Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI SE Driven

The Skoda Octavia was a turning point for the company upon its launch in 1998. It was the car that showed just what Skoda was capable of under VW ownership, and has sold by the boat-load since.

Three generations on the Octavia is larger and more luxurious, now encroaching upon the D-segment from its C-segment origins – think Passatand Mondeo, rather than Golfand Focus. It’s still not an aspirational purchase, but with the 1.6 TDI and SE trim, is it a car you could live with day-to-day?


Skoda Octavia side

Skoda has played it safe with the Octavia’s styling. It’s not an unattractive car, but it won’t get the pulse racing either. Our test car’s white paint was particularly unflattering, and more than once was the Octavia mistaken for its smaller Rapid sibling. We even double-checked the boot badge ourselves upon delivery…

We know from driving the car on its launch that the Octavia works better in darker colours. White paint hides the car’s sharp character line along the side, and seems to blend several panels into one.

Skoda Octavia rear angle

If there’s one thing to be said for the colour, it’s that motorway traffic seems rather careful around you – several police forces around the country have been known to use Octavia vRS as pursuit cars…

Positives? Despite the fairly tall ride height, the five-spoke alloys do a good job of balancing out the shape. And if you like subtlety, then Skoda’s design language should go down well – it may not be flashy, but it’ll age well.


Skoda Octavia interior

The Octavia’s cabin has taken a step up from the previous car, and unless you’re really prodding for cheaper plastics there’s little here that would look out of place on Skoda’s more expensive rivals.

Cabin design is simple and logical, though rather grey and dull. There’s a set of clear dials, and between them sits a maxi-dot screen giving you trip data, satnav instructions and various other tidbits of information. The Amundsen infotainment system is clear and easy to use, also allowing access to the car’s driving modes when the dashboard button is pressed.

Skoda Octavia rear seats

All buyers will appreciate the space. The old Octavia was hardly cramped, but the new one really does let four large adults stretch out. The driver’s seat is comfortable, supportive and reasonably adjustable, and the steering wheel also offers a range of adjustment. Basically, you’d have to be a particularly odd shape to not find your ideal driving position.

And the boot is huge. 590 litres of space almost makes the Octavia Estate redundant, unless you really do haul proverbial wardrobes about with you on a regular basis. Four a family of four or five, or a group of adults on a business trip, luggage space is ample.


Skoda Octavia light

Again, the basics are right here. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record (as the following applies to a lot of high-volume cars these days) the Octavia doesn’t offer thrills (even if you put the car in Sport mode…), but should meet the driving needs of most buyers.

Steering is direct and well-weighted, but feel-free. The gearshift is light and unobtrusive. Brakes pull you up as briskly as you’d hope, but aren’t the last word in pedal feel. Everything, essentially, is easy to use, and has clearly been designed to be unobtrusive, rather than interactive. And if you spend most of your time on the motorway or stuck in traffic, that’s exactly how it should be.

Skoda Octavia steering wheel

Refinement is also pretty good. Sit at a steady 70-80 mph on the motorway, and only a rustle of wind noise will really disturb your peace.

The final factor, ride quality, is reasonable, but no better than that. A slight lack of sophistication in the Octavia’s rear suspension – it’s a torsion beam, rather than the multi-link favoured by Volkswagen, Ford, and indeed higher-spec Octavias – means some bumps are more apparent than you’d expect. Like the rest of the drive though, it rarely jarrs enough to intrude.


Skoda Octavia engine

The 1.6-litre TDI is probably the weakest link in the Octavia’s chain.

Despite a 100 kg diet for this generation, the Octavia is still a relatively bulky object, and the 105 PS unit felt under-nourished throughout our test. It’s not down to lack of running-in, either – with over 7,000 miles on the clock, any early tightness should have disappeared.

Skoda Octavia dials

Thus, the quoted 10.4 second 0-62 mph sprint sounds a little optimistic. Top speed is 121 mph, and long-ish gearing means the engine is at least well-suited to higher-speed work, sitting between 2,000-2,200 rpm at general motorway speeds. It’s more refined than in other Skoda applications, too.

More optimistic still is the car’s claimed economy. Officially this is a 74.3 mpg car, with 99 g/km CO2 emissions. In reality, we’d expect something in the mid-50s range. If you have the will to stick at 70 mph on the motorway then 60 mpg is possible, but 2-litre diesels can hit those numbers these days, and offer more performance too.

Value for money

Skoda Octavia satnav

With 17-inch wheels, 550 of Amundsen sat-nav and a series of smaller options, our test Octavia clocked in at 21,135. Without that kit, you’re looking at a bill of 19,560.

That base price is around 1.5k cheaper than the equivalent Golf 1.6 TDI, which neatly illustrates the Skoda’s value – it sits on the same platform, but while it doesn’t drive as well as the VW, it’s cheaper, much larger and still built to the same exacting standards.

Skoda Octavia boot

Kit levels are high too – a touchscreen infotainment system is standard, as is a leather wheel, DAB radio, hill-hold assist, climate control, the driving mode selections, stop-start and roughly a billion three-letter safety acronyms.

Factor in the low CO2 rating – for zero VED – and decent economy, and running costs should also be low.

Skoda Octavia badge



Practicality, value and comfort go a long way to offsetting what might otherwise be a fairly average score for this Skoda.

carwow isn’t an outlet that places race track thrills above the daily ownership experience (unless the car purports to offer such things, of course) but it’s hard to overlook the Octavia 1.6 TDI’s tardy pace, worthy-but-dull styling and unremarkable drive when there are cars out there do so much, so well. If you want an Octavia, pick the 2-litre TDI – you’ll appreciate the extra urge.

Head over to our Skoda Octavia reviews page for more reviews, specifications, photos and videos.

Skoda Octavia

A well-made hatchback with lots of room for not much cash
£17,085 - £28,335
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