In the blue corner is the UK’s favourite new Skoda Octavia: the 1.6-litre TDI hatchback with a manual gearbox. In the red corner, meet the Octavia your fleet manager (and the missus) would rather you didn’t have.
Why wouldn’t they want us to have this Skoda Octavia?
For a start, it’s faster. It trumps the limp-wristed 1.6-litre’s 103bhp by some margin, with the 2.0-litre oiler developing 148bhp and 236lb ft. This makes it the most powerful Octavia this side of the range-topping vRS, and good for 0-62mph in a brisk-feeling 8.7sec, and 132mph flat out.
Making the most of the engine’s oodles of low-rev torque is the next best thing about this car: the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Yes, it’s a pricey treat: it bumps the price up by £1250, to £24,365, but the DSG is much happier here than in the automatic Yeti crossover – you get obedient, superfast shifts in manual mode, actuated by cheap plastic paddles incongruously affixed to the steering wheel. You can save £200 by not optioning the paddleshift-equipped helm, by the way.
>> Click here for CAR’s first drive review of the UK’s most popular Octavia, the 1.6 TDI hatchback
Is this the drivetrain to save up for?
There are only two flies in this ointment. Left to its own devices, the DSG is largely a triumph – as we’ve become accustomed to in the VW Group mainstream. Watch out for a couple of flaws, though. First off, the ‘Driving Mode Selection’ party trick spoils even more of the Octavia than it does in the manual car.
In addition to gloopy steering feedback, Sport mode alters the shift calibration to hold onto gears for much too long. So long, in fact, you’ll rev right out of the peak torque band and expose the TDI’s rough top end. Meanwhile, Eco mode’s desperate attempts to dissuade fuel consumption almost ban kick-down altogether. It’s difficult to think of a car less in need of a driving mode/mood toggle than a diesel-powered Skoda estate. ‘Normal’ mode really should be retitled ‘Best of all worlds, now leave it alone’ mode.
The other caveat is more the driver’s problem. Initially, you’ll stab the throttle to wake the turbo, which easily panics the transmission when you’re mooching along at town speeds, pinning the revs sky-high. Ease the right pedal gently and progress is far more dignified. It’s a little refreshing to drive such an outwardly mundane machine but find it rewards delicate driving inputs and punishes heavy-handed (or heavy-footed) ones.
Does Octavia Estate beat Octavia hatchback?
This is no shooting brake wannabe – it’s boxy in a way modern Volvos have moved well away from, and offers up to 1740 litres of bootspace. So it should do, frankly – the Octavia estate measures 90mm longer than its predecessor, not to mention 45mm wider, and has stretched its wheelbase by 108mm. If only the styling was more confident, this could be quite imposing machine. Instead, it has the presence of a soap opera extra.
Small wonder the Octavia Estate’s rear legroom rivals that of a BMW 5-series or Mercedes E-class. Meanwhile, the boot trumps even the Audi A6 Avant and VW Passat Estate for capacity. Whether you go for the wagon or not will depend simply on the size of the family pet, and your reaction to its £805 price bump over the hatch.
>> Click here for CAR’s verdict on the Golf GTI-rivalling Skoda Octavia vRS
There’s a smidge more road noise at speed in the Octavia Estate than there is in the hatchback – blame the lack of a rear bulkhead which would suppress tyre roar. It’s no less handy to drive than its booted sister though, with flat cornering characteristics and a surplus of grip.
These VW Group MQB-platform cars are fast becoming the Sebastian Vettel of the mainstream hatchback world. Not exciting, but pretty damn effective.
The Octavia, like the Audi A3, Seat Leon and VW Golf, is competent, efficient, and goes about its business in an unspectacular, tidy fashion. Skoda’s Octavia Estate is another fine family car from the Czech maker, and if you can stretch to the charms of the 2.0-litre diesel, its slick DSG, and the extra usability of this wagon model, you won’t be disappointed.