Skoda aims to do something this year that it has never done before in New Zealand: sell 1000 cars. Not a tall order considering it sold around 850 last year and has a couple of new models in the mix.
But there is another, more challenging component in its big picture: it wants 150 of the 1000 to be the Fabia, its new light car.
That’s where the equation gets tricky, because Skoda sold only 23 Fabias in 2014, roughly one every two weeks. Okay, the hatchback was on runout, a second-generation model soon to give way to the third. But the immediate customer base nevertheless remains tiny.
To do 150 Fabias in the next eight months means a year-on-year sales hike of around 550 per cent. It hasn’t been done before, not in as many months and not in a segment that has wall-to-wall competitors. Skoda will need to be the new Jedi master in a conquest sales force.
The Fabia is priced to go head to head with the best-selling light cars: Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Jazz. Those three alone accounted for 7103 registrations in 2014, according to NZ Transport Agency numbers.
That’s a collective average of 273 Swift, Yaris and Jazz registrations every two weeks last year … against one Fabia. Skoda’s 2015 target is therefore based largely on a giant leap of faith in the new car itself.
Skoda’s HQ researched its 100 markets worldwide and found the main criticisms of the previous Fabia was that it looked too high, too narrow. It had become old-fashioned too quickly. The new Fabia is lower and wider. Skoda reckons the design gives the car more shelf life.
There’s a lot to like about it, mostly how it squeezes so much room into its footprint, a Skoda trademark. Fabia has the biggest boot of any light hatchback, bigger than some models in the class above it. There’s a wide opening, bag hooks, and useful shelves either side.
The cabin itself has more than enough room for four adults and their junk, thanks to a good sized glovebox, cubby holes front and rear, mesh pockets on the sides of the front seat backrests, and storage under the front passenger seat. These, along with an ice scraper under the fuel flap, fall into Skoda’s Simply Clever bundle of clever things.
That Volkswagen is Skoda’s parent is obvious up front, especially around the family touchscreen display. It’s smart and easy to use and controls everything from the Bolero radio to phone connectivity. Other controls are just as clear.
NZ buyers have the choice of five models and two 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, both turbocharged and producing different states of tune. One generates 66kW and is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox only; the other 81kW and linked to a seven-speed automatic.
The base model is the 66kW/160Nm manual at $19,990. Add the so-called Tech package – which includes LED daytime driving lights, automatic air-conditioning – and the price goes to $21,190.
The 81kW/175Nm model starts at $24,990. Adding either the optional Dynamic Sport or Colour Sport packages pushes the price to $26,990.
Skoda launched the Fabia in brief runs on roads in the Waikato. Both engines are responsive, the 81kW unit obviously more so. Work the manual gearbox higher in the rev range to keep the 66kW car on tap and it’s a lot of fun.
Steering in both is acceptably light but slightly on the slow side compared with some rivals, but the ride/handling mix is good. The suspension settled quickly going from good to bad surfaces and back again, a sign that it is well sorted.
Highlight from the driver’s seat is a steering wheel that adjusts for height and reach, and a seat that can be cranked up and down in search of a comfortable driving position.
In a nutshell, Fabia has more room everywhere than its rivals, is practical and versatile. It gets the required safety kit, including six airbags and stability control. It’s easy on fuel, too, Skoda claiming town-and-around use of 4.7-litres/100km, or 60mpg.