We take the range-topping Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo for a long-overdue spin…

My neighbour rarely takes any notice of the cars I’m road testing, but the appearance of the Skoda Fabia outside my house piqued his interest.

You see, tucked away in his garage is a Mk 1 Fabia vRS, complete with a 130bhp 1.9-litre diesel engine capable of 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds (when it was new).

He liked the Corrida Red paintwork and contrasting black roof and wheels and he was impressed by the “Monte Carlo” badging – a “celebration of Skoda’s success” at the legendary rally.

Then he asked what was under the bonnet and his disappointment was palpable. He was expecting a 1.6-litre petrol turbo, or the like, and I had to break the news to him that it was a three-cylinder 1.0-litre producing 94bhp.

Now, I can understand his consternation, but then the new generation of efficient three-pots are comparable to yesterday’s bigger-capacity four-cylinders in many ways.

The 1.0-litre (badged TSI) – also available with a more powerful 108bhp unit – comes with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, and is a punchy performer. Like all three-cylinders, more spirited drivers will have to work it quite hard, but there is enjoyment to be had.

More importantly, it will zip around town (its natural habitat, after all), and will quite happily cruise along the motorway.

It’s 0-62mph time of 10.7 seconds won’t worry any hot hatch drivers, nor will its top speed of 115mph, but it’s a solid little unit and it’s capable of up to 50.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 127g/km.

It will run out of puff, requiring a drop down to fourth, on steeper hills, but it’s generally a decent, thrummy all-rounder that can manage the claimed fuel economy without too much restraint.

The gear-change is slick, and I didn’t even find myself reaching for sixth, which is often the case on the rare occasions I drive a five-speeder these days.

The current third generation Fabia was launched in 2014 and given a minor facelift in 2018 which sharpened up its looks.

Available as a hatchback or estate, it’s aged well and looks particularly good in sporty Monte Carlo form which also comes with a black rear spoiler, rear diffuser, front grille and door mirrors.

It still drives well too, which is saying something when it’s up against newer, well-sorted supermini rivals including the Vauxhall Corsa, Peugeot 208, Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza, Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo.

Naturally, the steering is light, making it ideal for urban manoeuvres. The ride is on the firm side, but still comfortable, partly down to the figure-hugging sports seats.

Body lean is well controlled in faster corners, while grip from those 16-inch front wheels is surprisingly good.

In fact, the only area where the Fabia is starting to show its age is inside where rear seat legroom isn’t the most generous, there’s no respite from the hard plastic surfaces and a technology update wouldn’t go amiss.

Equipment is generous across the Fabia range, and the Monte Carlo gets LED rear lights, a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, plus red and black striped seats, but goodies such as keyless entry and start/stop, a sat nav, adaptive cruise control and panoramic sunroof are optional extras.

That said, priced from £17,850, the Fabia Monte Carlo is good value, though we’d recommend also looking at the new Colour Edition which is well equipped and starts at £15,340.

Safety features include the ‘Front Assist’ city braking system, which automatically applies the brakes when it senses an imminent low-speed collision. From a practicality point of view, boot space is 330 litres, expanding to a generous 1,150 litres if you fold the rear seats.

All in all, the Fabia is hanging in there, still offering value for money in a highly competitive sector, and of course, Skoda’s hard-won reputation for dependability must be another plus point.

Verdict: The evergreen Skoda Fabia is an appealingly practical, affordable supermini that’s fun to drive and frugal, while the flagship Monte Carlo version offers a healthy dose of character and kerb appeal.

Review in association with www.automotiveblog.co.uk