Volkswagen Golf vs Skoda Octavia: 2023 twin test review

VW’s Golf is the family car benchmark, while the Octavia wins the space race. Which is the best, though?

Between these two brands, it’s fair to say that the wider Volkswagen Group has all of the bases for the hatchback class covered. Traditionally, if you want a car that does everything right without shouting about it, that looks smart without being ostentatious, and delivers a premium feel while undercutting the alternatives from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, then the Golf is the default choice – and has been for decades. 

At the other end, you have the Skoda Octavia; a car which has a reputation for offering class-leading interior space and excellent value for money when compared with the alternatives. 

In recent generations of each model, those qualities haven’t been quite so strongly defined. In the case of the Octavia, that’s because it feels posher than ever. Much like with the Enyaq iV, the latest model’s cabin looks smart and feels pricey, especially if you jump to the SE L spec, which gets Alcantara trim not only on the seats, but on a panel that spans the dashboard, too. It’s also loaded with much more tech, including a 10.25-inch digital driver’s display, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, and adaptive cruise control. 

Engines include 1.0 and 1.5-litre turbocharged petrols, which feature mild-hybrid tech when paired with an automatic gearbox, plus a couple of 2.0-litre diesels, producing either 114bhp or 148bhp. Then there’s the vRS; a striking performance option with either a 2.0-litre petrol with 242bhp or a 2.0-litre diesel with 197bhp (a PHEV was also offered, but that’s not currently available). Throughout the range, the Octavia is comfortable, easy to drive, and amazingly spacious – hatchback models get a cavernous 600-litre boot. 

The Golf is a little smaller on the outside, so you will have to settle for a bit less rear legroom and a 380-litre boot, which is more typical of the class average. What the Golf offers over its rival is variety – especially under the bonnet. The range starts with the same 1.0-litre petrols as the Octavia, but there are more variations throughout. There’s a greater choice of mild hybrids, but also plug-in hybrids, too. These peak at the GTE, which offers much of the style of the sporty GTI, but with a petrol-electric powertrain that can cover up to 40 miles in zero-emission mode. 

The GTI comes in two forms; the standard car has similar power to the Octavia vRS, but the hotter Clubsport model gets 296bhp and a sharper chassis. Both are much more exciting to drive than the Skoda. There’s also the diesel-powered GTD for those willing to trade a little speed in favour of fuel economy. 

Topping the range is the R, which in the 20 Years trim we have, has a 0-62mph time of just 4.6 seconds, thanks to four-wheel drive and 328bhp.

While the Octavia has previously been a bargain on PCP finance, Skoda isn’t pushing it anywhere near as hard as the Golf just now. On matching three-year terms with a £5,000 deposit, the base Golf 1.0 TSI Life comes to £304 per month. 

That undercuts the Octavia SE, which has the same engine, by £26 per month. A £2,000 deposit contribution from Volkswagen goes a long way towards making the difference.

Results

Which car comes out on top?

Winner: Volkswagen Golf 

At a time when all of us are trying to tighten our belts, the fact that a car with the classless desirability of a Golf is priced so competitively on finance makes it very tempting. It’s refined and comfortable to drive, looks smart and its huge range of models gives buyers loads of choice.

Pros

Cons

Huge range of choice

Not as spacious as the Skoda

Competitive finance offers

Clunky infotainment tech

Runner up: Skoda Octavia

In previous years, this would have been a walkover for the Octavia. It’s still a much more spacious car than the Golf, and it has no real weakness from behind the wheel. However, with less choice in its range and higher monthly prices, the Skoda is not currently the no-brainer it once was.

Pros

Cons

Class-leading practicality

Golf is more fun to drive

Ride comfort

No longer a bargain on finance

Figures

 

Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years

Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI SE L

On-the-road price

£49,735

£28,680

Powertrain

4cyl in-line turbo petrol, 1,984cc

4cyl in-line turbo petrol, 1,498cc

Power/torque

328bhp/420Nm

148bhp/250Nm

Transmission

7-spd auto/4wd

6-spd manual/fwd

Length/wheelbase

4,290/2,628mm

4,689/2,669mm

Height/width

1,451/1,789mm

1,486/1,829mm

Boot capacity (seats up/down)

341/1,233 litres

600/1,555 litres

Kerbweight/payload

1,555/475kg

1,337/523kg

Turning circle/spare wheel

12.0 metres/yes

11.9 metres/£200

Basic warranty (miles)/recovery

3yrs (60,000)/1yr

3yrs (60,000)/3yrs

NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars

88/87/74/82/5 (2022)

89/84/68/81/5 (2022)

   

0-62mph/top speed

4.6 seconds/168mph

8.5 seconds/139mph

WLTP economy/range

34.9mpg/422 miles

51.8mpg/513 miles

Claimed CO2/tax bracket

187g/km/37%

123g/km/29%

   

Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera

Seven/two/f&r/£320

Seven/three/f&r/yes

Lane assist/blindspot/AEB

Yes/yes/yes

Yes/£550/yes

Climate control/adaptive cruise

Yes/no

Yes/yes

Leather/heated seats/met paint

Yes/yes/£690

Part/yes/£660

LED lights/keyless entry/power boot

Yes/yes/yes

Yes/yes/£860

Sat-nav/digital dash/USBs

Yes/yes/yes

Yes/yes/yes/yes

Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android

Yes/wireless/wireless

£360/wireless/wireless

Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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