It’s spice-up-your-life time for the Skoda Fabia, now with MY17 upgrades and a bells-and-whistles range-topper.
WHAT IS IT?
The Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, a lightly warmed-over version of the 81TSI which, as per the previous-gen model, scores sports suspension and a bunch of funky equipment upgrades.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT?
Because it’s the headline model in Skoda’s revised MY17 Fabia range, now starting at $16,490 driveaway for the 66TSI five-speed manual and $19,490 driveaway for the more powerful 81TSI seven-speed dual-clutch. The DSG-only Monte Carlo, on the other hand, wears a “from $23,490” sticker not including on-roads, or $24,990 if it does.
Top-spec superminis, meaning Mazda 2 Genki, Suzuki Baleno GLX, Ford Fiesta Sport, Kia Rio SLi, Peugeot 208 Allure, Renault Clio Dynamique and the Fabia’s sister, the Volkswagen Polo 81TSI Comfortline DSG, with optional Driving Comfort and Sport packages.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
PLUS: Clever storage ideas; neat packaging; wagon flexibility; nimble handling; lairy seat trim; standard safety kit
MINUS: Still a bit frumpy-looking for people who don’t like wagons; no manual transmission; deserves more performance; price
THE WHEELS VERDICT
A genuinely funky small car, especially as a pert hatchback, though the Monte Carlo wagon has a genuine USP (and looks a bit like a cut-price Volkswagen Golf R Wolfsburg). The flagship Fabia isn’t cheap once you load it with options – around $2000 dearer than an equivalent VW Polo – but what other small wagon can you buy (there are none) with the Monte Carlo’s blend of designer chic and utilitarian smarts? One for the thinkers among us, not the herds of sheep.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE iconic 1960s ‘think small’ advertising slogan (for the Volkswagen Beetle) seems to have been lost on many people these days, but a week in a Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo wagon is a pertinent reminder why that mindset still works.
Small enough to blast effortlessly through city backstreets, yet vast enough to do a passible impression of Dr Who’s Tardis, the Fabia wagon is the antidote for anyone not sold on the idea of a faux-wheel-drive SUV. And in the Monte Carlo’s case, anyone who loves the look of a black-wheeled Golf R wagon but can’t stump up the coin.
Leading a revised MY17 Fabia range that repositions the 81TSI DSG with the same equipment (ie. hubcaps, not alloys) as the base 66TSI manual for a smaller premium than it used to command, the Monte Carlo adds some real visual and equipment sizzle to the mix.
For its relatively steep $5500 premium over the 81TSI (the hatch is $24,990 driveaway, the wagon $1500 more), the Monte Carlo scores sports suspension (riding 15mm lower), black 17-inch alloys with Bridgestone Potenza 215/40R17 tyres and loads of cool black-out body enhancements (grille, front spoiler, mirror housings, side skirts, rear diffuser, glass roof, rear window tint, and roof rails on the wagon). The projector headlights get sparkly LED running lights, while inside, the Monte Carlo scores lurid red/grey/charcoal multi-colour sports seats, a sports steering wheel with perforated-leather rim and red stitching, unique instrument graphics, cruise control, a front-centre armrest, stainless-steel pedal caps and ‘Monte Carlo’ sill strips.
Cough up another $1800 for the Tech Pack and the Monte Carlo’s kit gets seriously grown-up. Keyless entry/start, rear parking sensors (joining the already-standard rear camera), adaptive cruise, climate control, auto headlights/wipers/mirror dimming, digital radio and fatigue detection all garnish this smart-looking Skoda, though sat-nav ($950) and metallic paint ($500) take the wagon’s driveaway tally to almost $30,000! At least Monte Carlo’s unique Steel Grey paint colour (same as on Octavia RS) doesn’t command a premium.
While the flagship Fabia lacks the all-round polish to challenge the dynamic sophistication of larger wagons (a base Golf 92TSI Trendline sits in the loaded Monte Carlo’s pricing ballpark), in many ways, its size and simplicity work in its favour. Small and relatively narrow it may be, there’s much to commend its commanding driving position and the packaging benefits of seating passengers tall rather than outstretched.
Those multi-colour seats look brilliant and grip really well up front, without the ‘tombstone’ backrests blocking the vision of rear-seat passengers too much. And Monte Carlo’s neat little flat-bottomed wheel guides a perky chassis more than capable of darting its way through traffic or hills.
When push comes to shove, the front-end ultimately succumbs to understeer and the Monte Carlo’s short-wheelbase ride can get a bit terse but there’s amusement to be had throwing the Fabia about.
If only the Monte Carlo had a few more herbs under the bonnet. Its 81kW/175Nm 1.2-litre turbo four belts off the line nicely, but fades away at higher speeds when more power is required. Can’t argue with its brilliant economy though.
With no RS model planned for the future, it’s up to the Monte Carlo to provide Fabia’s sporting sizzle, and visually, it’s right on the money. Thing is, for its fairly substantial sticker, nothing would sweeten the deal better than a punchy 92kW/200Nm 1.4 turbo engine transplant from the Golf. Come on Skoda, we know you want to.
Model: Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo wagon
Engine: 1197cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 81kW @ 4600-5600rpm
Max torque: 175Nm @ 1400-4000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h: 9.6sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 4.8L/100km
On sale: Now