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Skoda’s practical and spacious family hatchback takes a step up in size

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There’s a particular sentence in the press pack of the Skoda Octavia that’s worth repeating: 'Skoda’s success and development has been driven by one key model: the Octavia.' 

This is the brand’s biggest-selling model – Skoda has sold 3.7 million globally since 1996 – but more than that, its evolution is a three-generation account of Skoda’s triumphant rise from former Eastern Bloc hulk to Volkswagen Group darling. 

The Octavia uses the VW Group's flexible MQB platform

Now, this new Skoda Octavia has changed significantly; not only to maximise its own potential but also to make space for another car in the firm’s line-up. 

The Skoda Rapid is now the compact family hatchback of the range, leaving the Octavia with a bigger body and, inevitably, a higher price to prevent it from clashing with its sibling.  

Both increases push the model into unfamiliar territory; it is now noticeably larger than a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus, but still slightly smaller than a Volkswagen Passat. For 2017, the third generation Skoda Octavia was given a facelift, albeit a slightly controversial one. Changes weren't merely cosmetic, although the most poignant ones were, which included a more streamlined bonnet, redesigned rear and tail lights, and the decision to split the headlight cluster into two sections.

Inside the Octavia got more clever touches including a new bottle holder, an integrated torch in the boot, similar to the latest Skoda Superb, and updated infotainment systems. As for engines they broadly stayed the same as before with the Skoda Octavia vRS models getting a touch more power, while the emergence of the Skoda Octavia vRS 245 sees the model go toe-to-toe with its sibling and rival the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

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In order to ensure it appeals to both private and business users alike, Skoda has decided to offer the Octavia with 1.0-litre and 1.4-litre TSI petrols and 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre diesels, while those wanting a hot version can choose a Skoda Octavia vRS which is available with a 2.0-litre TSI unit or a Skoda Octavia VRS 2.0-litre TDI.

The bigger capcity engines are available with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, while the smaller ones can be had with a seven-speed dual-clutch, which may well prove a desirable option to those who commute in traffic on a regular basis, while new options - including intelligent park assistance - are available for the first time in the Octavia range.

Meanwhile, a four-figure sum has been added to the car’s price point. Skoda is betting that its standard-bearer can prosper within this slightly richer market niche.

Our review of the Skoda Octavia will reveal if the gamble has paid off.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Skoda Octavia rear

If the letters ‘MQB’ aren’t already part of your automotive lexicon, the Skoda Octavia is yet another reminder why they should be. 

The Volkswagen Group’s modular platform underpins a large number of models across the various brands. The key to that breadth of application is flexibility, evidenced here by the fact that the Octavia’s wheelbase is a full 50mm longer than that of the Volkswagen Golf and 108mm longer than its predecessor’s

Ice scraper fitted inside the fuel flap is a neat touch

The effect is a dramatic enhancement of rear legroom, far-flung C-pillars and a 90mm addition to the previous car’s total length (18mm is concealed in a shorter front overhang). 

What the bigger body doesn’t do, impressively, is add to the second-generation car’s kerb weight. Better selection of materials – not least the greater use of high-tensile steel in the platform – and lighter components mean that Skoda claims as much as a 102kg weight saving over the previous Octavia

But it’s worth mentioning that our scales recorded a 110kg difference between the maker’s quote and reality, which suggests that equipment spec has a significant impact on the final figure. 

Despite also growing in height and width, the repercussions for the styling are deftly handled. This remains a well proportioned car; it’s anonymous, and cursed with a huge tailgate to manhandle, but it never appears ungainly or oversized.

Under the fluff, the Octavia gets a new suspension set-up — albeit one still made up of MacPherson struts at the and a torsion beam rear axle – and, for now, is offered with a choice of four engines. 

All are familiar VW Group units: the 1.0 TSI and 1.4 TSI constitute the petrol line-up, while the all-important diesel options are covered by the 1.6 TDI and the 2.0 TDI range-topper

High-performance vRS versions get more dramatic power outputs from the 2.0 TSI and TDI engines, as well as the more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension that the regular models are denied.

There are some models which comes with four-wheel drive, including the Octavia Scout and the 2.0-litre diesel vRS.

INTERIOR

Skoda Octavia interior

Skodas have traditionally been simple, straightforward, no-nonsense cars, and they are themes that are largely continued inside the latest Skoda Octavia

We say ‘largely’, because the introduction of the Rapid, which has allowed the Octavia to be pushed towards the mainstream ‘large family’ sector, means that Skoda has felt compelled to offer some smart technology options.

The carrier bag hooks in the boot are great but why not put one in the front footwell?

We’ll come to those in a moment, but, by and large, if you like getting more space than you expect and simple, clear controls, you’ll like what the Octavia offers. The driver’s and front passenger’s seats are large and flat but remain comfortable over distances, while generous storage cubbies abound, including places that will take a 1.5-litre water bottle.

The rear seats are similarly accommodating, and even large occupants will be able to get comfortable. Wide door openings, a broad seat base and generous headroom are all present and correct. The rear seatbacks fold (although they don’t leave a flat floor, which is only a mild disappointment) in front of a large boot. 

