► We test the newly facelifted Octavia
► Full review of the 2.0 TDI with DSG
► Gets mini Kodiaq front end
It’s a shame that many of us will only get to experience the new Skoda Octavia from the rear seat after a long night out. Because the provincial minicabber’s favourite is really rather good at what it does. And in 2017 facelifted form, it’s just a little bit better.
Skoda knows its customers very well indeed, so why mess with a successful formula? The Octavia has been the company’s best-selling model since its launch in 1996, with more than five million built – and, according to Skoda, it’s also Europe’s best-selling estate car.
We live with a Skoda Octavia vRS Estate
What’s new on the facelifted 2017 Skoda Octavia?
Not that much. But with good reason: you can blame its commercial success for why there are so few changes in the Octavia Mk3.5. Essentially, you get a new set of headlamps with crystalline detailing, which change the look of the front end. It’s now a little less generic, but also rather more visually challenging. There are new front and rear bumpers, too.
Inside, you get a larger glass-screen infotainment screen, which is up to 9.2 inches in diameter; combined with some rudimentary gesture anticipation, it's clearly what people are crying out for in these tech-obsessed times.
Under the skin, there are some very subtle tweaks to the suspension set-up, the most notable of which is a 20mm widening of the rear track. This really isn’t a radical makeover.
Why it’s right for more than just the airport run
If ever there were a car that four generously-sized adults – and their luggage – could jump into and demolish a 500-mile journey in one shot, the Skoda Octavia is it. It's a motorway cruiser, and a fine one at that. It’s remarkably quiet, aside from a touch of wind noise around the door mirrors, effortlessly long-legged, and in 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI form as tested, more than capable of cutting it in the outside lane.
And Skoda knows this is what Octavia drivers want. So, as well as its easy-going mile-munching capability, you get a huge and well-shaped boot, masses of rear legroom, USB sockets for those pampered back-seat passengers, and an overall feeling of quality and functionality that's rare at this price point.
The dashboard hasn't changed much, other than its new and much larger infotainment system – but it probably didn't need to. Traditionalist owners will like the big, bold dials, chunky stalks and switches, and the fact it has retained a traditional handbrake lever. If you want progressive or funky, look elsewhere.
How does the new Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI SE L DSG drive?
Very well. And very much as you'd expect. A three-up trip, plus cases, to Gatwick will not faze the Octavia at all. But it won’t get you under its skin, either. Considering it’s effectively a C-segment car that’s been upsized to straddle into the murkier D-sector waters, the Octavia acquits itself very well indeed.
You won’t buy it for a B-road strop, but if it ends up there, you’ll be surprised at how well it handles thanks to its Volkswagen MQB platform. So, in essence, it handles like a Volkswagen Golf with a 50mm wheelbase stretch. It shares the Golf’s precise and well-weighted steering, strong brakes and planted feel. In one respect, it’s better – it’s even more settled in high-speed bends.
In addition, it has a compliant, easy-going ride, long-loping gait – on the motorway, it's reasonably soft, but the controlled damping keeps it in check on high-speed undulations. Performance from its 148bhp TDI is lively (0-62mph in 9.0 seconds), and it picks up eagerly from walking pace.
Stoking it to extract more performance is pointless, though – it’s quick at 7/10ths, and all caning it will do is expose its unrefined dieselly streak at high revs that's out of sorts with the rest of the car.
Tech: yeah, it’s getting better but still lags behind VW...
It’s a sign of the times that the biggest talking point about the Octavia’s facelift is its updated infotainment system. With between 8.0 and 9.2 inches for its screen size, and that rudimentary gesture recognition, it’s a step forward. You get the usual Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Skoda Connect and Mirror Link to play with, which is an improvement – and up there with its rivals.
Adaptive cruise control with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian protection is newly available. You can also specify your Octavia with trailer assist, blindspot detection, and an updated park assist system. It all now feels, dare we say it, a little premium for the £24,455 Skoda charges for this SE L version.
The Octavia might not be the most exciting family car choice, but you know what: the market would be a poorer place without it. Although many buyers might just skip by it on their company car list, thanks to its deep-seated ability – make that cleverness – they’re missing a trick. It's calm on the motorway, unruffled around town, and will swallow all the people and luggage you'd need to in a car of this price.
Throw in its great-value pricing, and you're looking at a compelling choice for those who aren’t that interested in cars. So, job done by Skoda, and minicabbers around the world rejoice: your next car is actually rather good.
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