Skoda sold over 1.4 million of the first generation model and nearly 2.3 million of the last, and aims to continue that success with the new, third-generation model.
Like most cars these days, the Octavia has grown in most dimensions next to its forebear, but with the Rapid now occupying space below it in the Skoda range the Octavia can afford to grow. It hasn’t just grown in size either, but also in stature. The competitively-priced Rapid is positioned to hoover up the budget-conscious family buyers, leaving the Octavia room to move upmarket.
That’s certainly the impression you get as you approach the car. Its square-cut lines probably won’t get the heart racing, but they do lend the Octavia an Audi-like appeal.
It’s also best specified in typically Audi colours like black, silver and other deep metallic finishes – white is in vogue these days, but it hides the car’s neat creases making it look a little slab-sided.
As always with Octavias, the design hints at a saloon body, but a full tailgate lifts to the enormous boot below.
Inside the Octavia continues to impress in its understated way. Those looking for visual drama would be better served elsewhere, but family or fleet buyers embarking upon their daily journeys will appreciate the solid build quality, quality materials and comfortable cabin.
Finding a suitable driving position is easy enough, particularly with the optional electric seat adjustment fitted to the Elegance model you see here. The Alcantara seats proved comfortable even after several hours, and the regular contact points – wheel, gear selector – felt like quality items. And, joy of joys, you get a proper handbrake, rather than a little electric button.
Space front and rear is more than adequate, and the boot is truly cavernous at 590 litres. You’d have no trouble squeezing in all the kit of a typical family holiday, and after a weekly shop you’d still have room to spare.
The Volkswagen group has been in the game too long to mess up ergonomics, and in this respect the Octavia is pretty much faultless. It would not, in the slightest, be a difficult car to live with day to day.
That also applies to the way it drives. We started the day in a 1.6 TDI with a seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) transmission, and ended it in a 2.0 TDI with the six-speed manual.
Each car had the same direct, well-weighted steering, the same high-speed stability, the same composure and grip through bends and the same powerful brakes.
Both also featured the same slightly unsettled ride quality, perhaps a symptom of the 17-inch alloy wheels standard on the two Elegance-spec cars we drove, or perhaps because the new Octavia actually has 100 kg less weight to smother bumps like it used to. It was never uncomfortable, just a little lumpier than we expected.
And until the vRS model arrives in July, neither is what you’d call “fun” – but as ever, the merit of this varies from driver to driver.
While wind noise was also a little more audible at motorway speeds than we were expecting, but engine noise is kept admirably low in either of the diesels we tested. Both 1.6 and 2.0 TDIs are strong engines with excellent official fuel economy – 72.4 and 68.9 mpg respectively, the former with the DSG transmission.
Gear changes from the DSG are imperceptible. The Octavia’s Normal, Sport and Eco driving modes make a real difference on how the car behaves, too. Normal is self-explanatory. Sport hangs onto revs for a little longer and also downchanges early when you brake into corners, while the car responds a little quicker to your right foot.
Eco is quite clever, and provided you don’t drive everywhere flat out, quite pleasant too. Generally, it will change gear early, and tends to give you higher gears for any given corner. Rather than making the car feel slow and unresponsive (as many Eco modes are guilty of) it’s actually quite satisfying to feel the engine making the best of its low-revs torque.
The car also “coasts” in Eco mode, decoupling engine from transmission when you lift off the throttle pedal. Should you brake, it then re-couples to provide you with engine braking. It’s effective, unintrusive and no doubt contributes to that excellent economy figure, as does standard stop-start on all models.
The six-speed manual is easy to use, if not quite as satisfying as using the DSG’s features. With 150 PS the 2.0′s performance is strong – officially it’ll reach 62 mph in 8.2 seconds (the 1.6 takes 10.5), but it’s the in-gear acceleration that really makes the difference.
Value for money
The upshot of either engine is that we saw an indicated 56 mpg in the 1.6 after over two hours of mixed driving, and an impressive 60 mpg from the 2.0 TDI, after an hour on some lightly-trafficked A-roads.
The price of all Octavias has risen with the new model, but Skoda has worked hard to add value in terms of equipment – and says you’re getting over 5,000 of extra kit on the top-end Elegance models.
All Octavias also get a range of safety and convenience features more familiar to luxury vehicles – adaptive headlights, adaptive cruise control, automatic parking assistant, lane-keeping assistant and more. And it isn’t like the Octavia is unaffordable – while our 1.6 and 2.0 Elegance test cars cost 25,095 and 22,715 respectively, you can get into an Octavia S 1.2 TSI from just 15,990.
Priced from: 15,990 to 23,240
Combined MPG: 53.3 to 74.3
CO2: 99 to 121 g/km
Unsurprisingly, Skoda has churned out another highly competent Octavia. The project only needed a few briefs – modernise the styling, add equipment, and for the love of God don’t mess it up – and it succeeds at all. The Octavia’s boost in size means it’s now competing for size with cars in the class above, but its pricing and value means the Golf class still has much to worry about.
We’re happy to recommend either of the models we drove, though if you can live without DSG then the 2.0 TDI will offer similar economy with better performance for less money – so it’s our pick here.
What the press think
It’s early days for Octavia reviews at the moment, but those available so far echo our own thoughts. Quality, space and value are praised, the slightly jiggly ride quality less so. And like us, most are eagerly awaiting the vRS model…