labels: Automotive, Features (automotive), Cars
India's First Super-Hatch news
25 March 2008

Launched with much fanfare at the recent Auto Expo in New Delhi, the Skoda Fabia promises to deliver an experience like none other as India's ''first super-hatch''. Is the Indian customer willing to spend Rs7 lakh on a car without a trunk? Sourya Biswas tries to find out.

''Do you have a petrol cap for my Skoda?'' asked the customer, only for the garage mechanic to respond, ''I think that's a fair trade''. Thus ran a joke on the perception of quality, or lack of it, of Skoda vehicles in foreign markets. Another hilarious gem went ''How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill it up with petrol''.

Skoda's evolution
Skoda FabiaThe times, they have changed a lot since then. Skoda is no longer derided as an East European manufacturer of substandard vehicles catering to Warsaw Pact countries, exhibiting their pedigree of erstwhile tank manufacturers to the Third Reich in the lack of refinement in their passenger cars. Now, it is recognized as a valued member of the premier European Volkswagen group, with several world-class products in its extensive repertoire. And this is reflected in the sales numbers and the smiles of satisfied customers throughout the world.

While certain Western nations have had to bear the brunt of Skoda's initial teething problems, customers from here have always held the brand in high esteem, and justifiably so. Skoda entered the Indian market with the super mid-range sedan Octavia, and followed it up with two more offerings in the premium sedan category the Laura and the Superb.

Indian customers now had an alternative to the staple Mercedes-Benz, and that too at noticeably lower costs.

Skoda in India
In the meanwhile, the Indian car market expanded exponentially, with the major part of the growth coming from the hatchback category that had  the Hyundai Santro and Maruti Alto as the major players. The hatchback war further intensified with the introduction of premium hatchbacks in the form of the Hyundai Getz and the Maruti Swift, and the Indian customer was spoilt for choice. No longer were hatches considered entry-level vehicles only; their utility in cramped city conditions without compromising on safety and comfort really endeared them to the urban customer. Now, Skoda proposes to take the war to the next level with the introduction of what it calls ''India's first super-hatch'' the Fabia.

India's first super-hatch
The Fabia is what would be called a ''super mini'' in European automotive parlance, and is currently in its second generation, its first avatar having been introduced as far back as 1999. After having undergone minor changes in 2005 and 2006, the completely refurbished and larger second-generation made its first appearance at the Geneva Auto Show in March 2007, and was available for purchase a month later.

In this context, the Indian auto-lover can be thankful to Skoda for bringing a relatively new vehicle to the Indian shores, unlike some major foreign manufacturers. Although the earlier Fabia was available in hatchback, estate (Fabia Combi) and sedan (Fabia Sedan) versions, the current one is not expected to have a sedan variant.

The high-profile launch of the Fabia
The Skoda Fabia hatchback was launched with much fanfare in India at the recently concluded Auto Expo '08 at New Delhi in January this year. The car is initially going to be available in three trim levels the base Classic, the mid-level Ambiente and the top-end Elegance variants.

A lower-end Active version without music system and power windows may also be offered. The international market does include a Sports variant of the hatch that may be launched in India at a later date.

The launch was preceded by an advertising campaign, both in television and print, which emphasized the luxurious nature of the vehicle and the ''royal'' experience it will provide for the occupants, and positioned the vehicle above the current premium hatchbacks into a category of its own the ''super-hatch''. It was important for Skoda to differentiate the Fabia at the launch itself, priced as it was above some of the sedans on Indian roads today. But the Rs7 lakh - question (which is incidentally, the on-road price of the base variant) is whether the Indian customer can overcome the psychological advantages of a booted sedan to spend that kind of money on a hatch, however ''super'' it may be.

Handsome exterior coupled with luxurious interiors
Skoda Fabia luxurious interiors At first appearance, the Fabia is a handsome car with some cuteness thrown in. The Fabia shares its Volkswagen platform with the best-selling Golf, and the resemblance is quite evident. From the front, the Fabia exudes an elegant look, and the lateral view gives the impression of a modified sedan. This impression is not without reason, because the Fabia provides more interior space than many sedans, and couples this with an immense boot space of 300 litres.

