The Octavia 1.4 isn’t my first flirtation with Skoda’s new hatch, and it isn’t the first time that the following thoughts have crept into my mind. Why is it that even though the Octavia shares the same mechanicals as the new Mk5 VW Golf, and the same comfort-orientated slant, it doesn’t quite have the same suppleness of ride as the Wolfsburg product? Nor the same ability to suppress noise? Nor even quite the same thunk when you slam the door? Has, then, its mild inferiority been engineered in?
Of course, if you were masterminding the VW Group portfolio you’d probably feel the need to have some sort of brand differentiation. Indeed, it only takes a look at the prices to understand why the Octavia is no Golf: this entry-level 1.4 16v Classic costs £10,750, while a five-door Golf using the same 75bhp engine will set you back £12,495. Suddenly it all makes sense.
Or it does when you consider their dynamic merits. But the Octavia doesn’t make a bad case for itself. It smothers road intrusions better than most other hatches and its handling is competent, if uninspiring.
Just 75bhp at your disposal isn’t quite the turgid experience you might expect, either. The 93lb ft of torque makes for respectable performance, but it is easily flustered by inclines and takes an age to recover from slower-moving traffic in the top two ratios. At least it’s commendably quiet, even at high revs.
Back at the kerbside, the Skoda has more than just a price advantage over the VW, and a further perversion in this brand cascading is that the cheaper car feels better built. We’re not talking about dashboard mouldings and switchgear, as both are the usual top-notch VW group fare. But look below your knees and the Octavia actually has superior plastics, fewer sharp edges and feels, well, more expensive.
So maybe my conspiracy theory about engineered-in inferiority is wide of the mark. Even so, you can’t help feeling that the Octavia’s case would be even further boosted if it provided a bit more zest, because despite the conspicuous value and quality, owning an Octavia 1.4 Classic would be a charmless experience.