REVIEW DATE: 30 Oct 2008
Skoda's latest Octavia attempts to deliver some style to back up its undoubted substance. Jonathan Crouch reports
For something a bit bigger than an ordinary family hatchback that features great build quality at an affordable price, Skoda's Octavia is hard to beat. Core strengths are polished road manners, generous equipment and surprising amounts of space. Try one and you might decide you don't need that expensive Mondeo-sized car after all.
A couple of decades ago, few families had Skoda on their shopping lists. This was a value brand but it wasn't one you'd attach much value to. What changed all of that was this car, the Octavia, launched in 1996 and the model that finally persuaded buyers to take Skoda seriously. It was a conservative, spacious and capable design based on the Volkswagen Golf and over a million were sold before this second generation version arrived in 2004.
This car consolidated its predecessor's success amongst buyers who rather liked the idea of a five-door hatch or estate car bigger than a Golf but slightly smaller than something Mondeo-sized like a Passat. Once they'd taken delivery, they were rarely disappointed. Even as recently as 2008, the Octavia was winning its class in the JD Power Customer Satisfaction survey. By the end of that year however, sales were starting to dwindle, hence the announcement of the facelifted version we're looking at here.
When the second generation version of this car was first announced, all the stuff you didn't see - chassis, engines and so on - was pretty much identical to those parts used in far more expensive VW Group products like the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3. That's not quite so true these days: this Skoda is based on the Golf MKV rather than the more refined MKVI. Still, its conservative target market will be less than interested in such engineering niceties.
"These days, there's a lovely sense of inverted snobbery to Skoda ownership.."
They'll probably be quite pleased to hear that though this Octavia may have been revised in a number of key areas, these don't extend to driving manners that remain assured, comfortable but nothing too sporting. The more performance-orientated vRS models at the top of the range are something of an anomaly in this respect but are all the more welcome for that - well worth a look. So, at the other end of the range, are the 1.2 and 1.4 TSI turbocharged petrol versions which represent a good compromise between petrol power and diesel economy. The 1.8 TSI variant offers a similar approach but this time with 160bhp under your right foot. The 1.6-litre TDI diesel used in the GreenLine model and elsewhere is a strong option with common-rail fuel injection helping it to greater efficiency.
Though hardly for the attention-seeking, the Octavia is a little more extrovert these days thanks to its more imposing grille, topped with a thick band of chrome. Substantial headlamps flank it to form a band across the nose that sits above restyled bumpers. Moving backwards, there are revised side mouldings, while smarter C-shaped light clusters adorn the rear. Overall, this remains a solid-looking, nicely sculpted car with more than a hint of Volvo in its design make-up: perfect then, for that older target market.
The interior revisions have, if anything, an even greater impact. Previous Octavia interiors felt rather self-consciously plain - as if they were trying too hard not to be a Volkswagen Golf. These days, it's much better. Enhancements to the switchgear, entertainment systems and trim work well. There's a smarter steering wheel, classier instrument panel graphics and the option of a hi-tech touch-screen sat nav. Overall then, the gap between this and the acclaimed interiors of Volkswagen and Audi products is not a big one.
The Octavia was always renowned for possessing a huge boot, given its family hatchback underpinnings, and so it remains. You get 560 litres with the seats in place - a little more than you would in something Mondeo sized - and 1350 litres with the seats folded - slightly less, but still in the same ballpark. Go for the Octavia Estate and the respective statistics are 580 and 1620 litres. All these figures are massive improvements on what you'd get from the Golf and Focus-sized family hatchbacks that this Skoda is priced against. Passenger room is similarly generous - and that's important since the prodigious luggage space of the first generation Octavia required rear seat passengers to pay in kind. The long wheelbase of this second generation model endows it with admirable rear legroom, even when the front seats are occupied by long limbed adults.
Skoda has pitched the Octavia in the £12,000 to £20,000 bracket and if you're considering one, your reaction to its value proposition will probably depend on what you're comparing it to - Focus-sized Family Hatchback or Mondeo-sized Medium Range hatch. Either way, the news is good since against most brands, it can undercut both. Ironically, its value proposition looks particularly good against VW Group stablemate Volkswagen. Model for model, you're looking at a saving of around £2,500 on a comparable Golf and around £4,000 on a comparable Volkswagen Passat (which is still smaller in most meaningful respects). You'll need a premium of around £800 for the Octavia estate model.
The petrol engines are pretty much as you'd find in a VW Golf and, as with that car, you should try and steer away from the entry-level 80bhp 1.4-litre unit and confine your deliberations to the 105bhp, 122bhp and 160bhp, 1.2 TSI, 1.4 TSI and 1.8 TSI variants. A 200bhp 2.0 TSI engine sits in the vRS model at the top of the range, offering Golf GTI performance for nearly £5,000 less.
The diesel proposition is less clear-cut given Skoda's continuing use of the older, noisier direct injection technology now abandoned by the German brands. Try and avoid the rackety old 105bhp 1.9 TDI PD unit at the foot of the range and at least go for the 2.0 TDI 140 engine or the advanced 1.6 TDI. At the top of the range, the 170bhp 2.0 TDI vRS model does get the latest common rail diesel technology, but by this point, you're up towards £20,000 territory, above what most will be prepared to pay.
Across the range, you get most of the basics as standard equipment, both there's an awful lot (sadly including the potentially life-saving ESP stability control system) on the options list. Still, with the savings you'll be making over comparable rivals, you might feel inclined to splash out a little - perhaps even on the advanced seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox borrowed from posher Audis. Buyers in search of extra traction can choose the all-wheel-drive transmission of the 4x4 variant or the more overtly SUV-like Scout model. Both are all based on more powerful Octavia estate variants and respectively ride 17 and 40mm higher than standard models. As much cheaper alternatives to cars like Volvo's XC70 and Audi's Allroad, these make some sense.
The upfront costs of the Octavia are certainly attractive when you weigh up what you're getting in the package but what about running the car? For a petrol engine, the 1.4-litre TSI unit makes a very strong showing at the pumps. It can manage 42.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 154g/km which will go down well with cost-conscious buyers. The TDI 140 diesel model manages 51.4mpg on the combined cycle and 145g/km of CO2.
Octavia buyers can expect reasonable residual values (39-43% after 3 years or 36,000 miles). Compare that to 42-56% for the VW Golf but also to the 34-37% you'd get for a comparable Ford Focus. Insurance is going to be somewhere between group 4 and group 15 depending on your choice of engine and trim.
The Octavia is a hard car to pigeonhole, given the way it straddles the Focus-sized family hatchback and Mondeo-sized medium range sectors - but then that could be exactly what many buyers are looking for. If you prioritise style and design innovation, this probably isn't the car for you, even in this improved guise, but on more practical criteria like build quality, equipment, space and price, there isn't a lot that beats it.
These days, there's a lovely sense of inverted snobbery to Skoda ownership. Why on earth, owners wonder, would people pay thousands more to get a smaller version of exactly the same thing just because it has a Volkswagen, an Audi or even a SEAT badge? If you don't believe in sacrificing value for money at the altar of brand equity, the Octavia could very well represent the perfect set of wheels.
The results below show the top OCTAVIA deals on buyacar
|Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI CR Elegance 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI CR SE 5dr DSG diesel hatchback|
|Price £14,500||Save £7,285|
|Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI CR Elegance 5dr diesel estate|
|Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI SE 5dr hatchback|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT OCTAVIA DEALS|
|For OCTAVIA RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.1 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
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