But the exteriors do not constitute the unique selling proposition of this car, and Skoda makes that amply clear from its advertisements stressing on the passenger experience inside the vehicle. And in this department, the Fabia is without peer, on the Indian roads at least. In this car, optional accessories are standard and standard accessories not worth separate mention. The surfeit of goodies and refinement of interiors give the impression of belonging to a car from at least a category above, and justifies the high price-tag somewhat.

The epitome of luxury
The Fabia pays sufficient attention to driver comfort with adjustable everything flexible seats and a steering wheel which can be adjusted for height and reach, combined with generous headroom and intelligently-mounted central console, empowering the driver with powered mirrors, windows and doors. The rear-seat passengers also ride in comfort, with legroom unlike many in its class, coupled with good lumbar and thigh support. The air-conditioner is quick chiller with vents for the rear passengers as well, though climate-control is sadly lacking, something expected in a car of its class and something that its close competitor, the petrol-driven Swift ZXi provides.

However, the Skoda outscores the Maruti comprehensively in the entertainment department. While the premium petrol Swift ZXi and diesel Swift VDi do not even come with music systems, the Fabia is equipped with a MP3 player with full iPod connectivity and four speakers. Tubeless tyres and engine immobilizers are standard with all variants, although additional trappings of luxury like parking sensors and electrical sunroofs are available only in the premium versions. The Fabia also pays attention to the smaller but useful details like reading lamps and illuminated glove box.

A competent urban performer
Skoda has launched the Fabia with both petrol and diesel power plants. While the diesel-driven Fabia comes equipped with a 1.4L TDI PD (Turbo Direct Injection, Pumpe Deuse) engine delivering 68bhp at 4000rpm, making it a trifle underpowered, the 1.4L MPI (Multi Point Injection) petrol version delivers an impressive 85bhp. There exists a more powerful 1.9L diesel engine producing 105bhp in the European Fabia, but Skoda hasn't planned on introducing it in India anytime soon. The lower power delivery of the diesel Fabia vis--vis the Swift VDi doesn't affect its performance appreciably, for the Fabia manages to reach the 100kmph mark from stand still within 14.9 seconds, only a second behind its more powerful competitor.

The top speed is also a wee bit less than the Swift VDi's 162 kmph. The Hyundai Getz Prime also manages to outscore the Fabia in the performance department, which is not surprising considering that the diesel is currently the most powerful hatchback on Indian roads, although the Palio Sport is slightly quicker to the 100 kmph mark. Overall, the Fabia loses out in the performance stakes to its established competitors the Swift VDi and the Getz Prime. However, the Fabia is built for driving comfort instead of impressive performance, and the slick gearbox with an effortless feel gives further credence to this fact.

A comfortable ride with stress on safety
The stiff chassis minimizing shudders on bumpy roads, and the independent McPherson strut front suspension absorbing all the shocks so typical of rides here, further make this car a paragon of comfort and luxury. And the excellent fuel efficiency of 14.1kmpl in the city helps to dull the shock of the initial costs somewhat, although the noisy diesel engine may well shake you out of your comfort zone. The brakes come equipped with ABS as standard unlike the Swift VDi where it is optional, and give the driver confidence to negotiate tight turns at speed.

Also, the Fabia has two air bags in front unlike the diesel Swift VDi, although the petrol Swift ZXi does offer them. The diesel Getz comes nowhere close as far as features like ABS and airbags are concerned, simply because it doesn't offer any, although the petrol version does have ABS. All in all, the Fabia is somewhat more expensive than the Getz Prime and quite more expensive than the Swift. Only the soon-to-be-released Fiat Grande Punto may be in the same price range. The Skoda Fabia is currently available in six colours, creatively titled candy white, cappuccino beige, brilliant silver, magic black, satin grey and corrida red.

