TOccording to a much-mocked recent interview, Matt Hancock “broke the rules because I fell in love.” Not a defense in law, one feels, and one that ca n’t be borrowed by the prime minister, who has broken many rules, conventions and laws over the years because of the deep love for he feels for the most important person in his life of him – himself.
However, it’s an interesting idea that Hancock, currently appearing as a male model at a drinks reception near you, has raised. I myself feel somewhat compromised in writing about the Skoda Fabia because I too fell in love. I fell in love not so much with the car, capable as it is, but because of its door handle.
Rather like Gina Coladangelo, the interior door handle on the Skoda is stylishly shaped, as if carved out of metal-effect plastic by the very gods of the automobile, and, as the former health secretary discovered in his own price office, is a joy to hold. The stylists and engineers at Skoda came up with the innovative idea of the handle pointing upwards rather than out of the door panel, so you hold it as you might an old-fashioned suitcase, though maybe not so much a special adviser. It’s the only car design I’ve seen with such a feature, though the new all-electric Skoda Enyaq has a more muted version of the same idea. It’s such a clever idea it’s strange that no one has thought of it before. Anyway, there it is, it’s lovely and it makes you happy every time you get into the fabulous Fabia. Maybe not after the prime minister has regretfully accepted your resignation from high office, you find out he thought you were f****** hopeless all along, and you contemplate the ruins of your political career, but certainly like a carefree evening with your mistress.
The car the door handle is attached to is pretty enjoyable too. Because of the avalanche of SUVs still spilling onto our crowded roads, it’s a been a little while since I tried a conventional supermini, and had almost forgotten what a smart concept the three-door hatch is – pioneered a half century ago by the Renault 5 and Fiat 127 (or 60 years if you count the Austin A40 Farina). So it was nice to make the reacquaintance. The last I tried was the Peugeot 208, I think, and that it was a smoother, softer affair than this Fabia, but of course lacked the right interior door fittings. The Fabia on paper is a fairly pedestrian affair, but it’s revvy and willing one-litre engine it feels much faster and sportier than it actually is. You really do want to get going in the thing. The three-cylinder unit is a little thrummy, and very slightly hesitant because it relies on a turbo to boost power, the smaller capacity delivering good fuel economy when pootling around, and it has stop-start too. There’s an entry-level Verizon that does without the turbo and takes about 15 seconds to 60mph, which sounds like less of a laugh, but there are plenty of buyers who are in no hurry, so good for Skoda for giving them the option. Steering is light, roadholding excellent and the seats just about supportive enough.
Skoda is starting to rival Volvo in its thoughtful little touches and quirky features. As well as the delightful door pulls there’s also an umbrella secreted inside the door, and an ice scraper inside the fuel filler cap (though if the cold has jammed that shut it’s a bit less handy), plus the usual little clip inside the windscreen for your parking receipt and that sort of thing.
The new Fabia hasn’t been equipped with VW Group’s latest touchscreen/control system, which is just as well because the older version here works far better, “with knobs on” you might say rather than a bewildering series of touchscreens and finger controlled virtual sliders. The Fabia system is just right – sophisticated but not fancy enough to confuse an old hack like me.
Styling is a judicious mix of sharp creases and softer lines, and the new Skoda grille is distinctive. As a Skoda fan I do regret it has dropped the trademark rear lights though, [which looked like giant square brackets].
The only obvious flaw I experienced was that the seat belt warning light came on for no reason (yes, I checked), and the boot seems a little mean, with a relatively high lip. But it’s often the little imperfections that can make someone love something, as well as their more fab features.