Skoda Octavia SE Plus

Hatch is about to be replaced, but still has plenty to recommend it

The ageing Octavia still has plenty of talents – especially carrying capacity. But the chassis is lifeless, the 1.6 TDI diesel is slow and the five-speed gearbox lets it down further. The SE Plus comes with sat-nav as standard, but it’s missing some of the kit found on the Cruze. Add in a dull interior, and the Octavia has to settle for second place here.

No car in the compact family hatch class says ‘value for money’ like the Skoda Octavia. It’s long been the first choice for buyers who want to maximise the amount of space they get for their cash.

But as it’s been around for eight years, it’s starting to look a bit long in the tooth. The car in our pictures is the eco-friendly GreenLine model, but apart from some different badging it’s visually identical to our SE Plus test car. The Skoda’s front end has a more cohesive design than the Chevrolet’s, yet there’s something old-fashioned about how the grille and lights sweep into the bonnet. At the back, the long rear overhang also feels like a throwback, although it does wonders for boot space.

Inside, the cabin is very well built and all the switches and buttons work well. But it feels pretty plain when compared to the Cruze’s, and the flash of silver on the centre console fails to brighten things up. The Octavia’s colour touchscreen stereo looks much better than the Cruze’s basic radio, and there’s a useful USB connector for music players such as an iPod.

Cabin space is as good as it is in the Cruze, with plenty of room for four, while the seat cushions are softer and more comfortable.

The Octavia has a 585-litre boot, compared to 413 litres for the Chevy. In addition, there are deep recesses behind each rear wheelarch, while a useful cargo net on one side stops loose items from flying around.

As with the Cruze, the Octavia’s steering wheel adjusts for reach and height, and the seat is height-adjustable. Elsewhere, all the driving controls feel reassuringly solid.

Although the Skoda weighs around 200kg less than the Chevy, it doesn’t feel it on the road. Soft suspension means it wallows and rolls more readily than the Cruze, while the noisy 1.6-litre diesel engine and five-speed gearbox are leaden. However, the Octavia is stable in bends – while it’s not as much fun to drive as the Chevy, it feels more secure.

Our performance figures show that the Octavia really could do with a six-speed box. It was slower than the Cruze in all of our tests, while on the road you have to change down more frequently to maintain momentum, overtake slower traffic or climb hills. That has a detrimental effect on fuel consumption: our on-test figure of 43.2mpg was nearly 5mpg short of what the Chevy achieved.

In terms of costs, the Octavia has a lower list price than the Cruze, yet it doesn’t have as much kit. SE Plus models do get sat-nav as standard (it’s a £750 option on the Chevrolet), but cruise control, auto lights and wipers and even electronic stability control are all found on the options list only.

The Skoda will be more expensive to service, but it’s cheaper to insure and won’t lose as much money over three years. So can the Octavia retain its value crown?

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