SKODA FABIA 66TSI WAGON
Price & Equipment | 18/20
The $17,140 66TSI wagon gets city emergency and multi-collision brake systems, hill-holder, tyre pressure monitors, idle-stop, steering wheel audio and phone controls, rear park sensors, 6.5in touchscreen audio and Bluetooth phone and audio. Travel Pack adds cruise, fatigue detection and 16in alloys for $1300.
Interior & Versatility | 17/20
Fabia is classy inside and has much more personality than Polo, with which it shares architecture (and drivetrains). Capacious 505L cargo bay. Typically clever Skoda convenience features include a luggage net and compartment in the cargo bay, multimedia-device holder up front, and a waste bin in the door panel.
Performance & Economy | 17/20
These two cars take unique paths to performance and economy, but arrive at similarly swift and frugal results. Little 1.2 turbo Fabia is low on kilowatts, but low-down torque (160Nm) makes easy work of shifting 1087kg, and it sips just 4.8L/100km. The engine has a nice cammy character and spins sweetly for 0-100 in 10.9sec.
Ride & Refinement | 17/20
Fabia is a supple tourer on standard 15s and still nicely absorbent on the Travel Pack’s 16s. Drum-tight body suppresses tyre, suspension and wind noise well. A Sports Pack that brings 17s and 15mm-lower sports suspension, removes some of the comfort in return for sharpened steering and chassis responses.
Steering & Handling | 16/20
The Fabia handles neatly and responds obediently, but lacks steering feel. However, it’s terrifically capable for a light car with humble torsion-beam rear suspension and the harder you lean on the nose the better the steering gets. Pushing on fails to flummox the chassis and only the 66TSI’s ultimate lack of grunt limits the fun factor.
MAZDA CX-3 NEO
Price & Equipment | 16/20
The dearer ($19,990) CX-3 Neo gets 16in steel wheels and cruise standard, but misses out on a leather wheel and the 7in touchscreen found upstream. Neither gets nav, but Mazda matches Skoda’s Bluetooth phone/audio, steering wheel controls, hill-holder and rear park sensors. Safety Pack adds $1030 with Smart City Brake.
Interior & Versatility | 16/20
Neo feels a bit stripped-out against higher CX-3 variants, but the design is fresh and ergonomically – and logically – laid out. It betrays its light-car design origins with a 264L cargo capacity but can’t touch the Fabia for hauling stuff. Upswept side glass limits vision for back-benchers, who are otherwise well catered for in both mini-wagons.
Performance & Economy | 16/20
An old-school atmo 2.0-litre wouldn’t deliver competitive fuel economy, so Mazda has a thoroughly modern one. More power and torque than the Skoda, and more performance, but that grunt and extra weight means higher consumption (6.3L/100km) in this FWD base model. Both have sweet manual shifts.
Ride & Refinement | 16/20
Lack of refinement is a decades-old Mazda bugbear, though recent generations have seen huge improvements. The CX-3, like the new 2, is reasonably hushed place, just not as quiet as its rival. Ample suspension travel and well judged damping results in good ride comfort on patchy urban tar and lumpy country coarse-chip alike.
Steering & Handling | 16/20
The CX-3 chassis is enthusiastic, but (unlike the Fabia) the keen steering is prone to kickback approaching the limit. The extra straight-line performance enlivens the chassis to an extent that’s not possible in the Skoda (unless you upgrade to the 81TSI). CX-3 buyers also have to spend more (for an AWD version) for real entertainment.
Baby SUVs are big in 2015, and the genre-defying CX-3 is among the coolest of this new breed. The Fabia wagon, meanwhile, emerges from left field as the pragmatist’s pick of the light class. The Skoda is better equipped for the money, thriftier, roomy enough to do family car duty, and bound to be less common. The Mazda, set to be a top-seller, is quicker, sexier and a bit more fun. If you’re weighing them against each other, it’ll be difficult to choose. However, we suspect if you’re sold on the Mazda’s style you’ll be blinkered to the Skoda. And if you’re compelled by the Fabia’s value and capacious practicality, the 241-litre cargo-carrying cost of CX-3 style will be too great.
This article was originally published in Wheels October 2015.