When Skoda decided to venture into the small car market in India with the introduction of the Skoda Fabia hatchback it asked the question if the Indian market was ready to pay a small sedan price for a largish hatchback with supreme build quality, engineering, space, handling and ride. The answer it received back in 2008 was unfortunately not in the affirmative and Skoda has had to wait for its half-brother, the Volkswagen Polo to spark this segment into life in India.
Riding on the coat-tails of the attention that the B+ segment in India is now receiving, Skoda has decided to launch the second generation Fabia which will now make this segment a two-horse race. If you are in the market for a premium hatchback with solid engineering then you may want to continue reading to help make up your mind.
Buyers in India today are comfortable will sacrificing the boot of a sedan for the practicality and functionality of a hatchback in the city, especially if it involves a quality made vehicle. The Polo is a testament to this going by its month long waiting period. Skoda has taken advantage of its relationship with Volkswagen (the Fabia is now manufactured at Volkswagen’s plant in Chakan, Pune) and shares most of its critical parts like platform, valvetrain, engine, etc with the Polo. Pricing in India now also matches its global trend as the localization of assembly has led to it being cheaper than the Volkswagen Polo.
Round One: Styling
There is no doubt that the Volkswagen Polo looks better although the new styling of the Fabia gives it quite a good look as well, with its new front fascia that contains the bulging hood as well as a front grille that looks to be inspired from the Laura. The headlights, which are now halogen bulbs and reflectors as opposed to the previous projector lights, also slope upwards and wrap around the sides of the fender slightly more that the previous model giving it a wider appearance. The front bumper is also now lower and wider and incorporates the fog lights taken from the Laura. These seem slightly large for the bumper which also houses the air dam.
All this is unfortunately still not enough to surpass the sleek, smooth, curves and lines of the Polo. The crisper curves give the Polo a more aggressive look and just has that little extra “wow” appearance about it. The fact that the Polo sits on 15-inch wheels makes quite a difference, as they fill out the wheel arches better and give the Polo that added macho look. The engineering on the Polo is slightly better with more attention paid to the details as can be seen with the VW logo at the rear doubling up as the tailgate lever. The Polo in India gets an added Volkswagen badge at the rear as Volkswagen claims it hopes to increase brand awareness that did not exist previously in the country. Overall the Polo is probably the best looking hatch in its segment in India today with styling that should last for a while. The Fabia with its safer more organic styling comes of second best in round one then.
Round 2: Interior
The interior of the Polo is a mix of colours matched to offer the most luxurious vibe to passengers and contains black and beige dashboard and door panels that combine well with the red luminescent backlight of the instrumentation panel. As the functionality of the instrument cluster is the same in both cars, with both displaying kms till service, trip meter, right gear for driving, etc, the fact that the Polo displays it in red lettering on a black background as opposed to regular green backlight with LCD letters gives it a more sophisticated feel.
Also the quality of materials used in the VW Polo look and feel better with a good example being the faux chrome door handles in the Polo looking better than the plastic ones installed in the Fabia. On the other side although the new Fabia does not get steering wheel audio controls and reverse parking sensors, it comes with a/c vents for the rear passengers, rear reading lamp, dual glove-box as well as an auxiliary port for the music system all of which are missing from the Polo. But there is no mistaking that the Polo has an irrefutable attention to detail and quality which is superior to that of the Fabia. Boot space in the Fabia put it at the top of its class with 315 liters but the Polo weighs in with a respectable 294 liters.
The Fabia scores points in “apparent” space and I say “apparent” because actually measurements reveal that it has only 1 centimeter more rear head and legroom, but this insignificant centimeter makes the cabin of the Fabia seem much larger. The front cabin is also better suited for the driver as he has a slightly higher seating position and the steering wheel in the Fabia also has both the rake and reach function compared to the steering wheel of the Polo which only has the rake feature. The Fabia edges out the Polo in round two as it has those small touches that make the cabin more comfortable for all passengers although negatives like styling are edged out by slightly more spacious interiors.
Round 3: Power train
Both the Skoda and the VW have the same 1.2 liter 3-cylinder turbocharged common rail diesel unit tuned in the same way to produce identical 76 PS of power and 180 Nm of torque. The engine is a huge step up from the older 1.4 unit employed by the Fabia and is also very silent for a diesel engine. The engine does not produce as much power as the Maruti Suzuki Swift but the torque is spread very linear and their lag from the turbo is not noticeable.
Accelerating past traffic is not as easy as one would like as the gearbox has notches that prevents quick shifts and you need to rev it past 2000 rpm to generate the pull. There is nothing to separate the two cars based on their powertrain and this round is a tie.
Look Out for Part (II) in the next few days to see which car comes out on top.