Good points: improved design, better drive thanks to new chassis.
Not so good: lower spec levels could be more generous.
Since its introduction back in 1998 the Skoda Octavia has been an important car for the Czech brand. The combination of a generous interior space and a good range of engines meant that it soon became the vehicle of choice for the likes of fleet buyers and taxi drivers as well as the general public. But now the Skoda range has seen a shift that sees the introduction of the Rapid (quite similar in size to the original Octavia), which has caused the new Octavia to grow further in size.
The new Skoda Octavia may share its MQB platform with the Volkswagen Golf, but from the exterior they are two very different looking cars. Even with its last facelift the previous generation Octavia was beginning to look pretty dated, and with Skoda's growth into the upper echelons of the populous segment, fresh, sharper looks were needed. And to give them their dues, the designers have given the Octavia an outward appearance that remains understated yet has a modern sharpness the outgoing model could only have dreamed of.
Taut looking body panels mixed with sharp design details in the front and rear give the Octavia a more German appearance than ever; no doubt there is some influence creeping in from its parent group. The now signature C-shaped rear lights look great and make it instantly recognisable as a Skoda, but my only real criticism - and it is a big one - is that it is perhaps still a little too similar in looks to the Skoda Rapid. It is only when you see the two cars in the metal side-by-side are the differences more apparent - something potential buyers should do.
The utilisation of the new platform has allowed the Octavia to increase interior space both in terms of legroom and, more importantly, in width. Drivers will now have less chance of banging elbows with the front-seat passenger while rear occupants will appreciate the now trademark generous amounts of legroom. A redesigned dashboard adds to the sense of space in front while the quality and finish of the materials used throughout are on a par with the best in class. The switchgear has a well-made feel to it too. At the rear a hatchback-style boot lid allows for easy loading of bulkier items while the boot itself is a generous 590 litres in volume. For those that require even more carrying capacity a Combi (Skoda speak for estate) is available at a €1,000 premium.
Skoda is offering a well-balanced range of engines with the new Octavia and although many buyers will likely resort to the now seemingly default choice of diesel, the 105hp 1.2 TSI petrol engine in this test car will prove to be a pleasant surprise to those that drive it. As refined as modern diesel engines are they still can't beat the current crop of petrol engines in that regard. Many will expect that an Octavia fitted with a 1.2-litre engine will be underpowered, but this isn't quite true. The TSI engine offers more than enough power and torque for town driving while on the motorway the well-geared six-speed manual gearbox helps to keep the revs low, thus aiding fuel economy.
When it comes to fuel economy the diesel will of course offer a longer range, especially if you are doing a lot of long distance driving, but those who mange to drive the petrol-fuelled version with a degree of economy will see a generous enough return. That, combined with a cheaper purchase price for the petrol engine, may help to swing more buyers back around to the realisation that the petrol engine of today isn't the guzzler that many seem to remember from days gone by - something that was recently highlighted in a CompleteCar.ie study.
As for the drive itself, on the majority of Irish roads the suspension seems to be well sprung and damped and while the standard 17-inch wheels on this Elegance spec did help smooth out the ride I suspect that buyers who choose to go for the larger option wheels based on appearance may be slightly disappointed with the ride - so my advice would be to try them out before committing to them if possible. Meanwhile, the steering does lack any serious feedback, but it is nicely weighted and by no means does it feel as vague or disconnected as some of its rivals.
Skoda has undoubtedly raised the bar with this new Octavia. Owners of the previous generation will love the differences while prospective new buyers may be pleasantly surprised.