Designed by the stylist responsible for the Bentley Continental GT, this spacious supermini offered a simple recipe. As well as being very well screwed together, it was also one of the longest cars in its class and had the interior space efficiency to capitalise on those extra inches.
At the time, anything much larger would have strayed into the next class up – Golf, Astra and Focus family hatchback territory – so it had the supermini market pretty much taped, if space was a priority and you didn't have deep pockets. Since then, Renault's Clio has muscled in on this formula and Skoda responded with the second-generation Fabia, now facelifted in the guise we look at here.
The Fabia is offered with four 1.2-litre petrol engines. Let's start with the non-turbo ones. There's a 60bhp six-valve unit that should be avoided unless you're really cash-strapped or there's a 70bhp 12-valve engine that's significantly more satisfying as there's an enthusiasm and honesty to this powerplant that is extremely rewarding.
If you want the Estate model (that commands a premium of around 500 over the equivalent five-door hatch), then you'll need to go for the 70bhp variant.
Much better, though, are the 85bhp and 105bhp 1.2 TSI petrol units, turbo-charged to feel like a much larger 1.4 or even 1.6-litre engine. Whatever engine you choose, the basic underpinnings, a MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear, haven't changed a great deal. The steering wheel requires a bit of arm twirling lock-to-lock but it's accurate helm and the gearchange is one of the best in its class.
The Fabia has the "floating roof" effect courtesy of the blacked-out pillars. The latest facelifted models also feature a reworked grille and larger headlights that widen the car visually for a more dynamic stance.
There's a good amount of space inside this Skoda, particularly for rear passengers and in the boot, especially in the Estate version. The materials aren't quite up to the standards set in Volkswagen products but the similarities in the design are easy to spot and the same robust build quality can be seen throughout. Inside and out, the Fabia's design keeps it simple which is a big part of the car's appeal.
Equipment levels were never the Fabia's strong point, Skoda relying instead on solid no-nonsense build quality. This time round there are items like electronically controlled Climatronic air-conditioning and an MP3/iPod-compatible stereo, but if you go to your Skoda dealer expecting to be granted a view of the state-of-the-art in small car electronics, you're likely to be disappointed. Unimpeachable build quality, on the other hand, you can take for granted.
Initial impressions suggest this will be one of the cheapest superminis to run on a long-term basis. Fabias have always held very firm when it comes to residual values, used buyers valuing the Volkswagen Group input and resolute build quality. Secondly, as this is the entry-level petrol engine family, insurance is very cheap.
Finally, there's economy. The 1.2-litre 70bhp model manages to return in the region of 48mpg on the combined cycle, something many small diesels would be proud of. Rather surprisingly, the less powerful 60bhp 1.2-litre unit isn't markedly more economical. The 1.2 TSI engine however, can surprise here. Even if you add in the semi-automatic DSG gearbox, you'll get 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and 124g/km of from the 105bhp unit.
The supermini market has changed beyond all recognition from when Skoda unleashed its original Fabia back in 2000. Superminis knew their place. They were small and savagely built down to a price as manufacturers didn't want them to cannibalise sales from the bigger family hatches which they viewed as their cash cows, to be protected at all costs. The Fabia changed the way we looked at superminis.
The latest model takes the old Fabia's strengths of space, solid build quality and minuscule running costs and improves on them.
The 1.2-litre models are a mixed bag, with the 12v powerplant being a lot more appealing than the rather frenetic 6v engine, but if you can stretch to the punchier TSI engines, you'll have one of the best budget superminis that money can buy.
CAR: Skoda Fabia 1.2 range
PRICE: 9,330-13,945 – OTR
INSURANCE GROUP: 1-4 (est]
PERFORMANCE: (1.2 16v 70bhp] Max speed 102mph; 0-60mph in 14.4 seconds
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (1.2 16v 70bhp] (combined) 48 mpg