What is it?
Skoda’s biggest selling model in the UK and the go to choice for families who want a comfortable, robust and well-appointed hatchback. Not a car to get excited about then, but one that certainly commands respect.
We tested the facelifted version earlier last month in SE L trim and were impressed with its new wi-fi hotspot capacity, intelligent sat-nav and 9.2-inch infotainment system: SmartLink software that incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes as standard.
However, the same couldn’t be said for its characterless 113bhp 1.6-litre TDI engine and straitlaced driving style; criticisms we hope that this car, with its turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine and its optional adaptive dampers can rectify. If they can add some much-needed vitality to what is a solid, but rather uninspiring package, then Skoda is on to a winner.
What's it like?
Inoffensive; if you ignore the re-styled front end that is. Despite spending the best part of a week with the Octavia, its bisecting front headlights simply failed to grow on us. Perhaps on the hotter vRS models (due later this year), those angular units would look more appropriate, but when they’ve been grafted onto the front end of what is a rather conservative body, the end result looks distinctly ill-proportioned.
Happily, the blending of the new infotainment system and utilitarian interior is an altogether more successful affair. The glossy one-piece touchscreen in our test car was slick and easy to use, despite ditching its physical shortcut buttons for a mostly intuitive on-screen menu. Unsurprisingly, the ‘lesser’ Skoda doesn’t receive the new gesture control system that is available on the more expensive Golf, but it’s no loss. VW’s system is at best a hit-and-miss affair, and at worst a distraction, due to slow response times and a sensor that's mounted too low down. Sometimes less is more.
A sentiment that applies equally as well to the Octavia’s well-rounded 1.4-litre petrol engine. We’ve always had a soft spot for the 1.4 as it strikes a balance between the frugal but slower 1.0-litre petrol engine and the more torquey but less refined 1.6-litre diesel unit further up the range. With 148bhp acceleration is brisk, with 0-62mph dealt with in 8.6sec. Granted, it doesn’t quite have the same shove below 2500rpm as the 1.6-diesel we also tested, but turbo lag is minimal and it revs freely all the way to its 6,500rpm redline.