This is the all-new, third-generation Skoda Octavia, the most important car in the Czech manufacturer’s line-up. It will be launched in India in early October. We get behind the wheel of the new Octavia sedan in Himachal Pradesh, putting it through its paces in some truly gruelling terrain. I don’t want to give the game away, but we did come back mighty impressed. Skoda will launch the new Octavia with a total of four different powertrain options, of which we’ve driven three. Read on for a detailed car review of the new Skoda Octavia.
Design & Engineering
‘Clean’ and ‘uncluttered’ are two words that best describe the new Octavia’s lines. They’re beautifully simple, lending a touch of class that none of its competitors can muster. I won’t wax eloquent about the design, because to do so would be to undermine all that it stands for, but suffice to say I personally love the taut skinning and geometric proportions. The face of the new Octavia is obviously derived from the company’s Mission L concept, and in fact will be an integral part of the company’s new design language. It is a distinctive face, no doubt, with the winged grille, bold chrome logo and the central ridge on the bonnet. This face will soon be incorporated into the rest of Skoda’s car range, beginning with the face-lifted Superb, which will be due soon.
The rear of the new Octavia has the company’s now traditional C-shaped tail lamps and a simple rear bumper with reflectors. The crisp crease on the bootlid, which underlines the number-plate, is the final simple flourish to this car’s delectable design.
Skoda has stuck to 16-inch wheels for India on all variants of the car, and this makes sense given our road conditions, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, 17-inch wheels would have really set off this car’s good looks.
Much has been written about the new Skoda’s underpinnings, some of which has been in the public domain for a while now. But what lies under the skin is note-worthy; the new Octavia is built of the Volkswagen Group’s MQB architecture. MQB stands for Modularer QuerBaukasten in German, which loosely translates to longitudinal, transverse construction. The Octavia is the first car from VW AG to be sold in India, which is based on the MQB platform. (The new Audi A3 will be next). Simply put, MQB is a flexible and scalable platform which can be adapted for different cars, saving time and development costs for VW AG’s bouquet of brands.
As mentioned earlier, the new Octavia will be available with a choice of four different powertrains, which are as follows:
1.4 TSI petrol, 6-speed manual
1.8 TSI petrol, 7-speed DSG
2.0 TDI diesel, 6-speed manual
2.0 TDI diesel, 6-speed DSG
We drove all of the above over the course of 2 days, except the diesel manual, and full details of their performance can be had in the Performance and Handling section below.
What’s important to note here is the suspension layout of the new Octavia. All the variants utilise McPherson struts with lower triangular links and a torsion bar for the front suspension. The rear suspension of the 1.4 TSI petrol and the 2.0-litre diesel is a simple and robust compound crank axle, while the 1.8 TSI petrol uses a multi-link arrangement, with one longitudinal and three transverse links and an anti-roll bar. The reason the rear suspension of the 1.8 TSI differs is because of the higher performance it is capable of, and a multi-link rear axle provides better high-speed stability and better body control while cornering, at least in theory.
The Octavia also has Skoda’s trademark wide-opening rear hatch instead of a conventional trunk lid. One big panel comprising the boot lid and rear windshield rises up of sturdy hydraulic struts. A pull-strap however is in easy reach to help you shut it.
The Octavia also has what Skoda calls the rough road package, which is a nice way of saying this car has been ‘Indian-ised’, but that’s no bad thing. The ground clearance has been raised by 10 mm compared to the European version of the car, plus there is protective cladding on the underside of the vehicle. Skoda has also used stronger quality brake lines and fuel lines for the car.
Interiors & Comfort
Quality of workmanship is from a class above; lucid layout and high-grade materials make for tactile pleasure.
Open the well-weighted doors of the new Octavia and you step into a familiar cocoon of supple leather and high quality plastic. Audi and Volkswagen have always been commended on their interior workmanship, and the same quality levels have trickled down to the Group’s plebeian brand too. I wouldn’t call it luxurious, but it is definitely well-appointed and well-built, so much so that it makes other cars in this class look tacky by comparison. The tasteful chrome accents add just the right amount of bling, without seeming over-the-top. Our test car had rich cream leather interiors (fabric on the Active), and while these look and feel delightful to sit on, I must confess about having doubts about their viability and longevity in our grimy climate. The base Active variant has silver finish accents on the centre console and door pads, while the higher Ambition and Elegance trim levels have a wooden finish.
Skoda wants to position the Octavia as the default choice for the D-segment customer, remember, so has kitted out the car accordingly. The company hasn’t scrimped much on equipment, and even the base Active variant gets a stereo with 8 speakers. The higher variants get steering-wheel controls for the stereo, Bluetooth phone connectivity and touchscreen controls, with a proximity sensor (icons brighten when your finger hovers over them, and the options for that menu function pop-up automatically – very cool!).
