Skoda Octavia grows on you
- Credit: Skoda
Skoda has raised its game again with the new Octavia which offers more of everything, especially value, says Matt Kimberley, PA motoring writer
The Octavia is the mainstay of Skoda's global operation making up around 40pc of the company's sales, so a new one is just about the most important thing to happen in any four-year product cycle.
The new car's looks are much changed. It looks a lot like an oversized Rapid, but the telltale difference is the pair of body-coloured diagonal strips either side of the Octavia's grille. The clean lines, reminiscent of the Audi A4 of several generations ago, will age well.
It's not quite all new, with engines carried over from the previous model. There are 105PS 1.2 and 140PS 1.4-litre turbo petrols and 105PS 1.6 and 150PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels all with engine stop-start. The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol, which records more than 55mpg and is cheap for road tax. The real story is that it's more than £2,000 cheaper than the 1.6-litre diesel and won't be that much more expensive to run. It's definitely the best value in the range, and it's the one driven here.
On the face of it, with 90mm extra length, a chunk of extra height and a width increase to deal with, the humble 1.2 turbo might seem a little inadequate. The reality couldn't be further from the truth, with a 67kg weight reduction over the previous equivalent model. The 1.4-litre version is a 102kg lighter, making it the much nippier option for those who want it.
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With the small petrol under the bonnet the Octavia drives with a sprightly charm, the excellent front-to-rear balance combining with the overall weight reduction to shape a nimble, grippy package on twisting roads where the heavier diesel units can overwhelm the front tyres.
Although you could never call the performance overwhelming, the smooth, quiet and exceptionally refined little petrol engine is a perfect partner around town. You can also pair it with a seven-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic gearbox, which raises the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, but if the majority of its life is likely to be spent in town the smooth, rapid DSG shifts are a boon. Octavias destined for high mileage would be better served by the diesels, but at a cost.
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The downside to the Octavia's shape on the road is that the high boot line obscures rear visibility too much, making reversing harder than it needs to be. Suddenly the door mirrors, which seem perfectly fine most of the time, seem too small.
The Octavia is in the same market sector as its cousins the Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon, but it majors more on space and practicality than either of the others. An extra 108mm has gone into the wheelbase and the bulk of it has been sent to the rear of the cabin to provide vast legroom for passengers in the back. The boot is five litres bigger than before at 590 litres, not much more than the smaller Rapid, but for growing families the hugely spacious Octavia is in a class of one at this price.
It has less of the authoritarian sobriety of the Golf and more interior space than both, with a more cleverly thought-out cabin design, so it's hard not to place the Octavia at the top of the pile.
Depending on the model there's a spectrum of 'Simply Clever' features to make everyday life with the car easier. The Elegance, which sits above SE and entry-level S, has the full spread including a twin-sided removable boot floor to protect the main carpet. Among other perks there is an ice scraper under the fuel filler cap, a clip to hold parking tickets or permits and eight cup and bottle-holders of different sizes.
Elsewhere in the cabin there's a significant investment in the depth of equipment. Even the S has a huge amount of safety equipment to add to its must-have luxury items. The Elegance is overwhelmed with treats like sat-nav, part-leather electrically-adjustable seats, 17in alloy wheels and an upgraded stereo system.
In fact Elegance compares to cars a class up for equipment, luxury and technology, and side by side with any of its competitors it still looks like something of a bargain.