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.
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.