What the highest Elegance trim level does have which is very useful is an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, and a panoramic sunroof, both of which elevate the new Octavia into the ‘luxury’ end of the D-segment. One missing feature though is ventilated seats, which the Hyundai Elantra does have.
What Skoda must be commended for is just how intuitive and user friendly the dashboard layout is. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that stable mate Audi, which makes delightful quality albeit with a cluttered layout, could pick up a trick or two!
The seats themselves are extremely comfortable, with just the right degree of firmness, such that the upholstery and cushioning feels plush without feeling soggy. Of course, if you’re of a small build, you’ll probably find the seats a touch large for your comfort. Even with the front seats adjusted for a 5-foot-ten-inch adult, there is enough rear legroom for a similar-sized person to fit in the back.
Voluminous boot has class-leading space; rear seat is comfortable, but high centre tunnel makes life difficult for middle passenger.
The Octavia’s real party trick is the voluminous boot. At 590 litres, there nought to rival it for sheer volume, and better still, it’s easy to load and unload. The wide-opening hatch really aids versatility, and there’s a neat slot for the parcel tray to slide into if there are bulky objects in the boot. There are six anchor points, plus load hooks as well. Strangely, while the Active does not have the supplementary loading hooks, the Ambition has one and the Elegance has two! Talk about cost rationalisation among the variants, but this is taking it to an altogether different level!
Performance & Handling
All the three engines offered in the new Octavia will be familiar to Indian customers. The 2.0-litre diesel is of course expected to be the stalwart of the range. VW AG’s favourite oil-burning child has received a further dose of TLC, upping the power output slightly to 143 PS, while torque remains the same at 320 Nm. Thankfully, both the manual and DSG versions of the new Octavia are available with the same power output, unlike its predecessor, the Laura, which had a less-powerful version of the engine with the manual gearbox.
The other engine available with the new Skoda Octavia is the 1.8 TSI petrol, mated to a 7-speed DSG, with no manual option. If you’ve been in the market for a sporty sedan on the right side of Rs 20 lakh (we hope), then look no further.
Lastly, there’s a new addition to the range in the form of the 1.4 TSI petrol. Now, this engine is already on offer with the new Jetta, and the new Octavia will be the second car on sale in the country with this option. The 1.4 TSI is available with a 6-speed manual gearbox only though.
We started our drive behind the wheel of the 2.0 TDI. The route was entirely through the Himalayan foothills, taking us from the town of Parwanoo to Shimla, via Sohan and Kufri. This route provided us enough opportunity to evaluate every aspect of the Octavia’s performance and handling, including its ride quality.
There is a slight amount of clatter when you first start the 2.0-litre diesel, but it warms up and quietens down rapidly, making for a quiet cabin. It isn’t exactly hushed inside, but rarely do you hear or feel the engine inside the cabin, except sometimes under hard acceleration. The torque this diesel engine puts out is more than enough for a car of the Octavia’s size and weight, and never are you found wanting for performance. However, there is a degree of turbo lag in the diesel, which requires you to keep it above 1,500 rpm, especially while driving uphill. Even though we were driving the DSG automatic, we felt compelled to shift to manual mode and use the lever to select the gear we wanted, as the default electronic setting of the gearbox errs on the side of fuel efficiency. The throttle position sensor, which sends an electronic signal to the gearbox to downshift, seems to take its own sweet time, and when the gearbox does downshift, you suddenly get a surge of torque, which on tight and twisty roads is disconcerting. Better then to use the tiptronic lever and drive it like a manual.
The 1.4 TSI petrol is the surprise of the range, and pleasantly so. Although displacing just 1,395 cc, this motor manages to put out 140 PS of power and 250 Nm of torque. Again, it’s the torque that really talks, and given that the peak of 250 Nm is available all the way from 1,500 – 3,500 rpm, you always have sufficient grunt at hand. Of course, the usual trick of keeping the motor above the 1,500 rpm mark is relevant in the case of this petrol engine too, but given its slick-shifting manual gearbox, you don’t really mind. The ratios are well chosen too, so you can really access the torque over a broad speed range. Sixth of course is too tall except for highway cruising.
Finally, there’s the 1.8 TSI petrol engine. If you’re going to spend more time behind the wheel, rather than in the back seat, then this is the car I wholeheartedly recommend. Power delivery from this engine is explosive, with a strong and relentless surge right through the rev range. Peak torque arrives at just 1,250 rpm and remains till 5,000 rpm. Peak power of 180 PS is produced at 5,100 rpm, and the red line is north of the 6,500 rpm mark. These specifications give you some indication as to the potential that resides under the bonnet of the Skoda Octavia, thus equipped. In simple terms, at almost any engine speed, in almost any gear, this car will respond to the flex of your right foot. Skoda’s engineers though could’ve have perhaps allowed for some degree of engine noise in the cabin, for the only indication of the silly speeds you’re doing is the scenery flashing by, while the tachometer and speedometer tell an altogether different story.
