I’ve never been convinced about small cars with automatic gearboxes. Small cars necessarily have small, not very powerful engines and the last thing you want is the extra drag of a self-shifter holding it back.
So I didn’t hold out much hope for the DSG-equipped Skoda Fabia.
The Fabia itself is a fine little car. It’s currently the smallest car based on VW Group’s modular MQB platform, at least 18 months ahead of the next Volkswagen Polo. The Fabia is much the same to drive as the bigger MQB cars; quiet, refined, stable and composed. Though the ride suffers with the big wheels on our test car.
The handling is competent if a little lifeless – the electric power steering doesn’t help. The Fabia is by no means a hot hatch, but the chassis is talented enough that you can lob it about with abandon if the mood takes you.
MQB offers much better interior packaging and there is a remarkable amount of interior space for a supermini. A bit of a squeeze for very tall people, but the averagely-sized will be perfectly comfortable. The boot is a bit small, but if you need more space there’s the estate.
In top-spec SE L trim, the interior is very well-appointed. All the controls are within easy reach, the touchscreen infotainment system is easy to navigate, the materials are high quality and it all feels unbreakable.
So far, so good: the Fabia is a very pleasant thing, that I’m sure will be a faithful and rewarding car to own.
Just don’t buy one with the powertrain tested here.
Let me qualify that. The 108bhp, 1.2-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine is very good. Despite the low output, I never found it lacking for grunt; it’s smooth and quiet, only getting vocal if you really mash the throttle. It returned steady high-40s to the gallon, as well.
The problem is the seven-speed DSG gearbox. As a dual-clutch it doesn’t sap any power – in fact under most circumstances it’s probably quicker. But it simply can’t make up it’s mind.
Move the throttle even a tiny bit and it changes gear. Usually several times as it tries to work out which of the seven gears is best.
Often it’s decisions are completely random. Just to see what would happen, I twice approached the same roundabout in exactly the same way, and it did something completely different both times.
On another I occasion, I floored it in third in auto mode. It held the gear up to 3,500rpm at which point I came off the throttle completely. Yet it held the revs for several seconds until changing up to fifth. It’s massively annoying.
You can change gear manually, eliminating the problem. But doing so defeats the object of buying an auto in the first place.
The Skoda Fabia is right at the top of the supermini class. It’s not as much fun to drive as the Ford Fiesta, but the overall package is fractionally better.
But, for the love of all that’s holy, get one with a manual gearbox.
Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSi SE L DSG
Engine: 1.2-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission: 7-speed DSG dual-clutch (6-spd manual standard); front-wheel-drive
Power/Torque: 108bhp; 129lb/ft
Economy/Emissions: 60.1mpg; 109g/km
0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
Top speed: 122mph
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By Only Motors