Skoda Octavia: Drive Review

4th October 2013

Michael Woodhouse gets behind the wheel of the new Skoda Octavia…

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a money saver, a bargain hunter (or, as my wife says, a little bit stingy). It isn’t that I don’t like spending money; it’s that if I find something I want then I like to try and find a cheaper alternative. I won’t buy the top branded television, but the same specification from whichever brand the supermarket happens to be selling at the time. I call it getting value for money.

If I were in the market for a new vehicle, therefore, I’d quite happily walk around the Volkswagen showroom… but once I’d found the model I liked and ticked all the optional extras that I needed, I’d undoubtedly see the price, balk, turn tail and walk out. The Skoda dealership next door would be my destination.

Now that the Czech brand is under the VW umbrella everyone knows that they make decent cars. Not only do you get a decent car, though, you also get VW levels of build quality and specs, at knockdown prices. As knockdown as the car market ever does, anyway.
Take the Skoda Octavia estate. At £16,790, it’s over £1,000 cheaper than equivalent VW Golf, but it’s pretty much identical underneath the different styling. Moreover, the options are all but indistinguishable: adaptive cruise control, for example, and the intelligent light assistant, a high-beam assistant. There’s also a range of completely new generation radio and radio-navigation systems.

And, if you listen to Skoda’s technical development chief, Dr Frank Welsch, it even outperforms its competition in some areas: “The Octavia estate offers rear-seat passengers lots of legroom – 73 mm in front of the knees – the highest in its segment. And at 610 litres, the size of the boot sets a new record for its class.”

Should you really need practicality, then by folding the rear backrests down, the boot space of the estate version increases to an impressive 1,740 litres.

There’s also a plethora of neat little details, implemented to make one’s life easier, including a double-sided boot floor mat, a comprehensive net restraint system, multiple bag hooks, a waste bin and numerous bottle holders, multimedia device holders, an ice scraper in the fuel tank opening and a warning-vest holder under the driver’s seat. In addition, the new estate offers a host of smart solutions which make life easier, including a coat rack and a remote fold-down function for the rear-seat backrest.
It’s from behind the steering wheel and at the petrol station that most people will judge the car, no matter what badge is on the bonnet and how much cash you have to part company with for the purchase of it.

Thankfully, the most efficient engine in the line-up – a 1.6-litre diesel that produces 105 horsepower and 250Nm of torque – emits only 99g/km of CO2. And those all important, but often divisive, fuel efficiency claims are 74.3mpg on the combined cycle. All yours for between £18,840 and £21,890 depending on which trim level you opt for…

…but there has to be a ‘but’; nothing is ever as good as it seems. In the case of the Octavia the ‘but’ is the driveability of the vehicle. It’s far from bad, and at its launch the car coped with the designated routes without any trouble, though, as with a great many VWs, there’s little real enjoyment in the drive.

It’s functional without being exceptional, and before you say ‘it’s a practical family car so doesn’t need to be involving’, other manufacturers manage it. Even the Vauxhall Insignia makes you feel a little more linked to what’s happening.

Journalists are wont to criticise lifeless steering or throttle response that bears no relation to what is actually happening as you depress the pedal, and neither of these statements would be fair to use against the Octavia. It’s just the fact that because it’s been designed to please everyone, it’s become so middle of the ground that it has no soul.

There could be one saving grace for the Octavia though: the high-performance vRS model. Take every positive I’ve written in this review, and package it up with a 2-litre 220 horsepower/ 350Nm petrol engine that’ll do 152mph. The top speed may not be important, but the extra spark gives the Octavia an edge, so you finally get the trio of practicality, driver involvement and a reasonable price: £23,790.

Price: from £16,790
Model tested: 1.6-litre TDI
Top speed: 119mph
0-62mph: 11 seconds
Power: 105hp
Fuel economy: 74.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 99g/km

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