Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - Ambition Plus 103TSI wagon
Value, space, design, refinement, efficiency, safety, steering, handling, body control, quality, connectivity, ease, anti-establishment branding
Room for improvement
Patchy ride quality, consistent noise intrusion, no rear camera availability (as yet), and very little else
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14 Nov 2014
Price and equipment
THIS is the tale of two ends.
Here we have a Skoda Octavia 103TSI Ambition Plus – a $28,140, plus on-road costs alternative to a quintet of more expensive medium-sized wagons, including Citroen's C5, Ford's Mondeo, the Hyundai i40 Tourer, Mazda6, Peugeot 508, Subaru Liberty and Volkswagen Passat, alphabetically speaking.
Just to refresh, the Octavia is a nameplate adorning a Volkswagen Golf-based – but half a size larger – range of Czech-made family car, with the current model being the third of the modern-era models (the original ran from 1959 to 1971 in Czechoslovakia).
Released late last year, the NE-series progressed on many fronts, including value, packaging, efficiency, technology, safety and equipment levels – the upshot of sharing the latest Golf’s MQB platform.
However, unlike in the previous Octavia, the rear axle on most variants consists of a torsion beam rather than the multi-link independent suspension system.
On the other hand, even the base $23,040 Ambition 103TSI manual wagon scores seven airbags, fog-lights, floor mats, radio/CD/MP3 audio with Bluetooth telephony and music streaming, a trip computer, power windows, remote central locking, air-conditioning, and electric mirrors.
For $290 extra, cruise control is available, or buyers can choose the $1300 Travel Package which also adds 17-inch alloys in lieu of the standard 16-inch steel rims, rear parking sensors, improved audio sound, and a front armrest with rear-seat face-level air-vents.
Alternatively, there’s the $2800 Ambition Plus, which includes all of the above plus nine airbags, a touchscreen audio set-up, a ‘pre-accident’ preparation system for the seatbelts and brakes, Fatigue Detection and lumbar support adjustment on the front seats.
Our $25,840 Octavia Ambition Plus wagon also came with DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission ($2300) as well as a Technology Package, which brings in bi-Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, radar-controlled adaptive cruise control, keyless entry/start, alarm, a fancier audio, City Emergency Braking (which provides automatic brakes under 30km/h), cornering lights, a driving mode selection (that alters steering and transmission change points according to Eco, Comfort or Sport settings), and parking-spot assistance with transverse as well as longitudinal help for $3900.
Total price as tested: $32,040 plus on-road costs. Short-handed, that’s $9000 for DSG, Plus Pack and Tech Pack, but not metallic paint.
That’s still over $2500 less than the Mazda6 Sport wagon – and with heaps more gear to boot.
There is no doubting the Teutonic heritage underpinning the Octavia’s engineering. Just open the door to feel the quality.
The Ambition Plus has an incredibly premium feel for a car which, on closer inspection, features surprisingly basic trim, manual-only air-con and sub-VW hard plastic material just below the eye line.
How does Skoda do it?All surfaces that you’ll actually touch – the steering wheel, gear lever, overhead grab handles, dashboard controls – have an alluring tactility.
Meanwhile while there are expanses of monochromatic plastic material, it appears neither cheap nor slap-dash. Subtle use of chrome or contrasting trim certainly helps.
Then there’s the cabin’s architecture – from the integrated door cards to the seat patterns and coolly crisp instrument dials – that seem like they belong a couple of classes above.
Even your olfactory senses are seduced – the Octavia smells a million dollars.
Yet the Skoda also excels in the things that are actually important to family wagon seekers.
For instance, there’s more room than in any other passenger-car based wagon under $30K.
The seats might feel firm but they are supportive and comfy – even over longer distances. You can lose stuff for the sheer multitude of big storage options available.
Few people will struggle to find the perfect wheel-to-driver-to-pedals relationship, thanks to the vast amount of adjustability offered.
Vision out is enhanced by a handy parking-sensor enhanced pictogram on the large central screen that also looks after the Octavia’s multimedia, phone, audio and car set-up aspects.
All that’s missing is a reversing camera (that’s coming).
And then we move to the rear end of the Octavia that, whether you’re sitting in or standing outside of the car, is arguably its most impressive angle.
Aided by large rear-door apertures for unencumbered access, the cushion is inviting, the rear backrest nicely reclined and there’s space aplenty for adult-sized heads, shoulders, thighs, knees, legs and feet.
Being an Ambition Plus, back-seat passengers will also find a large rear airvent, centre armrest with luggage-area ski-port access, and ISOFIX child-seat latch points. Skoda’s thought of everything.
Further back, there’s a massive tailgate that opens up to an unfeasibly vast and deep cargo area that has to be seen to be believed. Skoda quotes 588 litres – 20L up on the already-vast Liftback version.
Along with a multitude of helpful hooks and crannies, the Octavia also includes a retractable cargo cover with a one-touch release mechanism.
Unfortunately, that lush interior presentation raises the refinement bar too high as far as cabin noise intrusion and ride quality over less-than-super-smooth roads are concerned.
