Last year we saw the Peugeot 207 SW, and later this year the Renault Clio Sport Tourer joins the party.
Yes, sticking a large boot on a modestly-sized hatchback looks set to be the trend for 2008.
Skoda is not the kind of firm to miss a trick like that these days, so from February we’ll see the surgically enhanced derrière of the new Fabia Estate shimmy into view, following on from its older brother which went out of production last year.
Based on its smaller brother, the Fabia hatchback, the Estate ups the boot space by 235 litres, giving 42mm more headroom to rear passengers in the process.
Like the hatchback, there are three trim levels available, simply called 1, 2 and 3. Skoda says that equipment levels on the Estate are higher than that of the hatchback, but don’t go expecting great luxury, especially not in the Fabia 1 tested.
Included as standard are electric front windows, steel wheels, an MP3 player socket, and that’s about it.
If you want remote locking, alloy wheels or air conditioning, you’ll have to pay extra for the options or upgrade to the Fabia 2. Despite its short spec sheet, the Fabia does feel well made.
Coming from the same stable as Volkswagen and Audi, the chaps at Skoda do know how to screw a car together and while some of the materials feel a little on the cheap side, they’re not likely to fall apart.
The seats adjust for height and the steering wheel for both reach and rake – as a result, the driving position is comfortable if rather upright.
The 80bhp diesel engine is one of two 1.4-litre TDIs available (the other packs 70bhp).
It’s very agricultural in timbre, but consistent and smooth in its delivery, and is hooked up to a satisfyingly solid five-speed gearbox.
From standstill, 62mph arrives in 13.7 seconds.
Not exactly rushed, but this is an engine built for economy – it returns a claimed average of 61.4mpg and emits just 120g/km of CO2, meaning a VED bill of only £35.
And once on the move, the scarcity of equipment and quality of materials is made up for by the driving experience – it’s actually rather good.
The chassis gives a good balance between comfort and handling.
The steering feels direct and, thanks to the decent gearbox, makes for a car that belies its slightly awkward styling to give an enjoyable drive.
Ah yes, the styling. I was no fan of the old Fabia, but I still preferred those square looks over the new incarnation.
In hatchback form it’s no looker, but as an estate it’s verging on the ugly.
The extra height makes it look very boxy and the wheels, although 16 inches in diameter, look tiny.
However, the Fabia Estate is cheap when compared to its most similar rival, the Peugeot 207 SW.
The French carmaker’s base model is £12,780 – £2,000 more than the equivalent Skoda.
The Czech carmaker has varied targets in its sites, and quotes other rivals as including hatchbacks like the Kia C’eed, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus.
Skoda’s car is cheaper and has more boot space with the rear seats folded down than any of these.
Suddenly, the Fabia Estate looks like quite a bargain.
P11D value: £10,740
CO2 emissions (g/km): 120
BIK % of P11D in 2008: 13%
Graduated VED rate: £35
Insurance group: 3
Combined mpg: 61.4
CAP RV (3yr/60k) : £3,866/36%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £191
Three rivals to consider
There’s less than £200 between the Note and the Fabia.
For around £900 more, the Meriva has a more sophisticated stereo, and the 207 has an extra 10bhp and a full length panoramic glass roof, but costs £2,000 more than the Nissan.
207 SW: £12,780
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
With emissions of 120g/km, the Fabia will from April fall into the 13% tax band, meaning the bill for a lower rate taxpayer will be just £25 a month.
All the others remain in the 18% band.
That means the 207 costs £42 a month and the Meriva and Note will cost £36.
207 SW: 123g/km/18%
SMR cost A slight hiccup for the Skoda, which languishes in third place.
The Vauxhall is comfortably the cheapest to look after, saving more than £200 over the Nissan over three years and 60,000 miles.
The Peugeot is the most expensive, costing north of £500 more than the Meriva.
Meriva: 1.88 (pence per mile)/£1,128 (60,000-mile total)
207 SW: 2.77/£1,662
Fuel cost The Peugeot shows some form at last, matching the Skoda’s combined fuel economy of 61.4mpg.
The Vauxhall in third can manage 56.5mpg, while the hitherto impressive Nissan can eke out only 55.4mpg, putting it in last place.
207 SW: 8.00 (pence per mile)/£4,800 (60,000-mile total)
The Fabia comes out top of the pile. CAP puts its value at 36% after three years/60,000 miles, the same as the Note which falls to second because of its higher front-end price.
The Vauxhall is cheap but its RV of 30% puts it third, ahead of the pricey Peugeot on 35%.
Fabia: 11.48 (pence per mile)/£6,888 (60,000-mile total)
207 SW : 13.92/£8,352
A strong showing across the board makes the Fabia the cheapest to run over three years and 60,000 miles.
The Note is just £400 behind over a fleet life.
The Meriva is cheap to maintain but struggles elsewhere, while the 207 SW is too expensive and cannot compete.
Fabia : 22.04 (pence per mile)/£13,206 (60,000-mile total)
207 SW: 24.69/£14,814
From a cost point of view, the clear winner is the Skoda.
It might not be a looker or loaded with kit, but is cheap on both company car tax and VED and offers more room than the standard hatchback.
It’s also entertaining and economical to drive.
The Nissan also deserves a mention, being cheap to run and offering a fraction more style than the Fabia.
Choose either and you won’t go far wrong – although the Fabia’s lower costs sneak the win.