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Click to view road test review picture galleryIf you want to pay the
  best price for the best
  space, then the new
  Skoda Fabia Estate is
  the one for you: well-
  built and sturdy, with
  up to 1,460 litres of
  space, for not much

SKODA LABEL THEMSELVES AS THE 'MANUFACTURER OF HAPPY DRIVERS'. You can bet your bottom dollar that if in-car space at a budget price makes new car customers happy, then the new Fabia Estate is the icing on their well-publicised cake.

Skoda in the UK has built up a loyal following of buyers, and their consistent high placing in various customer service ratings proves Skoda owners are happy with the brand. Already this year sales in the UK show a 4.15 per cent increase over the first two months of 2007. This goes against the national trend which has seen the UK new car market fall by 3.13 per cent this year.

Launched last month (in February 2008), prices for the Fabia Estate range start at just 9,360 for the 1.2 HTP petrol Estate 1. With a choice of three petrol, three diesel engines and three specification levels (simply called 1, 2 and 3), prices rise to 13,775 for the top-
of-the-range 1.9 TDi diesel version with the 3 level of specification.

Hot off the press is news that Skoda is introducing Fabia Greenline versions in both Hatch and Estate bodystyles. Greenline is Skoda's equivalent of parent company Volkswagen's BlueMotion low CO2 models. Using a 1.4 TDi diesel engine, Greenline Hatch prices start at 11,490 and the Estates at 12,140. Emissions are just 109g/km, making them exempt from the London Congestion Charge — and road tax just 35 a year. Average fuel economy is claimed to be nearly 69mpg.

The Estate is based on Skoda's award-winning Fabia Hatch, launched in May 2007, and it sells in the very competitive 'supermini' estate and medium-sized hatchback sectors where its main hatch/estate com-petitors are the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Citroen C4, Kia Cee'd, Hyundai i30 and Peugeot 207.

At 4,239mm in length, the new Fabia Estate is right in the middle of this grouping as far as overall length goes, but endowed 1,460-litres
of load space it is almost at the top of the sector when it comes to maximum carrying space. However, the new Ford Focus Estate offers considerably more load space — 1,520-litres — but then it is more expensive vehicle.

With the Fabia Estate we are talking cheap motoring — well, as cheap as it can be with high fuel prices — with load carrying space to meet the needs of people who want a practical and affordable estate car, whether it's for family or business use, or both.

Compared to the previous Fabia Estate, the new model is just 7mm longer, but the boot space has increased by 235-litres and for rear seat passengers there is 42mm of extra headroom. With all the seats
in use, there are still 480 litres of luggage space. These figures and clever packaging, plus extra legroom front and rear as well as greater refinement, offer better value for money and meet the needs of
today's financially hard-pressed motorists.

Its predecessor — launched in 2001 — attracted 630,000 customers worldwide, of which 31,000 were in the UK. With the growing demand for medium-sized estate cars (as customers move from commonplace five-door hatchbacks), the arrival of the latest Fabia Estate is very timely indeed.

Skoda UK says they expect to sell around 3,800 Fabia Estates in the UK this year and the best selling model is likely to be the 105bhp 1.9 TDi diesel variant. The 1.4 TDi 80bhp diesel version will also sell well,
as will the bargain-price 1.2-litre 70bhp petrol. Overall, Skoda think that 60 per cent of sales will be for diesel models but 70 per cent of sales will be made by retail buyers.

I had intended to use my 'UK first drive' review by trying the Fabia Estate 2, 1.9 TDi 105bhp version priced at 12,615 — the likely best-selling model. However, the low starting price for the Fabia Estate 1 with the 1.2-litre 70bhp petrol engine — priced at just 9,360 — seemed more relevant for many potential Skoda buyers.

