What is it?:
It’s the third-generation Skoda Octavia, the ever-popular family hatch which the Czech manufacturer confidently believes will break into the top 10 global best-sellers when sales of this all-new version get up to speed later this year.
Designed to appeal to car buyers regardless of whether they dwell in Beijing or Bromsgrove, the new Octavia majors on practicality by offering cavernous interior space and some clever design touches, and all for a competitive price – even if Skoda is by no means the budget brand it once was.
With the recently released Skoda Rapid now slotting into the range beneath the Octavia, this car – based on the longer-wheelbase version of the VW Group's modular MQB platform – has grown in size to accommodate its new sibling in Skoda’s product range.
Compared to the outgoing model, the new Octavia is 90mm longer, 45mm wider and has a wheelbase that is 108mm longer. Skoda is proud of the fact that its models often blur car class boundaries, and the Octavia is no exception. The company claims it has interior space comparable to a model from the next class up: the total interior length is 1782mm and the seats-up boot capacity is a cavernous 590 litres. By comparison, a Ford Mondeo’s is 528 litres.
Despite the car’s growth spurt, Skoda maintains that the Octavia’s key rivals remain the Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus. However, it is not hard to imagine the keenly priced and well equipped Octavia turning the heads of car buyers looking at vehicles in the Mondeo class.
Late last year we got an early drive in a Skoda Octavia 1.8 TSI DSG SE Plus, but that petrol variant won’t be coming to Britain when the Octavia goes on sale in March. Instead we’ll get two smaller petrols – a 1.2 TSI and 1.4 TSI – and a brace of diesels.
A 1.6 TDI is likely to be a popular seller, but here we get our hands on the oilburning range-topper, the Octavia 2.0 TDI, equipped with the DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox and in the top Elegance trim.
What's it like?:
Skoda has endowed its latest Octavia with a precise, technical design, eschewing curves for sharp angles and taut-looking body surfaces. It is appealing and modern, although to our eyes lacks a little character compared to previous generations of the car.
But the way Skoda’s designers have succeeded in masking the car’s vast interior dimensions from the outside is impressive. That’s hammered home when you lift the rear hatch – no mean feat, it has a considerable weight due to its size – and survey the continent-size storage space within.
It’s not a smoke and mirrors trick where useable boot space is much smaller than the manufacturer’s claims either; the boot is commodious enough to take most objects, the hatch opening is massive, and the loading sill is at a comfortable height.
When you also consider the host of deft touches Skoda includes – a double-sided floor mat for clean or muddy goods, for example – it reinforces the Octavia’s practical stance.
Rear passengers also feel the benefit of that elongated wheelbase. Knee room to the back of the front seats has increased by 47mm to 73mm. Headroom has gone up, too, although the very tallest of passengers might find that the angle where the roof meets the rear hatch is positioned directly where their head is.
Up front it’s a similar story, with occupants getting more space in every dimension. Behind the wheel, the cockpit layout is clear and the controls feel solid and well designed, although those intimately familiar with more premium VW Group products might notice that the quality is a step below what you might find in more premium offerings.
The 2.0 turbodiesel engine is already a proven product across the Volkswagen range, and with 236lb ft on tap it provides plenty of flexible shove. The downside is a hint of brash engine noise when you accelerate hard, but it isn’t something that will be particularly noticeable when the stereo is on and the kids are babbling away in the back.
The 1.6 TDI would be the choice for those with a very keen eye on fuel economy, emissions and price, but we prefer this bigger unit. You can imagine it coping easily when called upon to haul family and luggage around during a summer holiday.
Whether you prefer the six-speed dual-clutch automatic fitted to our test car or the alternative (and cheaper) six-speed manual option will be a matter of personal preference. The auto interacts well with this engine, going about its task competently and anonymously, albeit with the occasional sneaking suspicion that it might over-optimise the gears in a situation where a driver might cruise along without so many shifts.
Less powerful Octavias in the range get a beam-axle rear suspension for reasons of weight and cost, up to this 148bhp example. More powerful cars will get a more sophisticated multi-link affair. Nevetheless it handled with composure and rides comfortably across almost all road surfaces, soaking up most bumps and potholes, apart from very broken roads.
The steering is light but and imbued with sufficient feedback to make this an all-round comfortable drive that demands little of the driver but offers little in the way of thrills either.
Should I buy one?:
Draw up a list of attributes your new car purchase should have. Do ‘plenty of space and practicality’, ‘competitive price’ and ‘powerful diesel engine’ rank above ‘keen driving experience’? If so, there could be a compelling argument for the Octavia.
That’s not to denigrate the Octavia’s dynamic capabilities, just that it won’t be engaging enough for some drivers, although the arrival of a sporty vRS version at a later date should fulfill that urge.
Whether you need this range-topper is a further question. Prices have gone up compared to the previous model, but so has the amount of standard kit across each trim level.
With the middle SE specification offering a plenty of goodies – DAB radio, 16in alloys, dual-zone air-con and rear parking sensors to name but a few – you’ll have to ask yourself whether you could live without some kit as standard by the Elegance trim level (such as 17in alloys, Alcantara and leather trim). It’s probably only sat-nav that you’d really miss from the top trim’s kit list.
If you specify SE trim and opt for the six-speed manual box in place of the dual-clutch auto, the asking price for this top-end Octavia would drop to £20,140 – and that represents an outstanding amount of car for the money.
Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI DSG Elegance
Price: £23,240 0-62mph: 8.6sec Top speed: 133mph Economy: 62.7mpg CO2: 119g/km Kerb weight: 1350kg Engine type, cc: 4 cyls in line, 1968cc, turbodiesel Power: 148bhp at 3500-4000rpm Torque: 236lb ft at 1750-3000rpm Gearbox: 6-spd dual-clutch automatic.