What is it?
The third generation of Octavia: longer, wider, pricier and now here in the UK. The model’s almost bashful rise from cheap, three-box Golf clone to a serious Passat-worrier is remarkable really, and it's a measure of Skoda’s confidence that it can be expected to graduate up a segment (to make way for the Rapid), shoulder some serious extra cost and still come out swinging against a host of household names.
Certainly its established strengths have been played to. Space was always an Octavia advantage but now that it sits on the extended MQB platform, its wheelbase has grown by a knee-pleasing 108mm, while beneath the hefty tailgate is a colossal 590-litre boot. Practicality? Tick.
It’s also very well equipped. The base price of our range-topping Elegance model may have swelled by as much as £2.5k, but Skoda reckons there’s more than £5k of additional kit included. Even at the entry-level S trim a DAB stereo, touchscreen multimedia system and Bluetooth are all standard.
Add to that a deft redesign, an (as if by magic) 102kg weight loss over its predecessor and the usual pick of economical VW-sourced engines, and there barely seems room for a right-minded buyer to complain. Having already driven a TSI-powered car in the development stage, we tried to find the cracks in the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI’s logic.
What is it like?
Impeccable on the inside. Along with the extra length, the Octavia has gained 39mm of elbowroom up front. It's a substantial new sprawl, but the car carries it off admirably - never feeling big, just being it whenever you care to notice. The coherence and crispness of the new cabin layout helps. Obviously plagiarised from the Golf, and undeniably diluted for a healthier bottom line, the architecture is nonetheless flawless in its conservative execution.
Abiding by the same guiding principles, VW’s four-cylinder diesel engine is also a decent enough fit. It’s a measure of what we have come to expect from such a piddling capacity that the unit doesn’t feel quite as sprightly as one might have anticipated (or as its 8.3-second-to-62mph suggests) but it's a dependable step up from the super-frugal 1.6 TDI.
Further performance (vRS models will appear later in the year) is well catered for. Much of the Golf’s sterling, steadfast dynamic is replicated here; a minor in steering sensitivity, then, but a major in flowing, seemingly imperturbable road-holding. Less successful is the ride quality; for now all examples of the Octavia are sat on the MQB’s cheaper rear torsion bar suspension. Combined with 17-inch alloys, the new model seems a tad more brittle than some of its stablemates. Actual discomfort is unusual, but this is a noisier and tetchier companion around town.
Smooth urban progress isn’t helped by the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox's determination to stay in a higher gear even under duress: the engine may well develop all 236lb ft of torque at 1750rpm, but attempting to pull from 20mph in fourth (even under what feels like several inches of throttle) doesn't fit in with the UK’s kamikaze rush hour. Other niggles, such as shutting down the steering’s power assistance during an enforced stop-start lull and occasionally leaving you with an armful of lock to either wind on or off, do eventually surface through the Octavia's commonsensical charm offensive.
Should I buy one?
As we thought it would, Skoda has delivered a heavyweight contender to the UK's family-sized saloon/hatchback market. We’d guess that more than one rival is worried, and they should be. There’s an unmistakable aura of manifest destiny here: the new Octavia effortlessly fills its bigger skin, and, crucially, is a better car for it.
That said, there are a few gripes to consider. Some of the competition ride more agreeably. Some are quicker. Worryingly, some, in the upper echelons, are cheaper. For the £25,565 with-options price of our admittedly ritzy test car you could have a Passat in top-line Sport trim with an even burlier output and better refinement, suggesting (if suggestion were needed) that neither powerplant nor spec represent the range's sweet spot. If you insist on the extra power we'd recommend dropping the DSG for the regular six-speed manual, but most diesel buyers will be drawn instead to the 99g/km CO2 1.6-litre engine in middling SE, and we'd go along with that instinct.
Skoda Octavia Elegance 2.0 TDI CR 150PS DPF DSG
Price: £23,240; 0-62mph: 8.3sec; Top speed: 134mph; Economy: 62.8mpg; CO2: 119g/km; Kerb weight: 1275kg; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Power: 148bhp at 3500-4000rpm; Torque: 236lb ft at 1750-3000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd dual-clutch auto;