First Drive: Skoda Octavia
What is it: Third generation family hatch
Key features: Larger, more economy, new tech
Our view: These are busy times for Skoda – the last 12 months have seen two new models launched and record sales, as the brand works towards its stated aim of 80,000 UK sales a year by 2015.
Last year’s total was 53,602, almost 19 per cent up on 2011 but still with a way to go. And that aim has a lot to do with why the Skoda Octavia, the first model renewal in this latest product offensive, is facing a big rival – wearing the same badge.
Skoda launched the Rapid in November 2012 (the CarandVanNews first drive is here), and whereas the Octavia was always a slightly odd Focus and Astra rival that was a little bigger than either, the Rapid, designed to sit between Fabia supermini and Octavia, is – about the same size as the previous Octavia. So how does that work?
Well it is about size, and target market. Neatly making room for the Rapid, the third-generation Octavia measures up distinctly bigger than its predecessor, 90mm longer and 45mm wider, with the biggest stretch of 108mm being, most significantly, to the wheelbase.
All this means rather more room inside, both for passengers and their luggage, the new Octavia’s boot offering a 590-litre volume that Skoda proudly claims is best in class, and extendable by dropping the seats to 1,580 litres. And don’t forget, the Octavia was a roomy car anyway…
The newcomer is also a prime example of the versatility of the VW Group’s modular MQB platform, which forms the underpinnings for the Octavia, and the Rapid, and VW’s new Golf, and the Audi A3, and the SEAT Leon that will be the next CarandVanNews first drive.
So the Octavia is a bigger car, yet according to Skoda still a Focus/Astra challenger, so surely it is also a Rapid rival? Nope, the marketing pitches the two cars as complementing each other, the Rapid with its £12,900–£18,100 price range aimed at those counting costs closely, the Octavia’s £15,990 to £23,240 ticket pitched at a more upmarket, and crucially to a large part fleet audience. In fact Skoda believes the arrival of the new Octavia better defines the Rapid’s market (see here).
Of the 10,000 Octavia sales predicted in 2013 (rising past 17,000 in a full year), 57 per cent are expected to be to fleet buyers. These choosy people will be attracted by fuel costs down an average of £13 a month, insurance dropped by a full group, and a quality makeover that has propelled the car’s predicted residual values by 13 per cent – whole life costs for a fleet driver running an Octavia are predicted to be more than £1,000 less than the previous version.
So lots of figures, but does the experience live up to the hype? Well first impressions on slipping into the car are good. The cabin is very well tailored, the surfaces touch-friendly and with a quality feel, the controls sensibly positioned. It’s also a very uncluttered environment, Skoda following the VW Group trend to replacing dials and switches with operation through a touchscreen display mounted high on the centre console. It’s intuitive and works very well.
Initially there are four engines – 1.2 and 1.4 petrols, and 1.6 and 2.0 diesels, the latter offered optionally with the DSG sequential gearbox. More versions will soon follow, most notably an 87g/km Greenline model.
CarandVanNews tried the 1.6 diesel, likely to be the one that proves most popular to the fleet market so important to this car’s success. This will be much to do with the manual version offering official average mpg figures of more than 74mpg and 99g/km emissions levels, so no road tax or congestion charge bills – choose the optional DSG ‘box and it creeps the wrong side of the line, to 102g/km.
This engine is available across all three trim levels with the cheapest S variant costing from £18,040. Under the bonnet are 104 horses, which once would have been sneered at as miniscule, but not these days, with modern tech and lightweight materials. The 1.6 Octavia hustles itself along eagerly and with great composure, though the engine note can occasionally become a little noticeable when worked hard.
In terms of handling the Octavia is up to the mark, its turn-in precise, reactions predictable even when pushed on. Personally we think the VW Golf, effectively a sister car, is a little better, but the VW product is so good there is no disgrace in coming a close second, especially when the Skoda price tag is around £1,500 less…
In terms of trim the new Octavia follows recent Skoda practice – currently there are three levels, S, SE and Elegance. You pay £1,200 over S for an SE, though Skoda says with £2,220 worth of extra kit, while the Elegance adds £3,575 worth of extras for a £1,859 premium on the SE.
Notables supplied on all cars include a leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloys, seven airbags and DAB radio. Skoda’s ‘Simply Clever’ features seen recently on the Rapid also feature, such as the double-sided boot mat to accommodate such things as dirty footwear and our favourite, the ice scraper in the fuel-filler cap.
SE adds a different wheel design, front fog lights and the Driving Mode selector with normal, sport, eco and customisable modes, while the manual air conditioning becomes dual-zone climate control.
Choose the current range-topping Elegance and on the menu are alloys an inch larger, controls on the steering wheel, headlight washers, sat nav and Alcantara upholstery.
Other drip-down tech available includes such niceties as intelligent high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control and a frighteningly effective automatic park assist system which will neatly reverse the car into a space only 60cm longer than it.
After all this time there are those, sadly, who will laugh out loud at Skoda’s assertion that it is a brand moving upmarket. Skoda’s not laughing though, it’s deadly serious, and with impressive newcomers like this Octavia, you can understand why.
Model Tested: Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI DSG
On Sale: 16th March
Range prices: £15,990–£23,240
Engines: Petrol 1.2/1.4, Diesel 1.6/2.0
Power (bhp): 104/138. 104/147
Torque (lb/ft): 129/184, 184/236
Top speed (mph): 122/134, 121/135*
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 57.7/53.3, 74.3/68.9*
CO2 emissions (g/km): 114/121, 99/106*
Key rivals: Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Hyundai i30
Test date: March 2013
* All figures with manual gearbox
Words by: Andrew Charman