If the Octavia’s performance in a straight line puts a silly smile on your face, its performance around bends keeps it there. This is a front-wheel drive car, remember, so some amount of understeer is inevitable. But even of the tight and twisty bits of road, the Octavia hugged the desired line faithfully. Of the three, it is the diesel, with its extra weight in the nose, which feels a touch ponderous. Conversely the 1.4 TSI, which is a whopping 135 kilograms lighter, enjoys the most neutral balance, switching from corner to corner with alacrity. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time in the 1.8 TSI in the twisties, driving it for the most part in the foothills and on the plains surrounding Chandigarh, but even with 4 people on board and a boot stuffed with luggage, it was a fool-proof handler, even at silly speeds. I did find the steering to be a little light for my liking, and would have preferred a little more heft, especially in the 1.8 TSI with its performance potential.
The new Octavia has disk brakes front and rear, but the front brakes have floating calipers. This allows for similar braking performance as larger, fixed calipers, saving weight. The brakes are incredibly powerful, and the best part is that the feel and modulation has no surprises, with the Octavia slowing predictably under pressure from your foot. Of course, ABS with EBD and Brake Assist is standard across the range.
1. 1.4 TSI Petrol; 2. 1.8 TSI Petrol; 3. 2.0 TDI Diesel
One of the Octavia’s calling cards has always been its fuel efficiency, and once again, the company will meet its customers’ expectations in this regard. We utilised the Octavia’s trip computer to get a reading for our test, and with the 2.0 TDI with the 6-speed DSG, we recorded a figure of 12.7 km/l, which is impressive considering we were driving mostly in the hills, and spiritedly so. ARAI’s official figures for the Octavia however, are as follows:
1.4 TSI petrol, 6-speed manual – 16.8 km/l
1.8 TSI petrol, 7-speed DSG – 14.7 km/l
2.0 TDI diesel, 6-speed manual – 20.6 km/l
2.0 TDI diesel, 6-speed DSG – 19.3 km/l
Real world figures will be less, obviously, but the Octavia, especially the diesel, won’t be giving its owners sleepless nights. In fact, we know from prior experience that when driven frugally, the Octavia really delivers incredible mileage.
Indian customers are more demanding than ever before, and with better roads and higher speeds comes the need for better safety features as well. ABS with EBD and BA is available across the Octavia model range, as are two front airbags and ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation). Moreover, Skoda is offering a full-suite Electronic Stability Control programme on the Ambition and Elegance, while also offering multi-collision braking (MKB) for the first time on a car in this segment.
What MKB does is that in the event of a collision, the brakes are applied automatically till the vehicle slows to a stop. This is to prevent repeat collisions in case the driver is incapacitated after the initial contact. It would be macabre to test this system, but we’ll take Skoda’s word for it that it works! Such a technology is actually very useful, but Skoda is offering MKB only on the Ambition and Elegance variants, not on the Active.
Another safety feature available only on the Elegance are the eight airbags, which include front and side airbags for driver and passenger, plus curtain airbags at the front and rear.
Some cars just stick in your memory. The reason they do so may vary; some positive, others not so. But if there is one car that truly left an impression on me, it was the Skoda Laura, which I had road tested about 6 years ago. When it was launched in India, I felt there were few cars to compete with it. The Laura was essentially the second-generation Skoda Octavia, and it was a car which ticked most of the right boxes.
With the new (third-generation) Octavia, it is safe to say that the company has truly moved the game forward with this car. The Octavia is key to the Skoda brand, in much the same way as customers today associate the Corolla with Toyota. Skoda has pulled out all the stops, really, to make the new Octavia as compelling as it has succeeded in doing. Of course, the price announcement is still a few weeks away, but there are strong hints that it will be very competitive. Remember, the 1.4 TSI petrol Active is the starting point to the range, and we’ve had hints that Skoda India is looking at a sub-14 lakh mark to kick off the range, stretching to maybe 20 lakh rupees for the 1.8 TSI petrol. At that price, it would be hard to argue with the kind of value the new Octavia affords.
There are few other cars in India which can claim the mix of attributes that the Skoda Octavia does. It is well engineered and well built, is very good to drive, has all the safety equipment you could want, and will be frugal to run as well. If anything, I suspect that the car’s sober styling may not call out to some of the nouveau riche clientele that inevitably shops in this segment. But really, it isn’t often that you find you have little to criticise in a new car. To plagiarise someone I cannot remember, the new Octavia does most things well, some of them brilliantly, and none of them bad. It really is that good.
Now, we await the price announcement on October 3.
Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze,