The visual updates to the 2017 Skoda Octavia are more prominent than the usual midlife facelift, and may well divide opinion, but look beyond the aesthetics and you'll discover that the spacious hatchback is more refined than ever.
In the Metal:
Throughout its life cycle the Skoda Octavia has always been, shall we say, a conservative looking car. That's no bad thing; in fact, it's undoubtedly been a factor in the model's success over the years. Its new look front is sharper and brings it more into line with the latest family look seen on the Superb and Kodiaq. One thing that does help those split headlights look more appealing is the LED specification, which comes on standard on Laurin & Klement models.
The rear lights have also come in for a slight tweak in appearance, with all models from Ambition grade up gaining all LED units. Skoda's signature C-shape design remains, it just comes with a more modern twist now. Unchanged is that enormous boot, which, at 590 litres before you even think of folding down the rear seats, is enough to cope with everything from flat pack furniture to family trips away.
Inside the cabin is where the bigger changes lie. The most obvious being the introduction of a new 9.2-inch colour touchscreen that sits flush with the centre console. Available as standard from Style grade upwards, this new Columbus system incorporates satnav and all of Skoda's latest infotainment systems including the now-expected smartphone integration. The screen offers high resolution and reacts very well to inputs. Through an additional sim card it is also possible to add in-car Wi-Fi to keep all your passengers connected on the move.
Taking the approach of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', Skoda hasn't tinkered noticeably with how the Octavia performs on the road. The 1.6-litre TDI engine tested here is the most popular choice among buyers in Ireland, and it's easy to see why. With 115hp and a useful 250Nm or torque, it offers a good spread of performance that's usable in most real world scenarios. If you're more likely to carry the full complement of passengers, or tow a trailer, the more powerful 2.0-litre TDI Octavia may be a better choice for you, though.
The 1.6-litre engine does offer most of its performance from low engine speeds, and it's entirely feasible to never creep over 2,000rpm during your daily commute, even if that includes motorways. On paper, according to Skoda's official figures, it's also that bit easier on fuel than the more powerful 2.0-litre TDI, and better again if you opt for the DSG automatic. This is a slick-shifting seven-speed transmission - as opposed to the standard five-speed manual.
Entry-level Active models ride on 15-inch steel wheels, but the 17-inch Denom alloy wheels on the third-tier Style model still leave enough cushion in the sidewalls to complement the already refined suspension. The Octavia does an impressive job of absorbing the usual lumps and bumps on the road, keeping its composure well. Sound levels in the cabin are suitably muted too, but while the diesel engine may be well isolated, you can detect a bit of wind noise at higher speeds.
What you get for your Money:
In total Skoda offers four trim levels in this latest Octavia: Active, Ambition, Style, and Laurin & Klement. For this 1.6-litre TDI, the majority of buyers will be deciding between Ambition, which starts from €25,950, and the Style version, which carries a €1,400 premium.
Standard equipment for the Ambition includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a Bolero eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, leather multifunction steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake, reversing camera, cruise control and driver's armrest among its many highlights. Move up to the Style model and your additional money gets you that impressive 9.2-inch touchscreen system including 12-month access to online infotainment, larger 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone air conditioning, a sports multifunction steering wheel, automatic lights and foldable and heated wing mirrors. Specifying the seven-speed automatic DSG transmission adds a further €2,200 to the price, while choosing the Combi estate body style increases the cost by €1,000.
Building on an already solid base, the updated Skoda Octavia adds more impressive in-car technology on its higher grade models while maintaining its ability to offer vast amounts of passenger and luggage space. Its new look may divide opinion, but it remains a great all-round package.