Engine and transmission
There is certainly nothing wrong with the front end of the Octavia.
Just half a decade ago we would have scoffed at the prospect of a medium-sized wagon powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine.
But of course turbocharging and direct injection have helped make the 103TSI unit one of the liveliest, lustiest and loveliest around, with huge lungs and a deep reserve of torque to really propel the Octavia around at quite a rate of knots.
Though its 103kW power max happens quite high up the rev range (4500rpm), it’s the fat wad of torque from a low 1500-3500rpm that helps cement this engine’s reputation for being strong yet silky from the get-go.
The official 0-100km/h figure is a sprightly 8.5 seconds.
Kudos, too, to the seven-speed DSG transmission that shifts with lightning speed and imperceptibility. Together they whoosh the Skoda along like it is on a downhill ski sled.
Sport mode hangs on to the gears (too much for slow urban schlepping but great on the wide-open road), backed up by a trio of driving modes that provide varying transmission and steering settings depending on the mood of the operator. Comfort fits the Octavia’s smooth character best.
It’s also a great way of keeping fuel consumption (albeit on more-expensive 95 RON premium unleaded petrol) down to reasonable levels. While not quite at 5.2 litres per 100km, our indicated 7.2L/100km is excellent for a wagon of this size and spirit.
Ride and handling
What the Octavia’s perfectly weighted steering lacks in terms of ultimate feedback and feel it more than makes up for in sheer balance and response.
As long as the roads are smooth, it will follow the chosen path as faithfully and cleanly as possible. What it won’t do is delight the keen driver with sharpness and tactility.
If this doesn’t matter to you then there is no better option out there. Even a novice driver will appreciate the poise and control that are fast becoming Skoda hallmarks.
But – at least on the Ambition Plus’ Michelin Primacy 225/45 R17 tyres – the dismaying level of road noise intrusion is simply at odds with the level of refinement found elsewhere in the Octavia.
Other than on smooth roads, there is always some sort of drone or thump coming from the car – particularly from the rear.
Furthermore, the rear suspension struggles to smooth out any of the bumps or irregularities it comes across, so the Octavia’s occupants feel as well as hear the contact made.
We’ve banged on previously about how most of this generation Octavia’s torsion beam rear end is a regressive step. But even die-hard fans will feel how unsettled the resulting ride can be.
Combined with the constant tyre noise, it completely undermines what could have been an astoundingly quiet, refined and absorbing mid-size wagon.
Perhaps the upcoming all-new Passat will assume that role in Volkswagen’s artillery.
Safety and servicing
The Octavia includes Skoda’s Capped Price Servicing regime, which lasts 90,000km or six years, and costs $2040 for all 103TSI variants.
The warranty period is for three years/unlimited kilometres, while the latest model scores a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The latest Octavia wagon is very nearly all the family car you will ever need.
As handsome, sophisticated and refined as an Audi up to a point, the Czech-made wagon exudes quality, efficiency, pace and competence with arresting charm.
This is an astonishing piece of kit for the cash.
However, stray from a smooth road or travel over coarser chip bitumen and the cracks show. Maybe it’s because of the incredibly quiet and slick drivetrain that occupants can hear the hollow rumble? Whatever the reason, why allow a loud and choppy ride to undermine what is in so many ways a superlative effort? Still, no wagon this side of the more expensive and far older Ford Mondeo or Volkswagen Passat combines so much room for the mullah.
Our advice, then, is to take a 103TSI Ambition Plus on your usual drive route and hear and feel whether you can live with the flaws.
If the Octavia passes muster then it deserves to go to the front of the queue because you’ll unlikely ever look back.
1. Mazda6 Sport Wagon, from $36,760 plus on-roads
Smaller than the sedan equivalent, the sleek Euro-focussed 6 wagon balances a gutsy and efficient drivetrain with real driver appeal, though cargo space isn’t massive and there are road-noise intrusion issues.
3. Volkswagen Passat 118TSI Wagon, from $40,990 plus on-roads
Dumpy styling and an ageing interior presentation betray the Passat’s advancing years but for refinement, handling, performance, space and class the VW remains a terrific family wagon. Soon to be replaced.
3. Ford Mondeo LX wagon, from $31,490 plus on-roads
Stretch to the Zetec diesel if you can because the old 2.3L lump struggles to haul this otherwise strong, spacious and sophisticated wagon around. Dreary LX interior is also a put-off. Yet nothing touches the Euro Ford for steering and handling finesse.
Make and model: Skoda NE Octavia 103TSI DSG Ambition Plus Wagon
Engine type: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo
Power: 103kW @ 4500rpm
Torque: 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch (auto)
0-100km: 8.5s approx
Fuel consumption: 5.2L/100km
CO2 rating: 121g/km
Dimensions: L/W/H/WB 4659/1814/1462/2686mm
Weight: 1355kg (tare mass)
Suspension: MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear
Steering: electric rack and pinion
Price: From $28,140
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