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Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - range

Our Opinion

We like
Safety upgrades, multimedia update, better value, massive space, smooth yet swift eco engineering, styling, practicality, available aftersales care
Room for improvement
Ride is busy, Ambition cabin feels noisy and droney, some DSG lag and jerkiness at low speed

Skoda logo23 Jun 2016

EMBATTLED and out of public favour right now as the fallout from the global emissions scandal continues, the Volkswagen Group is suddenly fighting for relevancy. And, in Australia, nowhere is that more obvious than with what Skoda has just announced.

Basically, if you’re after any new family-oriented vehicle and your limit is under $30,000, then the Octavia Ambition from $22,990 (plus on-road costs) deserves to be on your shopping shortlist.

The cheapest model is now arguably the most compelling variant in the range, especially if you enjoy driving and prefer (as we do) the slick shifting six-speed manual gearbox that makes the most of the sweet and speedy 110TSI powertrain.

Here’s the deal. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is designed to apply the stoppers at full strength at under 30km/h if the driver fails to do so to avoid an impact.

Adaptive cruise control, meanwhile, will maintain the same speed as the vehicle up front (up to a pre-set amount) and/or slow down to a stop accordingly.

Both are major safety advances that tend to be either optional or fitted to higher-series variants – in cars that typically cost much more than $23K. The big deal here is that Skoda has democratised this technology for people who might otherwise only be able to afford a mid-range Toyota Corolla.

The benefits, of course, speak for themselves.

Otherwise, the Octavia Ambition is as it was before, with a Euro 6 1.4-litre four-pot turbo that is ultra-smooth, steps off the line smartly and provides a surprising amount of oomph when you need to overtake.

While we can barely fault this drivetrain in manual form, the seven-speed DSG can become a bit tardy to respond in low-speed urban situations, and occasionally even feels jerky and shunty if the driver is a bit ham-fisted with his/her right foot. Over-sensitive brakes don’t help with the latter, either.

Our other observations concern the suspension’s constant jiggling effect over city streets and other areas with less-than-perfect road surfaces, making for an annoying, unsettled ride quality.

Note that more expensive Octavias starting with the Scout and RS versions have a far-superior multi-link rear suspension instead of the cheaper torsion beam arrangement. These are definitely the refinement ‘sweet spots’ in the range.

Finally, and in a related criticism, there is too much road and/or tyre noise entering inside, making the Ambition’s interior louder and more hollow sounding than it needs to be.

Whether this applies to all Octavias or just the 110TSI DSG wagon we sampled specifically, we can’t say, and the outcomes may vary according to geography and topography so please try before you buy.

These foibles do not mean we don’t recommend the Skoda, especially if the roads around where you live are smooth, because the manual is magnificent, and even the DSG works exceptionally well outside of crowded cities or if you’re smooth enough with your driving style.

And, anyway, the sprightly performance, outstanding fuel economy, great handling, vast interior space, beautifully presented dashboard, brilliant multimedia system, and endless practicality make the generously equipped and ultra-safe Ambition a far more compelling family car and driving machine alike than almost every alternative, particularly if it’s a handsome liftback or wagon shape you’re after.

So there’s the MY17 Octavia Ambition – not perfect, but a whole lot of worthwhile engineering smarts designed to make your life safer, more practical and enjoyable.

Skoda’s fighting back the best way this 91-year-old car-maker knows how!

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