With those rear seats in place, the load space amounts to 590 litres, rising to 1590 litres with the seats folded. The big, heavy tailgate takes a bit of lifting, but at least it means there’s a large opening.

The cabin’s design, meanwhile, is relatively clean and simple. The dials are crisp and additional display systems easy to read, backed up by large buttons. The recent facelift has also done wonders to lift the appeal of the cabin to give a added plushness and moderness to an already ergonomically pleasing cabin.

Basic Skoda Octavia models are sensibly equipped, despite the low price tag, with six trim levels to choose from - S, SE, SE-L, Laurin & Klement, Scout and vRS

Entry-level S models come with 16in alloy wheels, LED headlights and rear lights, tinted rear windows, hill hold assist, advanced electronic locking differential, air conditioning, electric front windows, and electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors as standard. Also fitted is Skoda's 6.5in touchscreen Bolero infotainment system complete with DAB radio, smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and eight speakers.

SE models get added niceties such as 16in alloy wheels, front foglights, cruise control, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, electric rear windows, pockets on the rear of the front seats and two large cubbyholes which are air conditioned. Upgrade to the mid-range the SE-L trim and you'll find your Octavia kitted out in 17in alloy wheels, full LED headlights, an Alcantara and leather upholstery, auto-dimming rear view mirror, front assist emergency braking, automatic lights and wipers, and the very British umbrellas under the front seats. There is also an upgraded infotainment system complete with an 8.0in touchscreen display, sat nav and wifi hotspot.

The luxurious and range-topping Laurin & Klement trim gives the Octavia 18in alloy wheels, cornering front foglights, LED rear lights, heated front seats, an electrically adjustable driver's seat, LED ambient interior lighting, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and start, numerous safety techonologies, a heated steering wheel and auto-dimming and folding wing mirrors. If that wasn't enough you also get a 9.2in infotainment touchscreen display and a Canton audio system as standard too.

The rugged, off-road capable Scout gets all the standard equipment as the SE trimmed Octavia, plus adaptive LED headlights, silver roof rails, tinted rear windows, a rugged looking bodykit with lots of plastic moulded fitments, an Alcantara and leather upholstery, LED ambient interior lighting, a dedicated off-road mode, engine guard and underbody stone guard, heated front seats and steering wheel, auto dimming rear-view mirror, and a removable boot light. As for the infotainment system Skoda has kitted out the Scout with its Amundsen version complete with an 8.0in touchscreen display, sat nav and an integrated wifi hotspot.

Those after a few more thrills from their Octavia can opt for the vRS, which is available with either an 181bhp 2.0TDI engine and four-wheel drive, while there is also a 227bhp 2.0TSI unit which powered the pre-facelifted vRS 230. Regardless of which powertrain you choose the equipment level is the same - 18in alloy wheels, adaptive full LED headlights, vRS-specific foglights, an aggressive vRS bodykit, red brake calipers, sports seats, an advanced traction control system, auto wipers and lights and Skoda's Amundsen infotainment system. Opt for the vRS 245, you will get the same power as a Golf GTI Performance and 19in alloy wheels, a rortier exhaust and a full Alcantara upholstery thrown into the package.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Skoda Octavia front end

The Skoda Octavia features a range of familiar VW Group engine and transmission options. Four powerplants are offered: a 113bhp 1.0-litre petrol, a 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol, a 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel and a range-topping 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel

All deliver adequate performance and are capable of 0-62mph in less than 10sec, although the larger-displacement units are more flexible and better suited to motorway cruising and cross-country driving.

The 1.6-litre diesel needs a six-speed manual gearbox

TSI petrol and 2.0-litre diesel models get a six-speed manual gearbox, the 1.6-litre diesel a five-speed unit.

Dual-clutch automatic gearboxes are available as well; whether you prefer the automatic or the alternative (and cheaper) manual option will primarily be a matter of personal preference. The DSG gearbox works very well in the Octavia, and goes about its job quietly and unobtrusively. 

What's most notable about the Octavia's engine range, however, is the somewhat disappointing 1.6-litre diesel engine. Most buyers might consider it the sweet spot in the line-up, thanks to its high economy, low emissions and moderate punch.

While the 1.6-litre diesel is mechanically refined and perfectly functional, it's slow – more than a second slower from rest to 62mph than Skoda’s claim for it and even further separated from the current class standard. The first problem is a decidedly ordinary engine. In the Skoda Octavia, the 1.6-litre turbodiesel seems quiet and flexible, but it responds sluggishly at low speeds. And then once it’s pulling, you can’t help but feel a little nonplussed by the maximum power and torque it serves up.

That perceived shortage of urge is compounded by the engine's five-speed manual gearbox. Where most sub-100g/km diesels now give you a more closely stacked six-speed gearbox with which to charge their relatively modest powerplants, you’re stuck with five speeds here – and every ratio in it feels that bit longer and more laboured than it should. The end result is that the 1.6-litre diesel feels worthy and basic, or “like a bit of a plodder”, as one tester elegantly put it.