Summing it up
If we were to summarize the features offered by the four possible variants, namely Active, Classic, Ambiente and Elegance, it would be as follows:

1. Active Basic variant
2. Classic Active plus music system and power windows
3. Ambiente Classic plus alloy wheels, adjustable seats, remote entry and ABS
4. Elegance Ambiente plus electrical sunroof and parking sensors

In conclusion, the Fabia is an excellent but expensive new entrant in the premium hatchback category, and the top-end variant can justifiably position itself at a premium to the Swift VDi and the Getz Prime GVS as India's first super-hatch. But whether this will be enough to prompt the cost-conscious Indian customer to pay a premium for comfort, is something only time, and sales numbers, will tell. Paying seven lakhs-plus for a hatchback will definitely make you ''feel special'' as the Fabia advertisements are urging you to.

Comparison with the competition
It won't be proper to compare the top-end trims of the Fabia and its competitors the Swift and the Getz, simply because their prices are vastly different. So, we will outline the relative features of the Fabia base version vis--vis the topmost variants of the Swift and the Getz. Also, we are looking at the diesel versions only. It is to be noted that the petrol Swift ZXi priced at Rs5.28 lakh is much better equipped with ABS, airbags and climate-control than the diesel Swift VDi at Rs5.24 lakh that doesn't offer any of these features, except ABS as optional. And it performs much better too.

Parameters Skoda Fabia Classic
1.4 PD TDI
Maruti Swift VDi Hyundai Getz Prime
1.5 GVS CRDi
Dimensions      
Overall length 3992 mm 3695 mm 3825 mm
Overall width 1642 mm 1690 mm 1665 mm
Overall height 1513 mm 1530 mm 1515 mm
Wheelbase 2462 mm 2390 mm 2455 mm
Ground clearance 146 mm 170 mm 160 mm
Front track 1436 mm 1470 mm 1450 mm
Rear track 1426 mm 1480 mm 1440 mm
Front headroom 989 mm NA 980 mm
Front legroom NA 1110 mm 1160 mm
Boot space 300 litres 232 litre 290 litres
Kerb weight NA 1075 kg 1137 kg
Fuel tank capacity 45 litre 43 litre 45 litre
Fuel efficiency      
Mileage (city) 10.8 km/litre 13.8 km/litre 12.5 km/litre
Mileage (highway) 14.6 km/litre 18.1 km/litre 20.9 km/litre
Mileage (overall) 11.5 km/litre 15.4 km/litre 16.6 km/litre
Performance      
Maximum speed 158 Km/Hour 160 Km/Hour 171 Km/Hour
0-100 kmph 14.9 seconds 14.0 seconds 11.3 seconds
80-0 kmph NA NA NA
Engine      
Engine type 1.4L PD TDI 1.3L, DOHC, DDiS Diesel 1.5L 4-Cylinder DOHC Diesel
Displacement 1422 cc 1248 cc 1493 cc
Power 69bhp@ 4000 rpm 75bhp@ 4000 rpm 110bhp@ 4000 rpm
Torque 155m@ 1600rpm 190Nm@ 2000 rpm 235Nm@ 1900rpm
No. of cylinders 3 cylinder 4 cylinder 4 cylinder
Transmission      
Transmission type Manual Manual Manual
Gears/Speeds 5 Gears 5 Gears 5 Gears
Suspensions      
Front suspension McPherson suspension with lower triangular links and torsion stabiliser McPherson strut and coil spring Independent McPherson strut with torsion bar
Rear suspension Compound link crank-axle Torsion beam and coil spring Dependent torsion beam axle and coil spring
Brakes      
Front brakes Ventilated discs Ventilated discs Ventilated discs
Rear brakes Drum Drum Drum
Wheels      
Wheel type Steel Steel Steel
Wheel size 14inch 14inch 14inch
Tyres 185/60 R 14 165/80 R14 175/65 R14
Price(Ex-showroom)      
Price (Mumbai) Rs6.67 lakh Rs5.24 lakh Rs5.98 lakh

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India's First Super-Hatch