There was a point on the launch of the new Skoda Octavia estate, somewhere between negotiating the Czech Republic’s snow-dusted roads and cowering in the Octavia’s interior from the icy wind back at the hotel car park, that I realised this could be the only car you ever need. And while a quick glance at the pictures on these pages might not be enough to set your adrenaline flowing, there’s a lot more to it than just the looks.
There was an estate version of the previous Octavia of course, and it was a fine example of the formula that has really worked for Skoda in recent years, majoring on space, quality and an attractive price. The new car retains these qualities, but adds a dose of restrained design, more sophisticated engineering and a higher perception of quality – particularly inside. It is, we are told, an example of ‘simply clever’, Skoda’s new brand tag-line. A touch smug maybe, but an indication of the kind of practical, informed and intelligent buyer Skoda believes is attracted to its cars.
The estate line-up varies slightly from the hatch’s, in that there’s no entry level 1.4-litre model. Instead, the range kicks off with the Classic 1.6, a more powerful version of which is available in the mid-range Ambiente trim, and features VW’s fuel-efficient FSI direct injection system. There’s also a 2.0-litre 150bhp FSI engine – the same output as the old car’s range topping 1.8 turbo motor (vRS excluded). And there’s a pair of diesel engines: the venerable VW 1.9-litre with a fairly tame 105bhp, and a new twin-cam 2.0-litre with 138bhp and 236lb ft of torque. This is probably the quickest variant available, at least until a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine arrives in a vRS model.
For the heartland Octavia estate experience, and with due consideration to load lugging, it’s the 1.9 TDi that we’ve driven here. On the positive side, it supplies all the motive force the ‘simply clever’ driver could ever need. The diesel’s characteristic rush of torque is present, despite the lower output, which makes the Octavia feel responsive and biddable in traffic and able to pull through the five long gears with comparative ease. And Skoda quotes a combined fuel economy figure of 53.3mpg, which is outstanding for a large, practical car. What it doesn’t feel is anything remotely approaching fast, and while that might seem irrelevant in a car such as this, it could make a difference if you carry a car-load of people or use your Octavia to tow. Our guess is that the 1.9-litre motor would feel a little underpowered trying to lug such a weight – especially up hills – and that 2.0-litre TDi would perform much better.
As a driving experience, it probably wouldn’t matter if the Octavia fluffed the finer points of ride, handling and body control, considering the kind of driving it will typically be subjected to. Yet it doesn’t bodge the driving experience in the slightest. As we said back in our road test of the hatchback (29 June), this is a chassis of sophistication and control that never gets flustered. Independent rear suspension helps the car ride with a real fluidity over bumps, and while the Octavia isn’t really very sporty, its poise, light and accurate steering and excellent body control mean that it’s a relaxing yet pleasing drive. There’s the same quiet ease to the gearshift and sadly, the same slightly over-sharp brakes. But driving this car is something you don’t really think about. And that’s a compliment.
What this car still has at its core is space and value for money. The former is obvious, with a massive boot volume of 580 litres. Stand behind the Octavia and the load space appears huge, even more so when you fold down the split rear seats to give 1620 litres. Only in Elegance trim does the Octavia get a flat load area, thanks to a higher boot floor that doubles as a storage box – it’s not available on lower-specced cars. There’s a useful assortment of hooks and luggage fasteners though, and a luggage cover that retracts at the press of a button. Like the hatch, there’s plenty of room in the front and rear of the passenger compartment, and it’s an interior of restrained elegance, with its high-quality plastics, quality switchgear and the supportive seats.
But the Skoda’s main battle weapon is still value for money. At around £700 more than the hatchback model for model, diesel estate ownership starts for a barely believable £13,480 for the 1.9TDi Classic. That’s a lot of car for the money. Sure, you’ll have to wind the windows down yourself, and without air conditioning keep them down in the summer, but even so, it’s great value. At £14,500 the Ambiente adds air-con and electric windows, and is the one to go for unless money is really tight. Items such as anti-lock brakes and four airbags are all standard (curtain bags are still only an option) and there’s always the top-spec Elegance model or a long list of extras such as sat-nav and xenon lights.
So think about it. Here is a car that will carry most things you’ll ever need to carry, is frugal, classless, comfortable and is really a VW in disguise, all for a bargain price. Every car you could ever need, except you’re an Autocar reader, in which case the lack of any excitement or emotional involvement might be a bit of a problem. That’ll require something low and fast in the garage in addition; something usually frail and troublesome. But then there’s always the Skoda to rely on.