The Star, Christchurch
By Ross Kiddie
THE JUNE 23 referendum which resulted in Great Britain's withdrawal from the European Union has taken the world by surprise.
There will be a long period of global financial uncertainty before stability returns and that will also affect many aspects of our down under economies.
In the short term, imported goods will most certainly rise, including motor vehicles, especially those sourced from Europe.
That being the case, there's probably no better time to buy a European car, and if your budget is a little restricted but you need a reliable practical car, Skoda has the answer.
A new Fabia has just landed and it lists from $19,990. It arrives here in three variants, and I was lucky enough to land a drive in the range-topping station wagon which, incidentally, lists at an amazing $26,990, making it, what I believe to be one of the bargain purchases in today's new car market.
The Fabia wagon, or Combi, as Skoda badge it, is powered by a 1.2litre, four-cylinder engine.
Before you scoff at its meagre displacement, bear in mind that it produces 81kW and has a healthy 175Nm of torque thanks to turbocharged boost. If you take into account the areas where peak power and maximum torque are developed (4600rpm5600rpm and 1400rpm4000rpm respectively), there is an unimpeded supply of power from very low in the rev band, providing a spirited drive through a seven-speed direct shift automatic gearbox.
If fuel usage is also an important buying criteria, the Fabia Combi is listed with a 4.8-litre per 100km (58mpg) combined cycle average.
You don't have to try hard to replicate that, I wasn't gentle with the throttle during my time in the test car, yet it was easy to have the fuel usage readout listing around 6l/100km (47mpg), that along with an instantaneous readout of 4.6l/100km (62mpg) on the highway cruising a steady 100km/h (engine speed 2050rpm).
I've often written about the Czech Republic's engineering prowess, and if you combined that with Volkswagen's manufacturing ideology of quality and efficiency you won't be disappointed with Fabia.
The entire package is one of practicality and functionality.
Take it's 505-litre load space for example, extending to 1370-litres, the wagon section is cavernous for what is deemed to be a small car. That doesn't come at the cost of rear occupant space, the Fabia can still be considered a marginal five-seater, head and leg room is satisfactory.
Up front it is the same, the seating position is constantly comfortable, and the controls fall readily to hand. It's fair to say the Fabia isn't overly complicated, there aren't a lot of functions to speak of, but the essentials are there, and there is enough kit to still consider the purchase a bargain.
I took the test car on my usual high country drive beneath the Malvern Hills and found it to be a spirited, well-handling car which quickly endears itself. Handling-wise it is directional with quick turn-in and positive steering feel. Providing the grip are 215/45 x 16in Bridgestone Potenza performance tyres, what they lack in size they make up for in quality, they are sticky yet also quiet, even on our coarse chip seal.
There aren't any surprises within the suspension, but if you take into account that the floorpan is essentially Volkswagen Polo-based, you can guarantee a sophisticated ride along with spring and damper rates that arrest body movement when confronted with a quick corner or two, and if you really want to get serious, a sport suspension package is available, it also includes bigger wheels. But even in standard form the Fabia wagon is an adept handler.
Becasue the engine develops its power low in the rev band and the constant supply of gearing there is a seamless flow of energy. It is responsive and willing, easily offering the performance needed for a highway overtake or a quick burst on a hilly incline. If you take into account its 9.6sec time to make 100km/h from a standstill, it is a spirited car for the inner-city traffic light grand prix.
Regular readers will relate to my enthusiasm for the traditional station wagon. Sadly, the sport utility vehicle has almost spelt the end of that concept, but the Fabia Combi really appealed to me, it is car that feels just right from the moment you hop into it.
I'm hoping that amidst all the uncertainty in Europe at the moment that good cars like the Fabia, and the hundreds of others which find their way from the Continent to New Zealand, won't be affected by Britain's decision to go it alone.
Price - Skoda Fabia Combi TSi, $26,990. Dimensions: Length, 4257mm; width, 1732mm; height, 1467mm Configuration: Four cylinder, front-wheel drive, 1197cc, 81kW, 175Nm, seven-speed automatic.
Performance 0-100km/h, 9.6sec Fuel usage 4.8l/100km