The Octavia has the tough role of Skoda’s mid-size champion and while it was originally produced by ‘old Skoda’ between 1959 and 1971, the modern machine has been around since 1996. In 2004, again based on a VW Group platform the Octavia entered its second generation, and now after a comprehensive facelift the Octavia has received new powerplants, more equipment and updated styling. The Octavia has proved a consistent seller for Skoda but will this upgrade push its successes closer to that of its award-winning brother – the Superb. Car and SUV got some seat time in the reworked Octavia to find out more.
While it would be a stretch to label the Octavia a sports wagon it does possess some sporting design cues thanks to the recent updates. The facelift has given the Octavia the same chrome-framed grille as the larger Superb and dramatically curved front lights. Fog lamps flank a wide lower air dam in the front bumper and at the rear new light clusters sit above dual exhaust tips. The Octavia’s sides are sensibly styled with integrated roof rails and a window-line that stays low enough to allow good visibility for all occupants. There are some nice design touches if you look closer like body-coloured side rubbing trim, indicator repeaters in the wing mirrors and the Octavia name embossed in the headlights. Our high-spec TSI model came fitted with standard 17-inch ‘Pallas’ alloy wheels that look great but still struggle to fill the cavernous guards. Overall, the Octavia design has been refreshed in key areas rather than completely overhauled. It’s not styling that will set many hearts racing but it ‘s elegant, contemporary and has a practical focus. The Octavia is built for wagon users and that’s exactly who it will appeal to.
Inside the Octavia TSI there is plenty to enjoy, but like much of Skoda’s current product it’s the general sense of quality that really stands out. The dashboard is new and has dark plastics and contrasting silver trim that feels soft and tactile. All joins and shut lines are precise and there’s plenty of spots for small item storage and drink bottles.
The centre control stack is classy, compact and has excellent ergonomics making it easy to operate. Buttons and dials handle heating and air-con controls with a touch screen providing an interface for stereo functions and phone settings. Instrumentation is a large traditional two-dial arrangement with a two-colour LCD screen offering handy trip computer info. The leather steering wheel and gear knob are both taken from the Superb and are a cabin highlight. It’s a satisfyingly thick and smooth wheel with inbuilt audio and phone controls.
While the top-spec Octavia doesn’t come with a complete leather fit-out ($3,300 option) the cloth seats are supportive, tightly stitched and feel durable. The seats also have a variety of adjustments making it easy to get comfortable. In terms of spaciousness the Octavia makes clever use of its long body to give all occupants and luggage a fair share. Four adults will fit easily into this wagon, with three in the back it will become more confined but shouldn’t be a huge issue. Luggage capacity in the boot is very generous at 580-litres expanding to a massive 1,62-litre load area with the rear seats folded down. There are also some practical touches in the hatch area like bag hooks, 12-volt outlets, luggage cover and a partition screen.
The equipment level on the Octavia TSI is very high for its price tag with a 6-Disc, 12 speaker stereo, chilled glovebox, cruise control, auto dimming rear view mirror, Bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and rear parking sensors all standard kit.
Skoda is considered VW’s budget brand but that doesn’t mean it misses out on high-tech equipment and that’s also true for its powertrain. The Octavia TSI gets the same 1.8-litre engine and 7-speed DSG gearbox combo as the current VW Golf. It’s an ultra-modern motor that is smooth and refined producing a healthy 118kW of power and 250Nm of torque that is available from just 1,500rpm. It won’t drag off a Golf GTI at the lights but the turbocharged four-cylinder will take the Octavia from standing to 100kph in 7.9 seconds. This is a very respectable figure for a family wagon.
Despite the ample torque there can be a small amount of turbo-lag before the Octavia gets into its power band but this is usually very brief and won’t bother most drivers. The DSG box is unbeatable when on the move with sharp and seamless shifts and intelligent ratios for its seven gears. The only complaint with it is that it can be a touch jerky when taking off and also during forward/back parking maneuvers. It’s also very eager to up-shift, which is mostly fine and helps the Octavia achieve a very thrifty 6.6l/100km combined fuel economy.
Dynamically the Octavia is a solid all rounder and effortless to drive. It’s nicely suited to city and suburban duties with well-weighted steering and good visibility but is also confident on the open road. On twisty roads the Octavia is well balanced and predictable, its length and rear overhang means it’s no go-kart but has strong grip and handling limits that are higher than you’d expect.
The suspension is generally well sorted with positive cushioning dealing with large road bumps and dips. Smaller divots in the road and broken surfaces can send some unsettling vibration through the cabin, but keep the Octavia on the tarmac and it’s a smooth ride. Refinement is fair, at cruising speed some wind noise can enter the cabin and tyre roar is occasionally audible on coarse chip roads. The Octavia isn’t perfect but for a front-driving family wagon it would be tough to find a more competent machine, especially in this price bracket.
Standard safety equipment includes a six-airbag package with curtain bags that stretch from the front to rear pillars. There are active headrests for the front occupants and stability and traction control programmes. There are also Isofix points in the rear and front passenger seat with airbag deactivation. To defeat thieves an alarm and immobiliser is standard.
Even in its top-spec form the Octavia TSI 118 feels keenly priced at $44,000. For the money you get an easy-to-drive vehicle with a spacious, up market interior, genuinely practical features and an equipment level you’d only expect in a higher class. The powertrain is smooth, strong and well proven with excellent economy figures. The styling and mechanical upgrades have breathed new life into the Octavia making it a very credible option. It may not have the refinement of VW’s more premium products and the conservative styling may put off the supremely fashion conscious but for a daily driving, rough-treated family hauler it would be very difficult to find better under $50k.
What we like:
- Upmarket interior
- Strong and economical engine
- Long equipment list
- Well priced
What we don’t like:
- Some road and wind noise
- DSG gearbox can feel uncertain at times
- Styling may be too conservative for some
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo