While Skoda’s Superb has been stealing headlines for the Czech firm lately, it’s easy to overlook the Octavia. But the smaller model remains Skoda’s best-seller and to ensure it stays that way it’s undergone a mid-life nip and tuck designed to prolong its appeal. But this is more than a cosmetic overhaul with mechanical improvements aimed at beefing up the Octavia’s armoury.
You mentioned the F word. What does this Skoda Octavia facelift entail?
It’s easy to spot that the solid-looking Superb has been the inspiration for this. The Octavia gets the bigger car’s sawn-off grille with the heavy chrome accent along the top. The lights are larger and more dramatically curved and – light fetishists rejoice! – the Octavia name appears in the indicator element. Apart from new rear lights and body-coloured side rubbing strips, that’s it for the outside. It’s a logical improvement, designed to tidy up rather than dramatically transform the somewhat anonymous Octavia.
What about inside?
Yes, talking of anonymous... Well built as it is, the Octavia’s interior has never been one of the car industry’s most exciting offerings. The latest model attempts to address that. It uses the leather-clad steering wheel from the Superb, a touch-screen operated ‘infotainment’ system with a new radio, 30GB of memory inside and MP3 player connectivity. There are also new front seats with anti-whiplash head restraints.
You mentioned mechanical improvements...
We drove the four-wheel drive estate version which has undergone the most changes. The biggest of these is the adoption of the series four Haldex clutch four-wheel drive system. There’s no messing about with levers or buttons to engage it and there are no bulky differentials intruding on the vast luggage compartment. The system employs the wheel-speed sensors from the ABS to detect when the front wheels are losing grip and diverts torque to the rear axle. In extreme conditions as much as 85% of engine power can be sent to a single wheel.
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Bearing that in mind, what’s it like to drive?
It reacts so quickly to a loss of grip that you don’t really notice how the power is being apportioned. We tried the car on ice and snow and it had all the grip and composure you’d expect of a car with all four wheels driven. In engine terms, the 4x4 models are available with either 1.8 TSI turbo petrol or 1.9 and 2.0-litre turbodiesels. Either oil burner does the job – though in a clattery old-school manner. The petrol however is a revelation. It’s got plenty of power, accesses its maximum torque at just 1500rpm and is pleasingly quiet and refined.
Whether in estate of hatchback form, the Octavia has always been a sensible if somewhat unexciting choice for the practically minded. No shame in that. With this facelift Skoda has maintained the car’s usability while managing to update its looks and hike interior quality.
It’s still not the most exciting car in the world to look at, but with an improved interior, a very refined petrol engine, four-wheel drive and a sensible price tag, the Octavia remains an attractive proposition.
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