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Skoda Fabia 1.2 vs Maruti Suzuki Swift vs Hyundai Getz 1.3 - Wrong Shade of Red


Srini always wanted a grown up hatch. The moment Hyundai launched the Getz, he was ready with cash in hand. It was bigger than the Santro that was his transport then, it drove like a big car and it was still a hatchback. Sure, he would have loved a VW Golf GTi in white, but it was and is still not available for Indian consumption.

When my company decided to give me something better than the ageing Zen, they were thinking of sedans. Er, ageing three-box options that consisted of Maruti Esteems or Hyundai Accents. By then, the Maruti Suzuki combine had launched the Swift, and when the decision for my car was being taken, I was rallying one at the Raid-de-Himalaya. I was in love with the performance, the overall agility and the fact that the ZXi model came with airbags and ABS. So to the surprise of the admin boys, I settled for a two-box car, but one with safety features that the Esteem and Accent never had in their base versions.

The long and short of it is that Srini and I are stuck with red hatchbacks. Sure enough, these cars play the role of the second car most of the time – important tools to bring us back to reality when the BMW 3 Series returns to its maker after a road test and the Lamborghini Gallardo drive in Las Vegas fades into memory. They are also test beds for music systems, baby seats and aftermarket exhausts. Tyres are next in the list, we hear. These cars have been serving us well over the last three years (in the case of Srini) and over two years (in my case).   We have driven enough cars between us to find faults with our buying decisions too. Srini complaints that the Getz is hardly energetic while I have been cribbing about the overall build quality of the Swift. That is in public. Privately, he is pretty proud that the Getz has more room and its window winders are still where they should be. As for me, I know that I can out-run and out-handle his car despite the window winder switches having disappeared into the depths of the door padding eons ago. And I am not even talking about the clutch, which needed attention just a year from the purchase date.
Until very recently, the Getz and the Swift were the hatchbacks to buy. Till the Skoda Fabia came along. Suddenly, there was this European hatch built to certain standards other than the rupee-dollar rate. But we were happy to note that the entry price to Fabia-land was above Rs 7.5 lakh. Not worth it, Srini said. Not for a Skoda hatchback, I added. But after satiating the needs of the wannabe Skoda owners with a diesel and a four-pot petrol, Skoda unveiled the three-cylinder petrol version. The 1.2 HTP comes in Active, Classic and Ambiente versions, where the first one is basic, while the Classic gets airbags and the top-of-the-line Ambiente comes with ABS as well.

Now comes the operative part: price. The Fabia retails from Rs 5.1 lakh for the Active to Rs 6.09 lakh for the Ambiente (all ex-showroom, Mumbai prices). Compare that to the Rs 5.4 lakh that Srini shelled out for the GLS version and Rs 5.98 lakh that my company spent for the Swift ZXi and you know that our defence is getting a bit weak. So, are we stuck with the wrong cars? Let us take a more intimate look.

Srini’s Getz looks a bit staid today. Sure, the new Prime has the facelifted look which brightens up things, still you can’t escape the C-for-Car architecture of the Korean. Yet, when it comes to the shade of red used, it is the brightest. As for my Swift, and Srini concurs, it looks cheerful from almost every angle. It is one of those rare cars from Japan that managed to look good from the word go. You can see hints of the almost hemispherical nose, floating roof and squat Mini-like lines in the Fabia too. But when seen next to each other, it is the Swift that looks more new-age while the Fabia manages to look distinctly European. Now that is commendable, since it is dangerously easy to blend in with Japanese Kei-cars in this category.
Getz: ***
Swift:   ****
Fabia: ***

Interior and comfort
If space is everything, then Srini has got the best deal – the no-nonsense interior generates and uses space like Ikea furniture. The doors open wide and clean, making ingress and egress easy. The dashboard is clutter-free and instrumentation is comprehensive though with a bit of a plasticky feel. But even three years down, the interior looks fresh and everything works well. The Swift has got ergonomics going for it. The driving position is great, controls fall into your hand and so on. But passengers do suffer, especially those who are stuck in the rear seat. There is a severe lack of space for luggage, so much so that Suzuki can make a business of selling custom luggage for this car. Quality of plastics, which the Swift shares with the Dzire and SX4 extensively, borders on the pathetic.   The clear winner here is the Fabia. The quality of bits and pieces that make up the car is really top notch. Skoda may be a value player in Europe, but they have achieved that by streamlining their sourcing and production methods than by cutting costs on components. The switchgear, the HVAC openings, the steering wheel, the gear lever, the integrated music system on higher models – you name it all – belong to a car that is in another league. It is not just the way these bits look, they score on touch and feel too. The Ambiente version gets a grey-black combination that makes the rather tight cabin feel airy and nice. It is time for Srini and me to start sulking, then.
Swift: **
Fabia: ****

