Corsa vs Fabia: Small cars, but big ambitions
Opel's Corsa and Skoda's Fabia are smart, stylish and won't break the bank, says Geraldine Herbert
The flurry of small cars launched in the last year means buyers are spoiled for choice. Three- or five-door, automatic or manual, diesel or petrol - the choices are many. So finding the right small car has never been easier - or tougher - as cars are getting more efficient, better equipped and even more cleverly designed.
Newest to the fray are the Skoda Fabia and Opel Corsa. Both are familiar cars - and it would take a real fan to identify what's new about each.
While technically not a new car the new Corsa it is far more than just a facelift; with a new chassis, suspension and crucially, new engines. Available in two body styles, a sporty three-door or more practical five-door the Corsa scores well for exterior styling, and you'll spot features shared with the funky Adam city car. It may be almost identical in length to the previous version, but all of the car's body panels are new.
With sharper styling, Skoda's Fabia is squarely aimed at younger buyers - but the bold new design is also likely to appeal to a wider age group than previous models.
With wheel arch flares and crisper lines, the new Fabia shares a strong resemblance to its big brother - the Octavia. With a choice of petrol engines that return pretty impressive consumption figures, they are the ones to opt for in the Corsa range.
Pick of the bunch is the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo with 115bhp that goes from 0-100km/h in 10.3 seconds and comes with a new six-speed manual gearbox. Available only in the top Limited Edition trim level, it is priced at an expensive €19,395.
If you really are going to make this car work for its keep, opt for the 1.3-litre diesel with 75bhp that starts at €16,395. A five-speed manual gear box is standard across the range, but a new six-speed automatic Easytronic is an option on the 1.4-litre petrol.
Powering our Skoda Fabia was the diminutive 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine and despite its size, it packs plenty of punch. There's also a 1.0-litre petrol, which is cheap to run - but for something more powerful and even more economical try the diesel 1.4-litre.
The super-smooth semi-automatic DSG gearbox is available on all but the 1.0-litre.
Settle behind the wheel of the Corsa and inside it is plusher and better equipped and is one of the best interiors in this class. The driving position is good and there is lots of handy storage and cup holders throughout. Also available is IntelliLink that operates through a seven-inch infotainment screen and can be linked to a smart phone.
With the dimensions remaining virtually unchanged the interior space and large boot is impressive.
Skoda has paid much less attention to the interior and if you hate clutter you will love the functional cabin, though it may be a little dull for some tastes and it is awash with harsh plastics.
Space throughout is good as this new version is now slightly longer and larger. There is decent head and legroom, enough space for four adults and the seats can be folded to create flexible space for luggage. But in terms of practicality, the Fabia has the edge, with a boot capacity of 330 litres compared to 285 in the Corsa but with a longer wheelbase by 40mm, the Corsa offers more legroom.
On the move, the Skoda Fabia is smooth and very grown up, turn it into a bend and the nicely weighted steering is spot on. It's also very comfortable and there's more than enough grip if the roads are wet or icy. In bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic, the smooth gear-shift and light pedals are ideal.
The Corsa strikes a good balance between comfort and performance - and while it is not as much fun to drive as the Ford Fiesta, the redesigned chassis (with a 5mm lower centre of gravity and sharper suspension) show instantly on the road. The next thing you notice is just how quiet it is inside the car, improvements to the insulation keep wind and road noise to a minimum and it is far more refined then before. The new speed-sensitive power steering set-up means the Corsa is simple to park and manoeuvre but it is a little light at speed.
Low running costs, competitive pricing and value for money are key in this market.
With a starting price of just €14,895 the Corsa is available in four trims; entry-level S, Excite, SE and sporty Limited Edition.
Entry models fare well with standard equipment including ESP stability control, tyre pressure monitoring, remote central locking and electric front windows.
Trade up to the new Excite model and you gain 16-inch alloys, front fog lights, Bluetooth, steering wheel mounted audio controls, cruise control and LED daytime running lights.
Fuel economy on the Corsa is good throughout the range and our test car returns 5.2 litres per 100km (54.3 mpg) on a combined cycle. Our Fabia on test uses only 4.7 litres (60 mpg), which is less than the Corsa despite having the same power.
The Fabia range starts from €13,895 with three trim levels to choose from; the entry-level Active, Ambition and Style. Skodas are known for punching above their weight and this car is true to form.
You'll get plenty of extras, which ever one you choose: basic models have electric windows and a height-adjustable driver's seat. Climb one rung to Ambition and you get front fog lights, heated electric door mirrors, front LED lights and with the range-topper, you get air con, rear electric windows, parking sensors and 16" alloy wheels.
The option of both a three- door and five-door gives the Corsa that edge over the Fabia; the coupe-like three-door is likely to be the choice of younger buyers while the more practical five-door will hold greater appeal to a slightly older customer base.
The Fabia is as safe as any car its size can be and was awarded a maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP tests. The Corsa has six airbags, stability control, a tyre pressure monitoring system and hill-start assist. It was awarded four out of five in its Euro NCAP.
Both cars are key models in their respective ranges; over 12 million Corsas have been sold since it first launched while the success of modern Skoda can be closely linked with the Fabia.
If value for money is the criterion then the Fabia is a very tempting car. It radiates quality with a larger and more functional interior and good driving dynamics but the Opel is the more stylish offering of the two and in a segment where personalisation and quality interiors count, for some this will matter more.
Ultimately, it is what you want from a small car that will dictate the best one for your particular needs. Without doubt both are very good cars and you won't be disappointed with either, but the Fabia you will buy with your head and the Corsa with your heart.
Opel Corsa Excite five-door 1.4i (90BHP) EcoFLEX Engine: 1398cc, 90bhp @ 6000rpm 130Nm @ 4000rpm, Emissions (Motor Tax): 120g/km (€200), Model price as tested: €16,495 Fuel type: Petrol Fuel economy (combined cycle): 5.2/100km (54.3mpg) Boot capacity seats up (down): 285 litres (1100) Length: 2,510mm Width: 1,736mm Height: 1,485mm Wheelbase: 2,510 mm Skoda Fabia Style 1.2TSI 90BHP Engine: 1,197cc, 90bhp @ 4,400 to 5,400rpm, 160 Nm @ 1,400 - 3,500rpm Emissions (Motor Tax): 107g/km ( €190) Model price: €18,195 Fuel type: Petrol Fuel economy (combined cycle): 4.7/100km (60 mpg) Boot capacity seats up (down): 330 litres (1,150) Length: 3,992mm Width: 1,732mm Height: 1,467mm Wheelbase: 2,470 mm