THE OCTAVIA is the mainstay of Skodas global operation making up around 40% of the companys sales, so a new one is just about the most important thing to happen in any four-year product cycle.
The new cars looks are much changed. It looks a lot like an oversized Rapid, but the tell-tale difference is the pair of body-coloured diagonal strips either side of the Octavias grille. The clean lines, reminiscent of the Audi A4 of several generations ago, will age well.
Its not quite all new, with engines carried over from the previous model. There are 1.2- and 1.4-litre petrols and two diesels in 1.6- and 2.0-litre capacities, all with stop-start tech. The entry-level offering is a 104bhp 1.2-litre petrol, which records over 55mpg and is cheap for road tax. The real story is that its more than £2,000 cheaper than the 1.6-litre diesel and wont be that much more expensive to run. Its definitely the best value in the range, and its the one driven here in range-topping Elegance trim. The Elegance wont be available with this engine in the UK, instead starting with the 1.4 petrol.
On the face of it, with 90mm extra length, a chunk of extra height and a width increase to deal with, the humble turbocharged 1.2 might seem a little inadequate. The reality couldnt be further from the truth, with a 67kg weight reduction over the previous equivalent model. The 138bhp 1.4 version is an amazing 102kg lighter, making it the much nippier option for those who want it.
With the small petrol under the bonnet the Octavia drives with a sprightly charm; the excellent front-to-rear balance combining with the overall weight reduction to shape a nimble, grippy package on twisting roads where the heavier diesel lumps can begin to overwhelm the front tyres.
Although you could never call the performance overwhelming, the smooth, quiet and exceptionally refined little petrol engine is a perfect partner around town. For a not insignificant fee you can pair it with a seven-speed twin-clutch DSG gearbox, which raises the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, but if the majority of its life is likely to be spent in town the smooth, rapid DSG shifts are a boon. It has to be said that Octavias destined for high motorway miles would be better served by the diesels, but at a significant cost.
The one downside to the Octavias shape on the road is that the high boot line obscures rear visibility too much, making reversing harder than it needs to be. Suddenly the door mirrors, which seem perfectly fine most of the time, seem too small.
The Octavia is in the same market sector as its cousins the Volkswagen Golf and Seat Leon, but it majors more on space and practicality than either of the others. An extra 108mm has gone into the wheelbase and the bulk of it has been sent to the rear of the cabin to provide massive legroom for rear passengers. The boot is a mere five litres bigger than before at 590 litres, which isnt much bigger than that of the smaller Skoda Rapid, but for growing families the hugely spacious Octavia is in a class of one at this price.
It has less of the authoritarian sobriety of the Golf and more interior space than both, with a more cleverly thought-out cabin design, so its hard not to place the Octavia at the top of the pile.
Depending on the model theres a spectrum of Simply Clever features to make everyday life with the car easier. The Elegance, which sits above SE and entry-level S, has the full spread including a twin-sided removable boot floor to protect the main carpet. One side is easily cleanable rubber, so wellies and dogs can be tossed in with no worries and no need for tarpaulins. Among many other perks there is also an ice scraper under the fuel filler cap, a clip to hold parking tickets or permits and eight cup- and bottle-holders, sized differently to securely hold both small bottles and the larger 1.5-litre ones you often get with takeaway meals.
Elsewhere in the cabin theres a significant investment in the depth of equipment. Even the S has a borderline miraculous amount of safety equipment to add to its breadth of must-have luxury items. The Elegance is overwhelmed with treats like sat-nav, part-leather electrically-adjustable seats, 17-inch alloy wheels and an upgraded stereo system.
Although you cant call it cheap, the Elegance model compares to cars a class up for equipment, luxury and technology, and side by side with any of its competitors it still looks like something of a bargain.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Skoda Octavia 1.2 TSI Elegance. (UK-spec 1.2 TSI SE £17,190, 1.4 TSI Elegance £20,240).
Engine: 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol producing 104bhp and 129lb.ft.
Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.
Performance: Top speed 122mph (1.2), 0-62mph TBC.
Fuel economy: 57.7mpg
CO2 rating: 114g/km.