Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - Elegance 4x4 TDI wagon
Mid-range performance, value, economy
Room for improvement
Sudden clutch take-up, pricey options, interior quality, unknown resale value
4 Jul 2008
By PHILIP LORD
THE Skoda Octavia is one of a new breed of Europeans arriving here to take advantage of the changing landscape of the car market so long dominated by local six-cylinder cars. The big Falcon or Commodore are no longer the staple in the private market as buyers look for more unique, more fuel-efficient alternatives.
Such a choice might include the new Skoda Octavia, introduced here in October last year. The Octavia has many variations, with five engines, three trim levels (Ambiente, Elegance and RS), four transmissions and front-wheel and 4X4 all-wheel drive versions.
The all-wheel drive is an interesting alternative to the overflowing basket of compact and medium SUVs available. If all you need is a car with all-wheel grip, then the Octavia 4X4 Wagon provides a European alternative to cars such as the Liberty wagon.
The Octavia is an inoffensive design, but the styling is becoming dated. There is nothing too radical about it and that can only help the resale values, which are not likely to be as strong as the Liberty's.
The Elegance 4X4 wagon is $3500 more than the front-wheel drive Octavia Elegance 2.0 wagon on which it is based. For the extra money over the 2WD you get a Haldex coupling four-wheel drive system, 23mm more ground clearance (163mm versus 140mm), a slower 0-100km/h acceleration time and top speed (9.9 versus 9.6 seconds and 199km/h versus 209km/h) and slightly higher fuel consumption (6.3L/100km versus 6.0L/100km).
There are minor differences such as an outdoor temperature indicator on the front-driver but not the 4x4, and the front-wheel drive is available with the six-speed DSG auto.
An entry-level Ambiente 4x4 with the 1.9-litre turbo-diesel engine is also available at $35,490. The 4x4 drivetrain is available on the Octavia wagon only.
The entry-level price is quite reasonable at $38,990, but when you delve into the options bin the Octavia can become very expensive. The Octavia as tested is a $50,000-plus proposition on the road.
The test car had metallic paint at $630, an electric sunroof at $1730, leather seats at $2830, sat-nav at $2890, an electric driver's seat for $1370 and parking distance sensors front and rear for $990. The total plus on-road costs is $49,430.
The interior presentation is very similar to Volkswagen and much of the switchgear and controls is shared, even if the overall design is unique.
There are plenty of cup-holders and storage bins scattered around the cabin. It feels like a well-made quality cabin, albeit with cheap touches such as the shiny plastic door pulls.
The cabin accommodation is very good, with comfortable, supportive front seats and good vision out of the car and to the instruments. Rear seat room is at a premium for taller adults and the rear 70/30-split bench feels as though it could be wider.
The tailgate lifts nice and high to a cargo area that has a well-shaped square space with a full-size steel spare wheel tucked under the false cargo floor.
A 12-volt accessory socket, ski-port, vinyl protective carpet runners, cargo tie-downs and a neat retracting cargo blind are standard. The child restraint tether points are usefully positioned on the seatbacks.
The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is obviously a diesel and has a slight vibration and diesel rattle at idle yet spins out freely to its 4500rpm redline. There is the typical low-rpm turbo lag though, and the transition from around 1800rpm is more sudden than some may prefer.
Fuel consumption reached a high of 7.5L/100km in the city, although in an open road environment less than 6.0L/100km should be easily achievable.
The clutch take-up is not progressive, happening early on in the clutch travel and suddenly, and this combined with the soft off-idle torque makes it easy to stall the Octavia. Stop-start traffic can be awkward until you become accustomed to it.
The gearshift itself is quite notchy although precise enough, especially for a six-speed, which often presents challenges to those not familiar with the gates.
Out on the open road the Octavia’s 103kW/320Nm turbo-diesel comes into its own and there is ample overtaking power. At speed the Octavia is quiet except for the common problem with many cars that amplify road noise on coarse-chip bitumen.
When launching off the line in a hurry there is a moment where you expect the traction control to activate in the front-wheel drive model, but the 4x4 simply grips and goes.
The Octavia’s handling is quite unremarkable for a mid-size wagon. It lacks the dynamism of some of its competitors and while it will hold a line though a corner and grips well enough, it is not really a chassis with sporting overtones. Steering feel is not especially informative though weighting is quite good.
The Octavia ride is firm but not uncomfortable, with bumps disposed of with a firm thump at worst. There are better vehicles for long dirt road travel, though, and while the Octavia 4X4 will do it easily enough it doesn’t have the long travel suspension to soak up long undulating bumps as smoothly as many SUVs can.
Nobody likes to mention the elephant in the room, but it is a fact that new brands in Australia can have poor resale values until they manage to establish themselves.
Buying a Skoda now might be a long-term proposition. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the hardware: the Octavia 4x4 is an excellent alternative to mainstream wagons and the combination of a mid-size diesel wagon with all-wheel drive and standard ride height is rare.
It perhaps needs more to differentiate it from the very similar, cheaper, faster, more economical front-wheel drive model, and the lack of an auto transmission might not mean much in Europe but in Australia it is a family wagon must-have feature.
Perhaps the more off-road oriented Octavia Scout, with its higher ground clearance and wheel-arch flares - and an auto option - is what Skoda needs to rev up more interest in the Octavia 4x4.
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