Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - range
Space, value, drivetrains, refinement, practicality, inverse snobbery of brand
Room for improvement
Rear suspension regression means unsettled ride, louder larger tyres, no rear camera, no cheap diesels
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27 Nov 2013
OLD Skoda is dead. Long live New Skoda.
Since its much-anticipated return six years ago, the Czech brand has been undermined in this country by inexplicably high prices.
Basically, the gap between Skodas and Volkswagens has been much smaller – if at all – in Australia than in many other countries.
Perhaps the most perplexing example of this was with the outgoing Octavia – the marque’s bread and butter model. Why did the old base version start at $24,990 while the newer and better-specified Golf cost $2500 less?Volkswagen Group Australia justified the pricing anomaly by pointing out the Skoda’s (slightly) larger size. The fact that over 13,400 Golfs have found homes this year alone to the end of October, against just 1008 Octavias, tells a different story.
Anyway, that’s all in the past, we’re assured, now that the all-new Octavia III (5E series) has landed.
In one fell swoop the Czech small car is larger, better equipped, safer, stronger, more efficient and some $3300 – or 13 per cent – cheaper than before.
Like the latest Golf, the Octavia gains the multitude of improvements and innovations that come with the Volkswagen Group’s formidable MQB architecture, leading to more performance, less consumption, and a weight drop of up to 100kg.
Suddenly, the one-time quirky and fringe five-door liftback – as well as the more handsome and popular wagon – discover sensible pricing that actually makes sense in Australia.
Looking at the base 103TSI Ambition manual’s $21,690 (not including on-road costs) starting price, you can peg it as either the biggest small car on the market today, or one of the smallest medium contenders.
Dimensionally, think first-generation Mazda6 or Honda Accord Euro. The current crop of mid-sizers – such as the Toyota Camry and Holden Malibu – are altogether larger and wider again.
Skoda ought to take a page from the old Ford Cortina’s book and brand this the ‘happy medium’. A big improvement in cabin space, backed up by clear and easy instrument markings, excellent ventilation, a superb driving position, smooth surfaces, plentiful storage options and a truly vast boot in either bodystyle further boost the Octavia’s family-car standing.
If driving pleasure is a priority, you’ll appreciate the quiet, smooth, powerful and economical 1.4-litre twin-cam four-pot petrol engine on offer – the same all-new iteration as found in the Golf.
Ultra modern and efficient, it feels every bit as lively and cars with capacities approaching twice the size, and then adds a sporty zing to put another smile on your face.
At this juncture we normally implore potential buyers to test the superior manual, but this time the 103TSI’s seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission has newfound response and smoothness that makes it a real treat.
Ditto the electric power steering, providing just the right measure of weight and ease.
Throw in supple and quiet 205/55 R16 tyres that (in dry conditions) keep the car grounded and composed as it cuts a dashing figure zipping through a corner, and the base Octavia appears to be challenging both the small and medium car classes for supremacy.
Most of the essentials are there – including five-star ANCAP safety and Bluetooth telephony. We’d add the cheap wagon option ($1350) and the mandatory cruise control ($290), though. Total cost: $25,580 driveaway – before any haggling. That’s a lot of car for the cash.
Even with the $1300 Travel Pack (basically cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, and centre armrest with rear air vents), this is one exceptionally value-packed family car.
But all’s not perfect.
Firstly, where’s the reversing camera option? None is available so far.
While there is ample space for two people up front – with legroom to spare – and three across the rear seat (as long as the middle one’s smaller than the others), the 103TSI’s cushions themselves are a little flat and shapeless.
We found the up-spec models’ additional lumbar adjustment made a difference to the driver’s seat, but otherwise the rear’s low-set cushion promotes a slightly annoying knees-up posture.
More importantly, the Octavia’s simplified rear axle (money-saving torsion beam instead of the more complicated multi-link IRS independent rear suspension as found on the top-line 132TSI as well as all previous-generation models) made for a busier ride.
The damping ranged from an occasional ‘pitter-patter’ to a discernibly more unsettled thump coming from behind.
To compare the two systems, we drove a few 103TSIs and a 103TDI diesel against an IRS-equipped 132TSI, along a stretch of road, and in different positions in the vehicle, and the difference in suppleness and comfort was immediately obvious between the three basic packages.
The IRS car flowed over road irregularities the 103TSI bounced or pitched off them while the big-wheeled diesel’s ride at times hit the bumps with a whack through the suspension and cabin.
Only the increase in droning sound from the IRS car’s lower-profile 18-inch tyres counted against it.
So, for an Octavia with the better suspension set-up, you must spend $34,690 plus on-road costs for the 132TSI Elegance.
Now, whether that sounds cheap or expensive depends on your perspective, because no Golf currently offers its strong and sweet (and Audi-sourced) 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo/DSG combo. Actually, the next MQB car to do so is the $42,500 Audi A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI.
With a hefty increase in performance across the rev range, superior suspension absorption, improved road holding and visibly more upmarket interior material and trim – including an excellent audio and sat-nav touchscreen interface – the Octavia 132TSI Elegance has the chassis and quality to make a convincing sub-luxury grand tourer.
Unfortunately the Czechs won’t provide IRS on the heaviest version– the 110TDI Elegance – so that model’s aforementioned busy rear end detracted from its effortlessly quiet and torquey performance.
All up, then, the new-generation Octavia range consists of two disparate halves – outstanding value for money family car in the outstandingly roomy 103TSI, or compelling and capable driving machine in the dynamic 132TSI Elegance.
Frankly, at the base-end prices, most people would be happy to trade off some ride and handling for the quieter and cheaper torsion beam rear end.
It’s a question of value – and that’s something Skoda has finally discovered in the latest and likeable Octavia. The Czech brand has at last truly arrived in Australia.
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