Think 'Skoda Octavia' and words like sensible, practical and roomy probably come to mind. The mid-size Czech hatchback has earned itself a solid reputation over the years, becoming a familiar sight on motorways in the hands of company car drivers, in cities as robust workhorses of the taxi fraternity and on driveways, serving as the capacious and dependable family car. Now for 2020, there is a new Skoda Octavia that is more modern and better connected than ever before.
In the metal
When it comes to producing cars that need to strike a balance between style and function, few seem to do it quite as well (or consistently) as Skoda. The fourth generation Octavia looks far more sophisticated than its predecessor, especially around the front. Gone are the divisive split headlights that came with the previous generation's facelift, and the Octavia is all the better for it. LED headlights are the order of the day, standard across the board, and these also showcase a striking daytime running light signature that bears quite the resemblance to that of the updated BMW 5 Series. Jozef Kabaň, a designer, moved from Skoda to BMW in 2017. But I digress...
The Octavia's grille is a little broader than before and surrounded with a chrome finish. Below this is a single vented area spanning almost the full width of the car, incorporating a thin chrome strip that links the new-look LED fog lights. It's a similar style to that of the recently updated Skoda Superb. View the Octavia's side profile, and you'll spot that it moves further away from the three-box saloon design. As ever, it is in fact a hatchback.
Overall, the Octavia is now 19mm longer, though that is mostly down to the new bumper designs. The wheelbase remains the same 2,686mm as the previous generation's, though the width has been increased by 15mm. The hatchback tailgate has more visual bulk to it, though that boot space is also now larger than its predecessor's, by 10 litres. The hatchback design creates a vast aperture for easy access to the 600-litre volume.
After the evolutionary nature of the Skoda's exterior styling, it's the interior that feels revolutionary. Its layout and design are a cohesive blend of aesthetics and ergonomics. It's the best interior that Skoda has installed into its cars to date, though we have a feeling the forthcoming electric Enyaq might steal that title.
One of the most distinctive features of the Octavia's interior is the new two-spoke multifunction steering wheel. At first glance, it catches your attention as there is still a small tab at the base of the wheel where you would typically expect to see the third-spoke. Its size is just right, as is the thickness of the rim. Cutaway sections around the airbag add to the aesthetic, and the new button controls are easy to use, if smaller than before. Two knurled chrome cylindrical controllers work the volume (on the left) and menu scrolling functions (on the right) and can also be pressed in to perform other tasks. A new look to the 10.25-inch digital instrumentation results in clearer layouts, and it's easier to adjust on the move by using the steering wheel controls.
There will be up to four different infotainment options, with the largest on show in our test car. The 10-inch display is new and incorporates a touch-sensitive slide bar along its base for adjusting the volume. The new-look menu system is easy to navigate and laid out clearly. Skoda has reduced the total amount of physical controls, and the climate functions are now done mostly through the display screen. We've been critical of manufacturers doing this as it can lead drivers to take their eyes from the road for longer. In something of a middle ground, Skoda does keep the temperature settings and heated seat function (when fitted) permanently displayed on the base of the screen regardless of what menu you are currently using.
Lifting the look and feel of the cabin further is a metallic strip that runs beneath the touchscreen. It usefully serves as a place to rest your hand while using the display, and it also frames the central dashboard section that Skoda now offers in a selection of much nicer materials. There is more space created around the base of the centre console thanks to the new shift-by-wire automatic transmission. Gone is the traditional lever and in its place is a stubby rocker switch that allows the driver to switch between driving functions. Ahead of that is a wireless charging pad for your mobile phone and two USB-C ports. Space in the rear is generous, in typical Skoda fashion, and a slight repositioning of the rear seats bumps up kneeroom.
There will be something for everyone in the Skoda Octavia line-up thanks to what will become the broadest offering of engines it has ever put forward. Everything from small capacity petrol engines, to mild and plug-in hybrids, CNG in some markets and of course, diesel. With the Octavia being a popular choice for company car and taxi drivers, diesel is still likely to make up a sizeable portion of the overall sales.
And here we are driving what is likely to be a popular choice for buyers, the 150hp 2.0 TDI option. Now called the TDI Evo, the Skoda's 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine has come in for some extensive revision in the name of efficiency, cleanliness and refinement. New internals help to reduce noise and improve efficiency, while a 'twin-dosing' exhaust system features a second treatment of AdBlue further down the stream. This setup optimises NOx reduction at higher speeds where previous methods would get too hot to treat the exhaust gases sufficiently.
And the diesel engine is quieter than before, though not as muted as it is in the larger, and presumably better insulated, Superb. In this 150hp guise, it delivers the best of both worlds between economy and outright performance. With 360Nm of torque, the Skoda pulls well and isn't sluggish about getting up to speed, when joining a motorway, for example. The DSG gearbox does work its way towards the higher gears as quickly as possible, in the name of fuel economy and, with a sufficient amount of torque from the engine (which also now pulls more cleanly), it doesn't drop down the gears as frequently when accelerating. However, there are some blots on the Octavia's copybook. When slowing down at lower speeds the dual-clutch automatic transmission can make a bit of a meal of downshifts, clunking and jerking back into the lower gears.
Ride comfort isn't bad, even on the standard passive suspension setup. The twist beam rear end gets the job done, but it lacks the refinement of a multilink design, especially on poorer quality surfaces and during more enthusiastic driving. The weight difference between the petrol and diesel versions is noticeable if you're looking for it, too. In comparison to the diesel, the petrol-engined Octavia has a turn-in that is slightly sweeter and a nose that seems lighter.
The electrically-assisted steering has a more natural feel to it than before, making it a more enjoyable car to drive through a set of sweeping bends. With the different drive mode settings, it is also possible to add more heft to the steering, and this also feels quite natural when compared with the artificial heaviness some manufacturers add in such a setting. All of which bodes well for the forthcoming Octavia RS.
What you get for your money
Pricing for the new Skoda Octavia is expected to start at €28,750, for the 2.0 TDI 115hp in Ambition trim. The 1.5 TSI 150hp should be only €50 more. As buyers move to higher specification cars, Skoda Ireland will only initially offer Ambition and Style specifications. The latter is about €2,000 more. The 2.0 TDI 150hp Octavia, with the seven-speed DSG gearbox as tested, starts at €32,995 in Ambition trim. The Octavia Combi estate will be €1,500 extra. Further derivatives are expected in time and we will update this section once full specifications have been confirmed.
For this fourth generation Skoda Octavia the company has done an excellent job, from the styling to engine offerings. Of the changes and improvements that Skoda has made, what stands out the most are the design and quality of the cabin. It is a car that has lots of appeal and offers almost everything you could want from a car, whether you're a company driver or a family buyer. The Skoda Octavia continues to be a Swiss Army knife of modern vehicles.