Since the first Octavia arrived in 1996, Skoda has sold over 3.7 million models globally – so this third-generation car has some very big shoes to fill.
Naturally, the brand has been reluctant to make sweeping changes to its winning formula. That means at first glance you may struggle to tell the latest Skoda Octavia apart from its predecessor. However, the familiar styling cues hide some fairly dramatic changes under the skin.
The newcomer shares its platform with the latest Audi A3, VW Golf and SEAT Leon, and has grown up. It’s now 90mm longer and 45mm wider than before, while the wheelbase has been extended by 108mm, too, which gives the Octavia class-leading space in the rear, as well as good refinement.
This extra bulk is nicely concealed by the clean and simple design, and on closer examination some very smart new details emerge. A chrome strip runs along the window line and finishes with a fin-like flourish towards the C-pillars, and the monochrome Skoda logo now sits separately from the protruding grille.
It’s just a shame that the distinctive LED rear lights cost £150 extra, while the standard 16-inch alloys on the SE model we tested get lost in the expansive bodywork. Even the 17-inch rims on the Elegance car in our pictures look a little dinky. Still, the new Octavia has taken a giant leap upmarket inside. The cheap plastics that characterised the old car have been replaced by swathes of high-quality, soft-touch materials that are the equal of anything in the Golf.
Adding to the premium feel is the standard equipment on offer – dual-zone climate control, a DAB radio and Bluetooth are all included. Plus, popular optional extras such as sat-nav (£550) and heated seats (£200) cost less than in the VW or Honda.
However, Skoda hasn’t forgotten its roots and the Octavia is more practical than ever. With the rear seats folded, the boot offers a maximum capacity of 1,580 litres – over 200 litres and 300 litres more than in the Civic and Golf respectively. And the car’s family credentials are boosted by clever features like the reversible boot floor and a parcel shelf that stows neatly behind the rear seats, plus an ice scraper fitted inside the fuel filler flap.
Longer rear doors make it much easier to get into the back than in the Volkswagen, plus taller passengers have more knee room.
This unrivalled practicality gives the Skoda a fantastic selling point – but can it finally outshine its high-profile sister car on the road? The 1.6-litre TDI produces exactly the same 104bhp and 250Nm of torque as the Golf, but because the Octavia we tested was fitted with the quick-shifting DSG automatic gearbox it was significantly faster than both its rivals in-gear.
While upshifts are smooth and fast using the £300 optional paddles, the engine sounds gruff and thrashy when you accelerate and our sound meter showed, it was slightly louder than the Golf at a steady 70mph cruise. The ride is also a little firmer in the Octavia and you can feel bumps in the road being transmitted into the cabin.
As with the Golf, you can alter the steering weight and throttle response via three different driving modes on the central touchscreen. Yet even in Sport mode, the steering never offers quite the precision of the VW’s. The margins are narrower than you might expect, though, plus most family car owners are likely to be more interested in its spacious and solid interior than the fact it’s not quite as sharp to drive as the VW.
And the Golf will be even more difficult to recommend to these buyers when you consider that a model with the DSG box is £1,425 more expensive than the equivalent Skoda. The manual Octavia 1.6 TDI emits just 99g/km, but even the DSG version we tested emits 102g/km, and we returned an impressive 48mpg over an extended route.
The new Skoda is better than before in nearly every way, yet still undercuts its nearest rivals. Will that be enough to steal the VW’s thunder?