Easily one of the most under-rated cars on sale in Ireland today, the Skoda Octavia has become a top-seller because it offers incredible value in a very high-quality package. Available with a choice of hatchback or estate body styles, the Octavia boasts some truly brilliant diesel engines and an option of the excellent double clutch DSG automatic gearbox. There are a staggering 69 different Octavia models in sale in Ireland, so there is quite a lot of choice. Prices start at €16,990 for the 1.2-litre TSI Classic and go up to €34,115 for the 1.8 TSI Lauren and Klement 4x4 Estate.
In the Metal
External appearance has never been a forte of Skoda's and given its placement in the VW stable it's unlikely we'll ever see a bold or extravagant styling direction. What we do get is an inoffensive contemporary design that features a prominent Skoda grille and badging, but is rather anonymous otherwise. Ironically, courtesy of the C-shaped rear lights, the Octavia is probably more distinctive in the dark.
The interior majors on space, comfort and practicality. Cabin room for driver and front seat passenger is generous and rear seat room - even with two adults occupying the front - is plentiful for adults. Also, the boot is massive - easily swallowing all the DIY store could throw at it and a bike with consummate ease. Harder to quantify, but equally obvious to the eye and touch are the improvements in quality and materials; Skodas have always been robustly built, but the updated Octavia isn't a million miles from a VW in terms of fit and finish now.
What you get for your Money
The basic Octavia Classic is pretty rudimentary. You get no air conditioning, no alloys and a plastic steering wheel, but then it is also superb value, costing the same as some pretty standard superminis. Move up to Ambiente spec and the leather wheel is included, as is air conditioning. The alloy wheels arrive at Elegance spec, along with some other toys. Opt for the vRS models or the Lauren & Klement versions and you are getting all the bells and whistles thrown in.
The Octavia's chassis is appropriately set-up with a bias towards comfort, and the ride quality stands out as the major strength. That's not to say that it doesn't handle well, which it does to a point, but it's obvious that the intention was never to go Mondeo hunting from a dynamic perspective. Instead, as one would expect, Skoda chose to set the car up to suit the majority of prospective purchasers and as a consequence the Octavia is comfortable and relaxing with excellent motorway manners and an absorbent ride around town. The Octavia remains composed, even when pushed hard and has really excellent road manners.
There's a wide range of engines available in the Octavia offering everything from economy to hot hatch performance. The entry-level engine is a 1.4-litre unit with 80bhp, but this feels underpowered in anything other than town driving and struggles with a full load.
The 1.2-litre petrol engine offering 105bhp is a much better choice for the extra performance it offers, while still returning excellent fuel economy of 5.6 l/100km. Also worth considering is the 1.6 FSI, which has 115bhp and provides smooth acceleration along with decent economy of 6.5 l/100km.
The diesel line-up includes the old reliable 105bhp 1.9-litre TDI engine, which is used across Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT cars, and a newer 2.0 TDI unit with 140bhp. Neither is very refined or quiet but they do offer strong, punchy performance and superb economy - the 1.9 TDI returns 4.8 l/100km for instance. The latest diesel is a 1.6-litre TDI engine that is smoother and quieter. Thanks to engine and aerodynamic changes it emits an impressively low CO2 figure of 114g/km - making it cheap to tax at just €104 - and returns 4.4l/100km. This engine is offered with the DSG gearbox and would be the best all-round choice.
There are also two high-performance versions available: the vRS in petrol and diesel guises. The petrol model has 200bhp from the 2.0-litre TFSI engine, while the diesel puts out 170bhp. Despite its performance, the latter still has emissions of just 149g/km, putting it in motor tax band C.
This has been a consistent top seller in Ireland for a number of years and the Octavia has always performed well in the JD Power reliability surveys. Ask any taxi driver what they think of the Octavia and they will wax lyrical, often a very good indicator of a car's reliability.
Skoda's Octavia may lack flair from a style perspective, or indeed in terms of driver involvement or ultimate dynamics, but in real terms this is probably as much car as many people would ever need; roomy, economical, comfortable and easy to live with, this new Octavia again begs the question, are you a badge snob?