Watch out Volkswagen Golf, your Czech cousin offers more space and similar trim for less money.
In the Metal:
The new Skoda Octavia is bigger than ever with more space between the wheels for an enhanced cabin area. Not that you can tell; the designers have done a good job of disguising the extra room. So-called 'clean surfaces' are employed along the flanks to hide the size of the car, but it is the front end, with its strong lines and characterful 'face' that is likely to attract most attention. It is not a particularly exciting look, a touch conservative if you will, but Skodas are considered more for their space and value for money offerings than their designer looks and on these points it scores well.
Despite the 'three-box' saloon styling the boot is accessed via a rear hatch, giving you better access to the commodious 590-litre volume. This is a load space that would put many estates to shame and can be boosted to 1,580 litres with the rear seats folded. There is even a handy storage area for the parcel shelf integrated into the boot meaning you do not have to leave it at home when it is not in use.
Fit and finish in the interior is almost on-par with the Golf (Volkswagen obviously keen that the Czech upstart not steal too many sales from its best seller) and the Skoda retains the conventional handbrake over the electronic unit that is becoming ubiquitous across the VAG range. Whether it is a good or bad thing is up to the driver (for reference we prefer the old lever type system).
As the Octavia uses the same modular MQB platform as the Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon we expected it to drive similarly to its German and Spanish cousins - and largely it does. However, the Octavia has to make do without the XDS electronic 'differential' that is standard across the Golf range (and on all but entry-level Leons) while lower powered cars (the ones likely to be top sellers in Ireland due to their emissions) have to make do with a torsion beam rather than multi-link rear suspension set up. Not that the majority of owners will either notice or care - at all times the best-selling Czech remains surefooted. It is not as exciting as some of its stable mates to drive, but the Octavia counters in other departments.
The volume seller in Ireland is likely to be the 105hp 1.6-litre TDI diesel, an engine that, given the sheer size of the third generation Octavia, should be overwhelmed. However, the new car is over 100kg lighter than the car it replaces (it is actually the lightest Octavia so far) meaning the economical diesel always has enough torque in reserve to hustle you along. This engine has impressed us in the past for its refinement levels, but it seems more raucous under the bonnet of the Skoda than it does in the Golf.
What you get for your Money:
Real estate has always been one of the Octavia's strongest points; it offers Ford Mondeo size space for Focus money, and the new car is even more commodious than before. A longer wheelbase frees up extra space for leg- and knee room while the boot space we've already mentioned. It is not all good news though; to bring the Octavia in usefully less than the equivalent Golf some items have been stripped out. The aforementioned XDS system and multi-link suspension will likely not be noticed but the touchscreen infotainment system (standard on Golf) has been replaced by an LCD display in the Octavia. You have to plumb for mid-spec Ambition models to get the advanced multimedia unit and even then satellite navigation is optional - even on top-spec Elegance models.
Skoda has ambitious plans for growth with sales of 1.5 million vehicles by 2018 in the pipeline. To aid this, the Czech manufacturer will release at least one new model every six months between now and then. For the Octavia this means, in addition to the hatchback, we can expect to see the 89g/km Greenline version, smoking RS model and more practical Combi variant before the end of the year.
Skoda describes the Octavia as being in a class of its own. It is a car that carries the price of a compact hatch with the space of a mid-size saloon. Bigger and better appointed than before, this is the car for buyers who want Volkswagen quality but for who the Golf is too small. Styling may be predictable and the drive not as exciting as it could be but neither of these factors are likely to affect the Octavia's sales.