Power and performance
I don’t really get the logic of combing the prospective buyer demographic to such fine lengths by introducing three different engine and three different trim options. Skoda could well have done a two engine-two trim option for India and still made truckloads of money on the Fabia (such is the value of the Skoda brand in India). The issue is that the car that competes with Srini’s Getz and my Swift gets a 69 bhp petrol motor that defies the solid feel given by the rest of the Fabia. It is a shock to get into the car, slot it into first and then in no time hit a rev-limiter that makes the engine sound like a vacuum cleaner. Sad.
It takes nifty shifting and a long yawn to reach 60 kph (7.07 seconds) and some more time to reach 100 kph (17-odd seconds!). Srini can be demonic behind the wheel of strange left-hand drive cars on Indian roads, but he drives the Getz ever so gently and ensures that he teaches the rest of the drivers around him chaste words in Marathi, Hindi and English before he reaches his destination. But even he respects a bit of overtaking ability and the Getz, with 83 horses, delivers with 5.6 seconds to 60 kph and a decent 14.5 second crack at 100 kph. You see, we are not expecting these cars to break Mach II, but real life demands like some life-saving acceleration to overtake slow moving trucks is a must-have.

Time for me to show-off a chest swollen with pride. The Swift may have a motor borrowed from the Esteem, but it is one that is quick. Add to that some near perfect gearing and you are off to a smart 60 kph run in 5.2 seconds and displaying its rounded bum to other cars at 100 kph, which can be achieved in 13-odd seconds. And guess what, it is way more fun to drive than the rev-shy Getz and the impoverished Fabia. While it will take supreme effort to do anything more than 140 kph in the Fabia, the Getz can handle 165 kph on expressways while the 87 bhp motor of the Swift actually takes it to 170 kph. Sure, the Fabia with the 1.4 motor can compete better, but at this price point and with the cars that we already own, it gets a thumbs down.

But it will be unfair to the Fabia if we don’t tell you that it is extremely driveable in traffic and you forget its anaemic motor most of the time. Mind you, all these cars have similar kind of torque (around 11 kgm) and it is the gearing that has resulted in the Jap and Korean cars being quicker off the block than the Czech machine. So if the idea is to get stuck in traffic every morning, crank up the FM radio and enjoy the nice cabin, then there is no faulting the logic of a puny motor under the Fabia’s bonnet.
Getz: ***
Fabia: **

Ride and handling
One of the reasons I never liked the Getz at its launch drive was its over-square architecture and the resulting blotched ride quality over bad roads. The Swift is not really better and the ride has deteriorated with time on Maruti’s best-seller. When I revisited Srini’s Getz, I was convinced that the dampers sourced by Hyundai would outlast those of the Swift on Indian roads. As for handling, the Getz is as neutral as test-match umpires while the Swift shows off a colourful streak meant only for real hot hatches. But to enjoy that, you need to release the revs offered by that motor and a few screws in your head – things you don’t do while commuting. But the Fabia, riding on Slovakian Matador rubber, was a revelation when it came to ride quality as well as handling. This car is meant to have a powerful vRS version in its lineup and it shows in the underpinnings of the basic models too. Like the Octavia, the Fabia takes to Indian roads as if it was meant to do that and offers what can be termed textbook ride quality. The underpowered nature of the 1.2 motor never let me take it to the limit, but one could feel the surefootedness and inherent dynamic safety of the car in every flick of the wheel. The Fabia is the new benchmark when it comes to small car dynamics,and a brilliant one at that.
Getz: ***
Swift: ***
Fabia: *****   Conclusion
The Getz can return 10 kpl in traffic; the Swift can improve it by a notch or two. The Fabia, with its throttled three-cylinder motor, can stretch it to 12 kpl if you drive carefully. On highways, these cars can all return 14-15 kpl with ease. Net-net, if you are looking at Alto-like economy,you won’t be heading towards a Skoda showroom. You can go for the Fabia for its other strengths, like superb build quality and its ability to retain value and, of course, bringing a certain amount of prestige for your money.

The real question here is would Srini and me succumb to the little Skoda if it was available when we made our buying decisions. Srini says that though it is a tempting car, the feeble three-pot motor would make him feel miserable every time an Alto overtook him. So he’d rather spend more quality time with the Getz and save up for a Fabia vRS instead. As for me, I would like to defend my buying decision like scores of people do after spending their hard earned money on cars. When I get back to my own car after spending time in more expensive, better automobiles, I want it to reward me with something or the other. And the Swift never fails to entertain with its rev- happy motor and flickability. 

Give me the Fabia with a 1.4 motor with ABS and airbags thrown in at the price of a Swift ZXi and I would succumb. Alas, the Fabia in that spec is way more expensive and I think I am knowledgeable enough not to succumb to badge pressure unless we are talking Mercedes-Benz or BMW. It is indeed a nice car and one that I would recommend to lots of my friends if they want a second car that is economical and safe. There!