The fourth generation of the eminently sensible Skoda Octavia is quite an important car for the Czech firm.
Despite the seemingly unstoppable rise of the SUV, even within Skoda’s ranks, it’s the Octavia that is it’s bread and butter, and since its introduction it has accounted for around a third of the firm’s worldwide production. No pressure then.
We’re still a little way from seeing the car in the metal, but even so we were given the chance to drive a couple of disguised examples. Both were estates, with each being fitted with either a 2.0-litre TDI or a 1.5-litre petrol. There were also six-speed manual and seven-speed DSG transmission options.
Underneath the dazzling camouflage, the Octavia retains the familiar MQB platform, meaning it packs the same wheelbase and hardpoints. Still, the aerodynamics have been improved, by 14 percent, meaning this latest model slips through the air more easily, while the estate models more steeply raked rear screen and large roof spoiler give it very strong Volvo overtones when viewed from behind. Under the skin, the suspension and steering have been subtly massaged to deliver even greater comfort and sharper handling.
The biggest technical changes are reserved for the electrical architecture, which has been totally overhauled to allow the introduction of the latest driver aids. That means there’s now the availability of the latest Level 2 autonomous systems, which effectively combines lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. Matrix LED headlamps are also an option, while the infotainment system has been heavily updated to include the latest connectivity - for example you can now update your preferences to the ‘cloud’ where they can be beamed to any other similarly equipped Skoda when you climb aboard. Neat.
Mechanically, the engines look familiar on the surface, but the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI’s internals have been refreshed, including the use of new pistons and conrods. As ever, the changes have been wrought in the name of efficiency and cleanliness rather than power - a fact that’s highlighted by the revelation that the current entry-level 1.6-litre unit will be dropped in favour of a 115bhp version of this 2.0-litre. There will also be a 187bhp flagship, presumably for the vRS.
Speaking of other versions, once again the Octavia promises to have the broadest line-up on the brand’s books. Details are still sketchy, but on top of the cooking versions there will be the aforementioned vRS and a high-riding Scout, plus both plug-in and 48V mild hybrid models. There will also be a choice of two and four-wheel drivetrains, plus familiar hatchback and estate body styles.
Inside, the Octavia has taken another step upmarket. The cars we drove featured shrouded interiors, but a static display model revealed a classier design and greater use of premium materials. The end result looks good, but with its two-spoke wheel and wing-shaped dashboard treatment, the Skoda has more than a hint of previous generation Mercedes S-Class about it. While space for occupants hasn’t increased (it’s still one of the largest in the class), there’s more room for luggage, with the hatch featuring 600-litres and estate 640-litres, which are increases of 10 and 40-litres respectively. Curiously, the improvements come as much from the way the space is measured as any increase in size, Skoda now using the VDA method. So there you go.