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Click to view picture gallery“Skoda’s new Fabia
  ‘supermini’ is slightly
  larger than before,
  but it continues to offer
  good looks combined
  with ‘value-for-money’
  No wonder Skoda is
  enjoying record sales”

On the back of UK and world record sales in 2006 — 39,000 in the UK and 500,000 around the globe — Skoda are about to launch their new, and slightly larger, Fabia 'supermini' five-door hatchback.

UK sales begin on 17 May at prices ranging from 7,990 to 13,015, with a full range of three- and four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines varying in size from 1.2 to 1.9-litres. A six-speed tiptronic automatic transmission will also become available for 1.6-litre petrol versions. A new Fabia Estate will also be introduced in 2008, but the current model continues in that form until next January. Keen drivers will be pleased to know that a vRS high-performance diesel hatchback is likely to be added in the future.

The new range has been simplified for specification with models now logically badged '1', '2' and '3'. All models are fitted with power steer-ing, twin front and side airbags and central door locking. In addition, they have a reach- and rake-adjustable steering column along with a height adjustable driver's seat and powered front windows. Fabia level 2 and 3 models are fitted as standard with air conditioning and alloy road wheels.

Warren Richards, product marketing manager for SkodaAuto in the UK, said that the "launch of the original Fabia in 2000 changed the fortunes for Skoda. Customers love it, and it has won numerous awards for
its design, equipment levels, driveability and reliability. We have sold 130,000 of them in the UK in seven years — 18,000 in 2006 — and by 2010 we expect to sell 23,000 Fabias annually in the UK."

Confirming that, the Skoda brand as a whole is now highly-rated by customers and Skoda has also received numerous awards for customer satisfaction. For instance, in the most recent J D Power survey, 96.7 per cent of respondents said they would recommend a Skoda model to a friend. Skoda has been ranked in the top five of all brands in the J D Power survey of customer satisfaction for the past 11 years. And you can't argue with that.

Richards added: "Currently, our UK sales are increasing and we expect the Fabia to assist us in achieving a two per cent share of the UK's new car market quite soon. Overall, our sales are split 60 per cent to retail buyers and 40 per cent fleet and business users. With the Fabia, 70 per cent are retail sales and the rest go to business and fleet users. I also expect 70 per cent of sales to be achieved by petrol-engined variants. The best-selling petrol model will be the 1.2-litre, three-cylinder 70bhp version, which will account for 23 per cent of sales.
The best-selling diesel model will be the 1.4-litre 80bhp three-cylinder TDi and the most popular specification will be Fabia 2."

Skoda, originally from the Czech Republic and now part of the Volks-wagen family, is one of the world's oldest car companies and has been making vehicles for over 100 years.

The new Fabia will sell against the likes of the new-generation super-minis, which include the Vauxhall Corsa, Peugeot 207, Renault Clio,
Fiat Punto, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta and Citroen C3. Whilst the new Fabia is not the longest, widest or tallest car in its class, it does offer the largest amount of interior space providing comfort where it really counts. The boot space ranges from 300 litres (with all five seats in use) to 1,163 litres with the rear seats down, and is the largest in the segment.

The latest Fabia range is, on average, six per cent cheaper than its competitors — but that increases to 10 per cent once the specification has been equalised.

The new Fabia uses a revised version of the platform first introduced
in 2000 and then adopted by other models in the VW brand family. Changes have been made to give more strength and improved driving refinement. Inside, there has been detailed attention to the layout of the driving controls. The latest Fabia uses the new 'expressive' face
of Skoda — the grille first seen on the Roomster — and now has strong creased styling lines running right around the car with signature 'C' segmented rear light clusters.

As far as the overall design of the new Fabia goes, it is more of the same but improved. Which says a lot, because the outgoing Fabia was highly rated. The new model benefits from more headroom and rear legroom. The width is still a bit cosy, but the boot is larger and overall the Fabia is a very user-friendly five-door hatchback. The controls
are well laid out — as was Skoda's aim — and seemingly the quality appears to be very good and should keep Skoda owners raving about their cars. The price is very attractive when you consider the specif-ication you get, and now that the brand has lost its jokey image there is no reason not to buy. 'Sensibly-priced and good looking' sums-up
the new Fabia very well.

During this week's UK media first drive event we had the opportunity
to drive the 1.2-litre petrol and 1.4 diesel variants: both with three-cylinder, Skoda-designed engines.

At this stage I can only comment on the performance provided by the two three-cylinder engines. Yes, both give reasonable performance and I'm sure will return reasonable fuel economy, but three-cylinder engines will never be as flexible or as responsive at low speeds as a four-cylinder unit.

Both engines, even the 1.4-litre diesel, have very narrow torque and power bands available only at higher than normal engine speeds, so you have to work them hard to get the best out of them. In particular in the case of the petrol unit, with 83lb ft of torque at 3,000rpm, this means plenty of gear changes to keep the 1.2-litre engine singing along.

Likewise, the 1.4-litre diesel unit doesn't deliver enough torque at low engine speeds, so again you push it harder and need to use lower gears on country roads. On motorways, the five-speed gearbox's ratios are fine, and respectable cruising speeds can be maintained. During my test drive over a combination of A- and B-roads and motorway driving, the Fabia 1.2-litre 70bhp petrol engine returned an average of 35.1mpg.

The 1.4-litre, 80bhp diesel did better at 44.2mpg, but in reality neither of those figures are class-leading. It is not unusual to get 1.6 petrol and 1.9 diesel four-cylinder engines to produce better figures, because they are not worked as hard and they also deliver a more flexible and relaxed drive at lower speeds in and around town.

With regard to comfort and handling, the revised suspension is set up for ride quality. Generally, it absorbs most bumps and potholes pretty well. The steering is accurate and offers reasonable feedback, and the car does turn in nicely during cornering, with good levels of grip.

First drive impressions are positive with good looks, good prices and value-for-money specifications. Personally, given the choice, I would choose four-cylinder engine options for greater day-to-day driving satisfaction — but no doubt many customers will be perfectly happy with three cylinders under the bonnet. Add to that low insurance ratings and more space inside the Fabia's versatile five-door hatchback body style and you can see why the brand's record sales look set to continue. — David Miles

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Skoda Fabia 2 1.2 | 9,720
Maximum speed: 101mph | 0-62mph: 14.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 35.1mpg | Power: 70bhp | Torque: 83lb ft

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