You might think such things wouldn’t matter to a typical Skoda owner. And we might agree, if it weren’t such an abiding theme of the Octavia’s driving experience. Only unusually laid back or undemanding drivers would be entirely satisfied with what they found under this car’s right-hand pedal – and only then if they hadn’t had experience of the class’s more sprightly offerings. The 1.6-litre diesel Octavia’s fuel economy, meanwhile, won’t be a great compensation.

If you're set on a diesel option, it's probably best to go for the 2.0-litre diesel. While it may be a little harsh at higher speeds, it'll return good economy and may prove even more frugal than the harder-worked 1.6-litre unit. Don't entirely discount the petrol options though: they're quiet, smooth and willing and, if you're not covering starship mileages each year, the running costs won't be excessive. 

The vRS models come in two flavours - a diesel, which can be specced with four-wheel drive, is torquey low down and pretty swift when up to speed, a real alternative contender to the Volkswagen Golf GTD and Ford Focus ST diesel ding-dong. The petrol is obviously the purists choice and regardless of whether you opt for the standard car of the vRS 245, you are getting a free-revving turbocharged unit that puts on the same footing as the Golf GTI's for character, power output and flexibility.

RIDE & HANDLING

Skoda Octavia hatch and estate

There are things Skoda Octavia drivers want and there are things they don’t want. And one of the things they don’t want, by all accounts, is a handling package honed at the Nürburgring and a teeth-jarring ride as a result. 

Instead, they want a car that steers with ease, rides with aplomb and leaves you feeling rested having driven it. True to form, that’s what they’ve got here. At 2.7 turns lock to lock, the Octavia steers with only modest briskness, but also with utterly predictable weight and respectable accuracy. 

It's not wieldy or responsive, just reassuringly stable.

It holds a straight line with ease, and although a touch more positivity around the straight ahead wouldn’t hurt, the best thing you can say about the steering is that it doesn’t really enter your consciousness.

Ditto the rest of the driving experience. Seldom is there a jolt over a rough surface or a serious cabin intrusion from a motorway expansion joint. In fact, the Octavia is a perfectly acceptable A-road and motorway companion. Noise levels are low at idle and, thanks to the lengthy gearing, stay low at higher speeds. 

It all contributes to making the Skoda a pretty tireless thing to pilot for mile after mile. But there are other family hatches that are just as comfortable as the Octavia while also managing to steer with finesse and handle with at least a hint of vigour, notably the Volkswagen Golf and Ford’s Ford Focus

So where does the Skoda fall on the scale? Near the bottom. Its handling is safe, predictable and tidy enough but there’s little here to inspire keen drivers.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Skoda Octavia

The Skoda Octavia makes a decent case for itself with adequate kit levels, a high degree of practicality, low running costs and a comfortable and refined interior.

Depreciation and other costs are par for the course. You don’t buy a large family car without a premium badge and expect it to hold its value for ever, but the significant proportion of Skoda owners who go in as private buyers means that residuals are better than some of the more fleet-focused, discount-territory alternatives.

Tick the box for the optional spare wheel. It could save you considerable grief.

You won't lose out much if you buy an S model but - if you are buying a new Octavia - it's probably best to opt for an SE L model.

Besides offering more kit and being easier to live with, it'll prove easier to sell on and potentially hold its value better.

All of the engines are frugal but, predictably, many buyers will make a beeline for diesel variants which will further help prop up the residual values of the models in question.

On paper, the SE L 1.6 TDI looks like a particularly good option with a sensible blend of kit and economy, if not the pace you might want. The lethargic acceleration, however, means you have to be a bit frisky with the throttle to make serious progress - and that has an impact on fuel economy.

 

VERDICT

Skoda Octavia rear quarter

You can ignore the talk about repositioning; the Octavia remains the same value-added hatch that we know and rate. 

It’s a bigger one, yes, but if Skoda was serious about turning this car into a Volkswagen Passat rival, it wouldn’t have made it cheaper than an equivalent Volkswagen Golf.

We'd like the Octavia to be just a bit more engaging to drive

Nonetheless, the car’s practicality is outstanding, while material quality and equipment are as good as anything at the price. Factor in the Octavia's range of decent engines and low running costs, and the overall package is an appealing and sensible one, even despite its questionable post-facelift face.

Consequently, those looking for comfortable, robust, well appointed family transport could do no better; ultimately, that’s what earns the Skoda Octavia its fourth full road test star.

It's hard not to imagine the grabbing the attention of those who were considering something Ford Mondeo-sized too, which will go a considerable way to helping Skoda achieve its aims of getting the Octavia into the top ten global best-sellers. 

But those who prefer their hatchbacks with a bit of an edge might not be wholly satisfied with this Skoda. Performance that’s only adequate, dynamics that do little to engage and styling that’s inoffensive but bland aren’t quite what we expect from a mature European car maker. 

Having mastered the art of the functional, that’s exactly what Skoda must now aspire to be.

 

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Skoda Octavia 2014-2020 First drives