Skoda Octavia prototype (2020) drive: simply clever-er

Published:29 October 2019

Skoda Octavia prototype (2020) drive: simply clever-er
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By Tom Wiltshire

Parkers staff writer, Cotswoldian, Peugeot enthusiast, SsangYong Turismo apologist

By Tom Wiltshire

Parkers staff writer, Cotswoldian, Peugeot enthusiast, SsangYong Turismo apologist

► First spin in a near-production Octavia Estate
► Bigger, posher and even more practical
► Petrol manual and diesel auto driven

As is tradition, the Skoda Octavia will be bigger, cheaper, and probably curiously more likable than the all-new VW Golf it inevitably shares so much with. Simple enough, right?

Naturally, we couldn’t just leave it there, so Skoda invited us to Tuscany so that we could have a really good poke around the new car as well as take a spin in a disguised prototype.

This is a big deal for Skoda, right?

It’s hard to understate quite how important this car really is for our favourite Czech brand. The Octavia is responsible for a third of Skoda’s sales worldwide – in terms of cash, it brings home half of all profit from vehicle sales.

The nameplate has recently celebrated its 60th birthday, though the modern Octavia we all know came around in 1996. Since then, it’s followed the same template as most of Skoda’s models – take a Volkswagen platform, stretch it to its absolute limit to provide the maximum interior space possible, and sell it at a lower price than most rivals.

The same recipe’s been applied to the new car, which will ostensibly compete with mid-sized hatchbacks in price and positioning – Skoda cites the Astra, Ceed and Focus as its main foes, but we all quietly know it’s really gunning for the Golf.

Skoda Octavia front tracking overhead

Despite this, it actually outsizes the Passat, sitting easily in the class above. Practicality is definitely the name of the game here – the estate model provides a monstrous 640-litre boot, the equal of the cavernous Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate. Even the hatch will accommodate 600 litres. Rear space is equally impressive, if not quite as palatial as the Superb – but if it was, why would you ever buy the flagship?

What does it look like under all that camo?

We were allowed a good look around the new Octavia Estate in all of its glory, but Skoda saw fit to cover our cameras and won’t release any pictures until the car’s officially unveiled. What follows then is our best attempt at telling you what to expect…

Skoda’s applied the same styling brush as it did with the Scala, and the long, low and wide silhouette is very similar to its Superb bigger brother. It’s got a good, purposeful stance, too – helped by wheels which are an inch larger in diameter than before. Even cooking models will be optionally available with 19-inch alloys, while execs hinted that vRS models could sit on 20-inchers.

Skoda Octavia sketch

The front grille is larger than before, and more thrusting, flanked by sharp-edged LED lights and surrounded by a chunky chrome highlight.

There’s a clamshell bonnet and some really pleasing coherence to the design – panel gaps flow to become styling creases, and subtle contours on the bonnet emphasise the Skoda badge. Those controversial split headlights have been replaced, with full LEDS front and rear standard, too. While their crisp detailing might not be as ‘crystalline’ as Skoda would like us to believe, it does look good.

What’s the engine line-up like?

Engine choices will be familiar if not groundbreaking. Petrols will run from 109bhp right up to 241bhp, while diesels will go from 114bhp to 197bhp. The highest-performing variants of either fuel will be reserved for range-topping vRS models, but you can expect the sweet spot of the range to be 148bhp versions of either a 1.5-litre petrol or 2.0-litre diesel.

Mild-hybrid tech will feature on higher-powered variants to save fuel, while a plug-in hybrid will also be along presently – making use of the same 1.4-litre petrol/electric powertrain you’ll find in the VW Passat GTE or Skoda Superb iV. Gearboxes will be usual VW Group fare, including a new shifter design for the seven-speed DSG auto that doesn’t have any physical connection to the gearbox.

Any drastic changes inside?

Well, the interior is arguably where Skoda’s departed most with tradition – and, if we’re honest, where it’s begun to lose us as fans. The dash centres around an infotainment touchscreen of up to 10 inches in size, plus Virtual Cockpit-style digital dials and a head-up display.

