Skoda's third generation Octavia will be at its most popular in the UK in 1.6-litre TDI diesel form. Jonathan Crouch tries it.
Ten Second Review
Is sensible enough? Probably not. If you want a purely functional vehicle, there are many cheaper than Skoda's third generation Octavia. If, on the other hand, you want good common sense mixed with a warm feel-good factor that reminds you how wise your purchase was, Skoda's now Mondeo-sized and much-improved mid-ranger could be just the ticket. Especially in 1.6-litre TDI form.
For the person who doesn't feel the need to try too hard, there's always the Skoda Octavia. This was always the five-door family model for those self-assured enough to not need a badge to lean their egos on, who recognised a good car and weren't afraid to reward a once-unfashionable marque with their money. We're now onto the third generation of Octavia and while it's become steadily bigger, classier and more socially mobile, it remains a car that has a certain cool sense about it, especially in 1.6-litre TDI diesel form. The first generation version ran from 1998 to 2004, with the second generation model then enjoying a nine year innings which is almost unheard of in the midrange market. But that hints at how Skoda buyers aren't instantly seduced by all that is new, shiny and superficial. There's always been substance to the Octavia and this third generation car, which despite its Golf underpinnings moves up a size into Mondeo and Insignia territory, explores that theme still further. The look may be evolutionary, but this platform has real legs. Get used to it as it'll be sticking with us for quite some time.
The Octavia's engine line-up will look like familiar fare to anyone who, maybe not realising the increase in size of this third generation design, is maybe considering a slightly smaller Volkswagen Golf or a SEAT Leon as an alternative purchase. Like those two cars - and Audi's A3 Sportback - this car's UK sales will be very heavily dependent on the 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine we tried which in standard form puts out 105PS good enough of rest to 62mph in around 10.5s on the way to a top speed just over the 120mph mark. To be honest, this car doesn't feel that fast - and in this diesel guise would benefit from a sixth speed in its manual transmission to ease the engine strain at higher revs. Not that you'll be short of speeds if you select the DSG auto gearbox option I tried, offering you up to seven ratios but with the usual auto transmission sprint-sapping penalties attached. Still, you can perk things up a bit by recourse to the kind of hi-tech intervention you simply wouldn't expect to find on a family-minded Skoda of this sort: 'Driving Mode Selection'. It's the Czech brand's version of Audi's 'drive select' set-up and it's standard whatever your engine choice on all but entry-level Octavias to allow you to match the set-up of the car to the mood you're in and the road you're on.
Design and Build
The first thing you'll notice is that the Octavia has grown, and by quite some amount, now properly big enough to prospect amongst families you might have been considering Mondeos, Insignia and Passats. If you were a little puzzled as to why the Focus-sized family hatchback Rapid was slotted into Skoda's range, this bigger and plusher Octavia gives the answer. The Rapid now has breathing space and the Octavia can push for family customers more convincingly. This third generation model is 90mm longer and 45mm wider than the second-generation Octavia. At the same time, the wheelbase has grown by 108mm, mainly benefiting the interior and space on the rear seats. This means the Octavia is now almost as long as a Ford Mondeo and there'[s genuinely impressive rear seat space - enough for a six-footer in the back to be comfortable behind one in the front. The boot has increased in space to 590-litres. A typical family hatch like a Ford Focus boasts 320-litres. Now you see how far the Octavia has stepped up in size. Need more space? Then there's an estate version with a 610-litre boot. Despite the notchback design, it remains a five-door car with a massive tailgate. There's a really crisp, architectural neatness to the exterior design and detailing, with plenty of shape in the flanks, an elegant sweep to the roofline and a refreshing simplicity to the front end. Less really is more here. It's a great piece of work. The interior is similarly simple and elegant as a result. Materials quality has improved and there's stacks of clever storage ideas. They include foldable cargo elements and a double-sided floor covering for the boot, plus a multimedia holder with space for an iPod, a mobile phone and the like.
Market and Model
Expect to pay around £17,000 for a 1.6 TDI Octavia, with an £800 premium on top of that to find if you want the estate version. Whichever one you choose, your car will come with alloy wheels, tinted glass, climate-controlled air conditioning that also cools the glovebox, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a four-spoke leather-covered steering wheel, a trip computer, an eight-speaker stereo with a DAB digital radio and USB and AUX-in sockets and a hill holder clutch that stops you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. There are also nice touches like the ice scraper built into the fuel filler lid and I'd want to specify the neat double-sided boot floor mat that you can flip around to suit either normal luggage or muddy boots and filthy dogs. I'd also want to pay extra for the optional spare wheel, provision of which could save you a lot of hassle if it's ever needed. You'll need at least an SE model if you want the Driving Mode selection system - which is fair enough - but it is a bit disappointing that you have to stretch up to the priciest trim levels for basics like steering wheel stereo controls, floor mats and a rear seat ski hatch.
Cost of Ownership
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? Skoda's engineers have achieved significant improvements in fuel consumption and emission figures thanks to advanced petrol and diesel engines, a low drag coefficient and reduced vehicle weight. Despite its increased size and better quality interior, this third generation Octavia is up to 102kg lighter than its predecessor. It sounds impossible but this has been achieved thanks to resolute lightweight engineering, a progressive body design, utilisation of high- and ultra-tensile steel and a careful selection of materials. The 1.6 TDI Greenline version of the Octavia underscores this commitment to efficiency with CO2 emissions of only 89 g/km and consumes a mere 3.4 litres of diesel per 100 km, which in old money is around 83mpg. Even in the standard form I tried, the 1.6-litre TDI engine delivers 74.3mpg and 99g/km thanks to a Start/stop system that cuts then engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights.
This third generation Skoda Octavia shifts the buyer proposition subtly but decisively. It's no longer something that goes head to head with most family hatchbacks. It's grown out of that class and is now looking for bigger rivals to challenge. Cars like the Peugeot 508, the Ford Mondeo and the Vauxhall Insignia will all be fair game and the Octavia's pricing is as aggressive as you'd expect from Skoda. What's particularly interesting is that these models have all seen the big threats to their market share come from premium models from the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes and have in response become more expensive and better finished as a result, leaving a huge hole in the market into which the hefty Octavia can now reside. It's a nailed on winner, especially when fitted with a 1.6-litre TDI engine. The established players should be very worried indeed.