Skoda expects that most of the British buyers seduced by the new Octavia’s Golf-rivalling quality and Golf-beating space for par-Golf money will buy this car. Predictably for modern, eco-conscious, empty-pocketed Britain, the on-paper spec is as safe and sensible (but much drier than) a Radio 4 weather forecast.
So what makes this Octavia one of the very best cars on sale today? Read on to find out.
What’s the spec of the most-popular Skoda Octavia?
It’s no vRS hot hatch, that’s for sure. It’s not even a 2.0-litre: this is the 1.6-litre diesel with only 103bhp, and 184lb ft. Figures looking familiar? It’s an identical engine to that which powered the Audi A1 Sportback CAR tested earlier in 2014.
Pulling a car that’s two sizes bigger takes its toll on performance: 0-62mph takes 10.4sec, and overtake-worthy mid-range pull requires a downchange across the truculent five-speed manual gearbox. Don’t bother revving it out: the diesel is coarse beyond 3000rpm, and peak torque spreads itself between 1500 and 2750rpm.
The pay-off is strong efficiency. Skoda claims 74.3mpg – our test car averaged 50.4mpg, a figure that continued to climb as we learnt to work around the lack of outright pace. Meanwhile, CO2 emissions don’t crack triple figures. A car that offers BMW 3-series-rivalling cabin space sidestepping road tax altogether is downright cheeky – and great news for buyers.
As standard, this Octavia costs £21,090. Maths time – that’s £100 more than a VW Golf SE five-door with an identical drivetrain and similar equipment spec. Why do we keep mentioning the Golf? Because under the skin, the Golf and Octavia share VW’s ‘MQB’ architecture, so there’s a lot of component overlap hidden underneath the handsome-if-anonymous body. Volvo’s closest rival, the S60 D2, costs slightly more, at £21,295. On price at least, the Skoda is competitive.
But what’s it like to drive?
Excellent. Despite its longer wheelbase, the Octavia feels just as nimble as a Golf, and impresses with its flat cornering behaviour, stubborn reluctance to understeer, and its compliant ride. Extra points are scored for our test car riding so comfortably while rolling on smart-looking 18in rims (a £350 option to graduate from standard-fit 17s). The car also steers beautifully – it’s an engaging machine to drive smartly, only succumbing to untidy sloppiness when its driver does.
Refinement largely matches up to the high standard set by the dynamics. Octavias are destined to spend hours pounding motorways, and years thanklessly carting the family from A to B, so a quiet cabin goes a long way to sprinkle wellbeing over the flawlessly finished cockpit. Wind and tyre noise at a cruise are among the class best for a family hatchback, and once slotted into its tall fifth gear, the engine’s gruff hum is no longer intrusive.
Don’t interfere with the Octavia’s dynamics, though. A factory-fit feature of this ‘Elegance’ test car is the Skoda Driving Mode Selector. It offers the driver a chance to shun the sweet spot of ‘Normal’ mode, adding dense steering weight and a barely sharper throttle in Sport mode, and no tangible economy benefits in return for soggy throttle response in ‘Eco’. It’s nought but a rare gimmick in what is otherwise an eminently well-judged all-rounder.
Is the Octavia a VW parts-bin fest inside?
Yes – the stalks, buttons and knobs are recognisable if you’ve just hopped in from a Golf, but that’s far from a criticism, barring a lack of imagination. The dash-top isn’t as squidgy as a Mk7 Golf’s, and the climate control buttons are, although attractively slim, fiddlier than those in a Seat Leon or the Golf. We’re nit-picking, though – the basics (low-set, adjustable driving position, sensible ergonomics and decent visibility) are all here.
It’s ludicrously spacious too. Even with the captain’s chair catering for a six-foot driver, you’ll have no complaints from two similarly sized passengers in the rear, with headroom and legroom generous enough to embarrass a Mercedes C-class or Audi A4. If we’d just shelled out for a Skoda Superb, we’d be a bit miffed its little brother’s space sacrifice is so slight.
Three across the rear bench is a squeeze, but the Octavia is no worse off in that respect that its key rivals. The hatchback boot offers a 590/1580L capacity: considerably bigger bigger than the Golf’s, or an Audi A4 saloon’s. Stay tuned to CAR Online in the coming weeks as we test the Octavia’s estate sister: the Combi. Will the wagon prove to be the best Skoda on sale? It’s got a tough act to beat here.
Our Elegance spec test car sits one step from the pinnacle of the Octavia range. It’s bursting with kit without feeling pretentious – much like the Yeti Outdoor CAR tested recently. Standard equipment here includes DAB-compatible touchscreen infotainment and nav, seven airbags, Bluetooth, climate control, infallible adaptive headlights with a searing dark-piercing beam, plus automatic wiper and cruise control goodies. Heated seats would complete the package, but they’re a £170 option.
We were impressed with the Golf GTI-rivalling Octavia vRS on first acquaintance, and now we’re pleased to report even the cooking Octavia (and one most UK drivers will get to sample) is no poor relation.
Given how mechanically similar the new Octavia is to the VW hatch icon and the fine Seat Leon, a below-par performance would’ve been a disaster for Skoda. Instead, it’s the best export from the Czech Republic this side of a cold Pilsner Urquell.