Skoda's third generation Octavia really shows how far it's come in well-equipped Laurin & Klement guise. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The latest generation Skoda Octavia is bigger than ever, features more efficient engines than ever before, and in this range-topping Laurin & Klement model is absolutely laden with standard equipment. Buyers get 18-inch alloys, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise controls, a brilliant Canton stereo, leather and Alcantara seats and foglights that swivel as you corner. It'll even park itself.
You're forgiven if you don't know who Laurin & Klement are. No, they're not handbag designers or anything like that. Instead, Viclav Laurin and Viclav Klement were the two enterprising Czechs who, from a background building bicycles, motorcycles and trucks, joined forces with Skoda Works to develop Skoda Auto. It's a fitting tribute that today, the Laurin & Klement badge is reserved for the flagship models in each Skoda car line and I don't doubt that the pioneers would be singularly amazed at the latest Octavia to bear their name. The Octavia has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. When it first appeared in 1996, it was spun off a Golf chassis and while it impressed with its build quality and value for money, it was never quite big enough to compete with the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra. The second generation car, launched in 2004, became even better-finished but again lacked something in size. That's been rectified in this bigger third generation model. Skoda still stands for value, but as this Laurin and Klement version demonstrates, value doesn't necessarily mean wearing a hair shirt.
The Octavia was launched with a huge array of engine choices, but this Laurin and Klement version limits your selection to either a petrol or a diesel. Unsurprisingly, Skoda has cherrypicked two of the best engines available. Petrol buyers get a 180PS 1.8-litre TSI powerplant, while those who prefer diesel power are offered a 150PS 2.0-litre TDI. Regardless of engine choice, a six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard, while customers can also pay a little extra for a DSG automatic. Hatch and estate body styles are also available. Diesel estate customers have another choice to make as well, namely whether they're content with front wheel drive or want a 4WD chassis. Becoming bigger hasn't been an easy task for the Octavia. Skoda has had to wait for the Volkswagen Group's modular MQB chassis in order to graduate to the next size class up but it's a corker of a platform. Ride quality is excellent, refinement similarly impressive. Long gearing and a relatively slow steering ratio make the Octavia feel rangey and relaxing to drive long distances. No it's not that enthusiastic being thrown into bends on a B-road, but that's not really its remit. The diesel is pretty punchy, getting to 62mph in 8.5 seconds and running onto 135mph. Despite its 30PS deficit, it doesn't feel any slower in the real world than the 180PS petrol engine, which looks quicker on paper (getting to 62mph in 7.3 seconds) but doesn't have the torque that makes the diesel so easy to drive. You're comparing 250Nm versus 320Nm for the two engines.
Design and Build
The Laurin and Klement looks a long way from the rep-spec Octavias that plod up and down the UK's motorways, all resale silver paintwork and plastic wheel trims. It's undeniably a bit indulgent and the latest generation car's additional heft adds some real road presence. You'll identify it by its 18-inch Turbine alloy wheels, the bi-xenon headlights, the LED rear lights and the chrome window surround. That and the badging on the back. This generation Octavia 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. Materials quality has improved and there's stacks of clever storage ideas. They include foldable cargo elements for the boot, a double-sided floor covering in the boot, and a multimedia holder with space for an iPod, a mobile phone and the like.
Market and Model
You'll pay from around £26,500 for the 1.8 petrol, with the diesel opening at about £1,000 more. The DSG transmission tacks another £1,300 or so onto those prices and the estate body is around £1,800 more expensive. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel 4x4 estate tops the range at just over £28,500, yet still looks good value for money when compared to something like a Subaru Outback diesel which is around £1,500 pricer and doesn't come anything like as well equipped. Talking of which, the Laurin & Klement has quite a kit list, as you might expect for the flagship model. Aside from the alloy wheels and exterior bits, you get some elegant brown Alcantara and leather seats with L&K logos, special stitching and door sills. The driver's seat has a memory function and there's also electric adjustment, heating and a lumbar support. That's on top of adaptive cruise control with Front Assistant, lane-keeping assist, parking assist, cornering front fog lights, Skoda's top-spec Canton audio system, illuminated front and rear footwells and convenience features like a rear backrest release in the boot.
Cost of Ownership
Although you might initially blanch at the idea of paying nearly thirty thousand pounds for a Skoda Octavia - and it can go over if you get a bit excitable at options time - it's worth remembering that residual values for this Octavia are excellent. That said, going for the very top trim line always puts a dent in when it comes to depreciation. It was the way with the Elegance trim and that's certainly the case with the Laurin & Klement. Otherwise, it's hard to argue with Skoda's efficiency figures. Even the zippy petrol engine manages 48mpg on the combined cycle while the diesel nudges 70mpg. Emissions are kept well in check as a result, with the petrol hatch emitting 141g/km and the diesel hatch just 105g/km. Somewhat curiously, fitting a DSG gearbox lowers the petrol engine's emissions to 131g/km but raises the diesel's to 119g/km, something you'd certainly need to bear in mind if you were planning to run one as a company car.
The bigger, more luxurious third-generation Skoda Octavia has evolved. The most obvious way is that it's now able to compete on level terms with cars like the Mondeo and Insignia without feeling like a middleweight in the ring with a super-heavy. It's changed in more subtle ways too. As the equity of the Skoda brand has slowly built, the Octavia now feels like a car you could buy to enjoy, rather than a car you'd buy to enjoy looking at your bank statement. That's nowhere truer than with the Laurin & Klement models. Yes, you could have spent the money on a basic BMW 3 Series, but will your BMW badge automatically keep you in lane, warm your posterior on cold mornings or feature a stereo with subwoofer, digital equaliser and vehicle noise cancellation? Will it feature adaptive cruise control or soft leather and Alcantara seating? No, it won't. Which is why if you need a car rather than a badge, the Octavia Laurin & Klement makes a very strong call for your custom.