Skoda Fabia Estate Ambiente 1.4 TDI
Stable at speed, the Fabia Estate makes a great motorway car
- Is small enough to use as a town runabout
- Diesel variants will take a big load off your wallet at the pumps
- Despite car's size, loadspace is practical and useable
- Relaxing motorway car thanks to stable handling at speed
- Some may find the car's plain interior a disappointment
- Rear seat adult passengers will complain at only modest levels of legroom
- Noisy diesel motors at odds with the car's refined personality
- New wave of Far Eastern cars run the Fabia close on value for money
Skoda's small car is a popular one among private buyers who put value for money, durability and practicality above more subjective attributes. And while small estate cars might not be the most popular variant in any maker's range, the Fabia Estate adds a welcome and useful level of versatility to the Fabia brand.
Skoda is well known for producing cars that get you from A to B with the minimum of fuss. What people tend to forget is that the Czech firm has grown in stature since the early 1990s and has become popular with buyers who want class leading levels of build quality, but don't want to pay over the odds for it.
The company's Fabia supermini is a good example of this; it's small and great to drive around town but the feeling you get is one of driving a car that's far more refined than its compact size suggests. It's one reason why the car has attracted a loyal following who don't much care for the less substantial feeling cars from Ford, Vauxhall and the French competition.
For some the conventional small hatch isn't enough, but larger estate cars are too big - even compact people carriers are not appropriate. Enter the compact estate car. While not the most popular model in any car maker's range, the small loadlugger concept does have its merits.
In the Fabia's case, the transformation from modest hatch to something more versatile is a surprisingly positive one. There's nothing in the way of any real compromise, either. Essentially what you're buying is a hatchback with better access - the car's seats still fold but now you don't need to mess around with a stubborn parcel shelf. There are no handling compromises, either. All in all, the Fabia Estate is something of a dark horse in Skoda's line-up.
Our verdict on the Skoda Fabia Estate Ambiente 1.4 TDI
Far from being nothing more than an oddity in the Fabia line-up, Skoda's small estate car offering is possibly the unsung hero of the range. While it can't rival true loadluggers from the likes of Volvo or Mercedes, this little Fabia is more accommodating and versatile than its hatchback and saloon cousins but sacrifices nothing in the manoeuvrability stakes.
Skodas are no longer priced at bargain basement levels, but what they do offer is excellent build quality and solid residuals thanks to their sought after status. Equipment levels are better than in the past, although cars from the likes of Chevrolet and Mitsubishi are closer than you think. However, in the long term the Skoda is a good buy as residuals are strong, diesel economy is high and reliability has always been a Skoda strong point.
Space and practicality
In the forward part of the cabin the Fabia Estate is like any other Fabia - space is reasonable and storage options and cubbyholes are sensibly placed. Cars with air conditioning also benefit from cooled gloveboxes. At the back the car's split/fold rear seats are a useful addition, allowing awkward items to be loaded with minimal fuss. The car's tailgate opens nice and wide, but the load lip isn't flat - resulting in a little drop into the boot and you needing to haul heavy items up and then out of the car.
Controls and display
The Fabia is a simple car and this is reflected in the lack of buttons and dials. In truth you don't need anything but the essential instruments, and what the Fabia has is clear and a legible. The rotary ventilation controls also are straightforward. The high-mounted stereo's controls are easy to master, too. Pleasingly for a car in this price point, the steering wheel generously adjusts for both reach and rake.
With Skoda opting for wheels of a modest size, the Fabia's ride comfort on undulating Tarmac is good. The car's seats are, in the main, comfortable. Front seat passengers blessed with a wide rear won't thank Skoda for the inclusion of some heavily bolstered seats, however. That aside, room up front is fine. Rear adult occupants don't fare so well in terms of legroom, but children will be fine.
It may not be a high value car but you do get visible window etching on the Fabia, plus free membership of a key and radio code database for the first three years of ownership. All cars also get an immobiliser and deadlocking. All bar the entry-level Classic get remote central locking as standard. Elegance models add an alarm to the anti-theft armoury.
All cars get anti-lock brakes and the cabin is equipped with twin front airbags. Basic electronic traction and stability programmes are standard only on the Elegance variant, which is a shame as many other manufacturers have overtaken Skoda in this area. The same is true of the car's optional side airbags.
The Fabia handles in a nice and tidy manner; it won't worry a hot hatch but the little Skoda estate feel surefooted at all times. It deals confidently with urban bumps and is stable at motorway speeds. The steering is light but offers enough feel on twisty roads. While there's no dud in the engine range, the turbo diesel engines are more potent and desirable - especially important when you've loaded the estate to capacity.
Family car appeal
In truth the Fabia is a little on the small side to be used as a full-on family car. Rear seat space will be limited for teenagers, but toddlers and child seats should pose few problems. What you lose with the lack of people carrier levels of cupholders and the like you gain with the estate's practical boot. A pushchair and some shopping will be easily accommodated. Which is something you can't say about a compact MPV and its narrow boot.
First car appeal
Any Fabia would make ideal novice driver transport. Easy to drive and costing sensible money to run, the little Skoda makes a lot of sense. Factor in the estate car's added versatility and anyone seeking a compact loadlugger that's easy to park would do well with the Fabia.
Quality and image
Jokes about dull, crude cars from the past aside, Skoda has come a long way since Volkswagen took over the marque. Durability was always there but VW helped to inject a welcome slug of polish and personality. Now we've got cars that are desirable that have also managed to maintain their core functional attributes.
As far as compact hatchbacks and estate cars go the Fabia offers no surprises. Access to the front seats is more than reasonable, and cars with a height adjustable driver's seat increase the chances of easy entry and egress. Back seat passengers face more of a squeeze if they're adults, as legroom is modest at best. Accessing the boot is simplicity itself - the tailgate requires little effort to raise or lower.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
Standard fit across the range is a radio and single CD player, although the base level 1.2 Fabia makes do with a cassette player. Six speakers make way for eight on Ambiente-spec cars and above. Model dependent options run to a CD changer and satellite navigation. Overall, the standard audio kit is an improvement over equipment from previous years. Sound quality and radio reception is excellent, and the controls are straightforward.
Colours and trim
Bright metallic colours work best, giving the little Fabia a cheery and youthful appeal. Dull and dark flat hues aren't so flattering and won't help future residual values, either. Things are more restrained inside the Fabia, with black the predominant colour unless you specify something lighter. Everything feels well built but the cabin doesn't exactly feel a fun or vibrant place.
Being a small car the Fabia is easy to manoeuvre in small spaces. The car's steering is light but direct and shunting back and forth requires little effort. Visibility forward is good - assuming you're not sitting too low in the driver's seat. The view aft is also good and the knowledge that the Fabia's rump goes straight down helps to judge distances. Standard on Ambiente models and above, rear parking sensors are optional on selected variants.
Standard size wheel fitted under the boot floor.
Petrol engines: 1.2-litre (64bhp); 1.4-litre (75bhp); 1.4-litre (100bhp); 2.0-litre (115bhp). Diesel engines: 1.4 TDI (75bhp); 1.9 SDI (64bhp); 1.9 TDI (100bhp). Five-speed manual transmission standard across the range. Optional four-speed auto on 75bhp 1.4 petrol. Trim levels: Classic, Ambiente and Elegance.
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