Skoda’s awesome Octavia – don’t be surprised

Octavia takes Skoda to new levels of quality, technology and credibility.

Octavia takes Skoda to new levels of quality, technology and credibility. - Credit: Skoda

Skoda's new Octavia has raised the bar again – don't knock it until you've tried it, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

'What a great-looking car – oh, it's a Skoda.'

'What a fabulous colour – I didn't realise it's a Skoda.'

'Really smart car – shame about the badge though.'

These are just some of the comments made while I was driving the all-new third-generation Skoda Octavia hatchback. It's a common reaction but one that really should have gone by now because they are made by people who have not been in a Skoda, let alone driven one, for a long while – if ever – and are trapped in that long-gone era of budget-buy rear-engined runabouts.

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Even if you have driven the previous Octavia you will be impressed by this new model. If you haven't then you will be completely blown away by it. I can say with all honesty that this is one of the best cars I have driven for a long time.

It looks good – the new Skoda family styling has evolved with sharper, stronger lines but the tradtional design cues are still clear.

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It's even bigger than the old model, 90mm longer and 45mm wider, which gives it more presence and even more space for passengers and loads.

And that makes the performance of the highly-efficient 105PS 1.2 and 140PS 1.4-litre turbo petrol and 105PS 1.6 and 150PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels even more impressive, especially the lower-powered ones.

I tried the 1.6 TDI, mated the seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox rather than the five-speed manual, and was impressed by its all-round ability. You need to work it for serious acceleration but it's relaxed in everyday driving and cruises comfortably on the motorway, returning 55-60mpg overall.

The same goes for the ride and roadholding – a happy mix making it an ideal everyday companion. It's more than competent to make good progress on cross-country roads with its sure-footed feel and the supple suspension takes the sting out of poor roads, although it can feel a little firm and sensitive at low speeds. There's also noticeable tyre noise on all but the smoothest roads although I think this can be said of a lot of today's harder-compound tyres which run at higher pressures for economy and are designed to last longer.

My test car had the £320 optional Lane Assistant which tugs the steering wheel if it senses you are going to stray across the white line but on narrow roads it's just too sensitive so I switched it off which then shows the steering at its best.

The big selling point about the Octavia hatchback, and I mean big, is the amount of space inside – as good as many cars in higher classes.

With an extra 108mm between the front and back wheels, all-round legroom is vast so even four six-foot-plus passengers can stretch out in comfort.

And they won't have to travel light either with a huge class-leading 590-litre hatchback boot that swallows luggage – I've seen proper estate cars with less capacity that this. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat but it is a shame that it leaves a little step up from the boot floor.

The cabin is a most pleasant place to be with top-notch build quality, soft-touch trim and upmarket materials as good as many premium brands. It just goes to show how Skoda has shed its budget image without sacrificing good value.

The new fascia – the highlight of the new Octavia for me and so important as this is what you see mile after mile as a driver – is a model of simplicity and efficiency with big white-on-black dials, an intuitive new driving information system which puts all the necessary data at your fingertips, controls with a precise action and, on my Elegance model, a superb infotainment system with eight-inch touchscreen display which you can flick through options just as you would on a smart phone – it's so easy to use on the move.

Available in S, SE and Elegance trim levels, all offer a lot more kit than their predecessors which is worth considerably more than the price hike and builds on Skoda's reputation for value.

It's hard not to like the Octavia, especially given the price, and you know it will be reliable from past experiences in various customer surveys... and the fact that so many taxi drivers use them.

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