All well and good, but Skoda’s a no-nonsense brand with a sensible (and somewhat older than the norm) customer base, so the decision to remove almost every physical control from the centre console is an odd one. Volume and a few other functions are taken care of with a touch bar underneath the infotainment screen, while the climate controls have migrated onto the screen itself, a move we’re definitely not fans of.

Skoda Octavia group rear tracking

The new shifter, too, smacks of fixing something that wasn’t broken. It’s now a ‘Monostable’ design – meaning it pings back to a central position after you’ve selected Drive or Reverse. But it looks awkward, isn’t as intuitive as the lever it replaces, and doesn’t even save any meaningful space.

There’s still a glut of clever touches though, as you’d hope for. Skoda’s taken the bold plunge into USB-C – there’s a total of five ports on offer, two up front, two in the rear, and a fifth up by the rear view mirror to provide power to a dashcam.

There’s an umbrella in the driver’s door, optional winged head restraints in the back to allow your passengers to sleep, a built-in funnel for the washer reservoir, smart two-pocket storage on the seat backs. It’s all subtle, but massively useful in practice, and they’re exactly the sort of thoughtful touches that endear people to the Skoda brand.

Enough chat. What’s it like on the road?

Our camouflaged near-production prototypes were all 148bhp estates, coming in petrol, six-speed manual or diesel, seven-speed DSG automatic flavours.

The overarching impression is one of familiarity. Start up the pleasingly quiet engine, stick the solid-feeling gearshift into first and pull away with weighty, well-judged pedal inputs. Despite the newness of the surroundings, this Octavia feels a lot like anything else that shares its MQB underpinnings.

Both engines have more than enough performance, and the 1.5-litre EVO petrol engine in particular is great – torquey and very refined through the rev range. Those doing starship mileages, towing, or regularly making use of that enormous boot will probably enjoy the torquier-still diesel, which loses its metallic edge on startup as soon as you’re on the move.

Manual models get the typically reassuring if not necessarily slick gearshift that we’re used to in the Octavia. Ratios are well judged too, and the petrol’s flexible enough that you don’t need to do too much stick-stirring. As for the DSG, it still suffers from a degree of reluctance when setting off from a standstill.

Skoda Octavia rear tracking

Models with 148bhp or more get multi-link rear suspension, so both of our drives were thusly equipped. Comfort levels are high, though the car jitters a little on rough surfaces. It doesn’t roll a huge amount in the corners, though, and while the steering’s pretty remote it’s sharp and accurate.

The lighter petrol car feels pointier, with the diesel’s responses somewhat blunted by the added weight. But neither are challenging to drive in any way – simply pleasant, inoffensive and comfortable.

We can’t speak for how the new dashboard is to operate on the move – for our drives, it was completely covered bar a small cutout for the on-screen climate controls. But the digital dials are the same as you’ll find in a Kodiaq, and they work very well. The new two-spoke steering wheel, meanwhile, may be ugly as sin but with twin scroll wheels it’s neatly configured and works quite well to operate functions on the move.

What’s it going to cost?

Don’t know. Given the price of the smaller Scala, which verges on pricey for the class, we were expecting the Octavia to be given a significant price hike – but Skoda’s reassured us that this won’t be the case. The current range kicks off at £18,610, though standard models will be significantly better equipped than the current S trim level. We’d expect things to kick off slightly north of £20k but watch this space.

2020 Skoda Octavia: first impressions

It retains most of what we love about the current car, and improves on some of it – namely, the ridiculously huge boot, the practical shape for moving both people and their clobber, the high standard kit list and the small touches of sheer brilliance.

We’re not fans of the new dash, which feels like form over function in a very un-Skoda-ish way. But it’s well executed, and once we get a proper hands-on that impression might change. Of course, your own impressions can be forged once the car’s been officially revealed…

Check out our Skoda reviews

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  • Skoda Octavia prototype (2020) drive: simply clever-er
  • Skoda Octavia prototype (2020) drive: simply clever-er
  • Skoda Octavia prototype (2020) drive: simply clever-er
  • Skoda Octavia prototype (2020) drive: simply clever-er
  • Skoda Octavia prototype (2020) drive: simply clever-er
  • Skoda Octavia prototype (2020) drive: simply clever-er

By Tom Wiltshire

Parkers staff writer, Cotswoldian, Peugeot enthusiast, SsangYong Turismo apologist

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