Skoda’s latest is one of the best budget superminis you can buy

Skoda has figured out that when building a supermini, size counts for a lot.

he old Fabia was among the biggest cars in its class and the replacement is no different, a very impressive budget contender.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the Fabia is the rock upon which Skoda builds its church. Without this model, there would be no budget for vehicles like the wacky Roomster, the dashing Octavia and the spacious Superb.

Launched in 2000, it was certainly a world apart from any compact car the Czech company had ever produced before. 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.

As promising as the basic Fabia formula might seem, the notion of big car, small engine is rarely a recipe for fun. In this instance, it’s remarkable what a difference a few bhp make. The Fabia is actually offered with four 1.2-litre petrol engines.

Whatever Fabia powerplant you choose, the basic underpinnings, a MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear, haven’t changed a great deal. The gearchange is one of the best in its class.

The Fabia has that ‘floating roof’ effect courtesy of the blacked-out pillars. The latest facelifted models also feature a reworked grille and larger headlights what work to widen the car visually for a more dynamic stance.

There’s a good amount of space inside this Skoda, particularly for rear seat passengers. The interior has similarities to the Volkswagen products 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.

Boot capacity stands at an impressive 300 litres with the seats in place or a massive 1,163 litres when they’re folded. In the Estate, the extended dimensions have helped Skoda engineers achieve a 480-litre boot capacity with the seats up. Fold the 60/40 split rear seats flat (a less than straightforward operation that involves removing the headrests) and there’s an Albert Hall-esque 1,460 litres.

Despite the success of the Fabia, Skoda still recognise the limits of their badge equity - the upmarket Superb saloon taught them a key, and rather expensive, lesson here - and the Fabia is priced realistically while recognising the need to nudge the brand incrementally upmarket.

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. Unimpeachable build quality you can take for granted.

You don’t buy a 1.2-litre Skoda Fabia and then expect to be clouted by high running costs and initial impressions suggest that this will be one of the cheapest superminis to run on a long term basis. For a start 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.

The supermini market has changed beyond all recognition from when Skoda unleashed its original Fabia back in 2000. Twentieth-century designed 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, its one of the best budget superminis that money can buy.