positions.