Whilst the price and the space attracts, the Fabia Estate's styling does not. The front is OK and the new face of Skoda is fine, but side and rear profiles are pretty uninspiring compared to the equally well-priced and better warranty'ed Kia Cee'd and Hyundai i30 Estates. With its high waistline, small side windows and really dated tailgate design, the Fabia Estate looks quite old-fashioned. It is Eastern European design of a bygone age. Why on Earth didn't they just follow the design of their slightly larger Octavia Estate, which is much more modern?

Skoda designers and engineers are proud of the way they adapt the core designs and components from the parent VW company to give their products distinctive looks and a unique Skoda driveability relative to price. Well they have definitely succeeded with space and price but, on this occasion, not with the looks.

The level 1 specification can best be described as basic but relative to the low price. Customers purchasing a Fabia Estate 1 have the choice of either a 1.2-litre 70bhp petrol engine or 1.4-litre TDI engines (offer-ing either 70 and 80bhp). Standard kit includes steel wheels, anti-lock braking, central door locking, driver, front passenger and side airbags, electric front windows, 60:40 split rear seat, height adjustable driver's seat, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, immobiliser and stereo radio/CD player with four speakers and MP3 compatibility. The rest of the specification is pretty basic: a glovebox with no lid, cheap-looking seat upholstery and manually-adjustable door mirrors.

If customers want more engine choices and better equipment levels,
it makes more sense to opt for the level 2 specification. The 1.2-litre petrol model with level 2 equipment is 1,110 more expensive than my test car but gets alloy wheels, four additional speakers, AirCon, alarm, electrically heated and operated door mirrors, halogen headlights, remote central locking, trip computer and roof rails. Level 3 specific-ation goes one better with larger alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, cruise control, extra airbags, front fog lights, leather steering wheel and gearknob and a better computer. The all-important safety feature of an electronic stability programme is an extra cost option for all models.

I gather all the petrol and diesel engines are not the smoothest on offer in the market place today. If a customer wants an automatic transmission model then the only engine available with it is the 105bhp 1.6-litre unit, which comes with either level 2 or 3 specification cost-ing 12,300 and 13,460 respectively.

As for the 1.2-litre, 70bhp petrol engine I tried — this is a three-cylinder unit with the characteristic gruffness of a three-pot but it is surprisingly sprightly and flexible, except on hills. Even with only
83lb ft of torque from 3,000rpm this unit allows for easy driving around town with minimal gearchanging. On the open road the engine needs
to be pushed harder to get the best from it, and the engine tone rises accordingly. Top speed is 102mph and 0-62mph is covered in 15.1 seconds. On both motorways and open roads, the manual gearbox would benefit from a higher fifth gear or a six-speed unit to reduce noise and, perhaps, improve fuel economy. On the economy front, this car will return 47.9mpg on average and the 140g/km of CO2 puts it in road tax class C at 115 a year.

The roadholding and handling is no more than capable, ride comfort is average, road and wind noise intrusion quite high and, being a tall vehicle, side wind gusting unsettles the vehicle — but you get what you pay for.

Overall, the Skoda Fabia Estate scores highly for interior space, with the 1.2-litre model, in particular, scoring well for the low purchase price and its near-50mpg fuel economy. If you want a basic but well-built and sturdy estate car with loads of space (up to 1,460 litres) for not much money, then the Fabia 1 1.2 HTP model is for you with. Demerits are the dated rear styling, very basic equipment levels on the cheapest model, engine and road noise intrusion and the fact that it's prone to side wind gusting. And that there's no electronic stability safety programme for any models as standard.

However, if you are going for a higher specification and a larger engine I'd probably consider a Kia Cee'd SW estate — it not only looks much better but it has a long, seven-year warranty and also has a better specification as standard. — David Miles

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Skoda Fabia 1 1.2 HTP Estate | 9,360
Maximum speed: 102mph | 0-62mph: 15.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 47.9mpg | Power: 70bhp | Torque: 83lb ft

CO2 140g/km | VED Band C 115 | Insurance group 2

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