Skoda is one of the many brands owned by VW. As such, the Octavia’s MQB platform is also used in Skoda’s Superb and Kodiaq, VW’s Golf, Passat, and Tiguan, and the Audi TT, A3 and Q2. Octavia is in august company. Not only are there shared platforms, but the engines and transmissions are common, as well as much of the switch gear and infotainment systems.
Conservatively designed bodywork hides frisky performance. The vertical grille has just a hint of aggressive boy racer. None the less, the front end, like the rest of the body, is chunky with no silly frills. It is all shoulders and elbows, and “get out of my way, I’m coming through”. I like it, I like it a lot.
The 18” wheels and low profile tyres are standard fare for a car with sporting pretensions. The wheels, like the body, have a certain chunky quality to them. It could all look a bit heavy and awkward in the wrong colour. The blue test car had the “Grrrrr” look, and it is just the right colour for the right car.
The sedan is a sedan in looks only, because the Octavia is a hatchback. Many a brand has tried to get the rear door to look just right. Some have gone for a fastback look a-la Rover 3500, and some went for the notchback of the 80’s such as the Ford Laser. Since the Rover 3500, only the Octavia has not looked hacked about. That’s a big call, but there it is.
It gives a big roomy sedan the big easy access that it deserves. Some say that you can’t get big boxes and cartons in the back, but surely that is the role of the wagon. The hatch is for the sporty weekend antics of a buyer who spends most of the week locked in an office. To that end, a full-sized bike fits in with the front wheel removed. If you want to take a 2nd bike, you’ll need a rack.
Roomy is my word du jour. The cabin feels spacious, and although the fittings have a quality look, the finish doesn’t have the premium feel of a Golf, or the Luxury feel of an Audi. This is quite deliberate and reflects the pricing structure. VW has a canny tactic where they have a brand for each level, and a price to suit. Skoda is their entry level brand which still manages a quality finish.
The RS has a leather/fabric upholstery combination. Skoda makes special mention of the fact that the “leather” covered seat option is a combination of natural and man-made material. This is also true of most other brands, and Mercedes Benz uses man-made leather-look vinyl on its entry level models. No one can tell the difference.
Instruments are well laid out, with the driver’s LCD able to display digital speed. You can also scroll through other information such as vehicle status, fuel figures and distance to name but a few.
The new Apple Carplay/Android Auto infotainment system heralds a company-wide move to smartphone based entertainment. Plugging your Iphone into the system via the normal USB cable mirrors some of the apple apps on the (optional) 8” screen. The normal 6.5” system also has Carplay but lacks Satnav. Our car also had the optional Canton upgrade which comes Satnav and upgraded speakers. Although the sound was adequate, it was not thrilling. You can still get a lot of satisfaction by streaming your favourite internet based music via apps such as Stitcher and Pandora. They work well, but only while in cell range.
Even handier is the maps app. It will stand-in for Satnav and always has up to date map data, unlike built in systems.
We had a couple of option packs fitted:
OPTIONAL PACKAGE – TECH PACK
8” touch screen Columbus satellite navigation system including SmartLink smartphone connectivity with Apple Carplay® and Android Auto™, Bluetooth® with voice control, audio and streaming, USB, AUX and 2× SD card slot (8 speakers)
Automatic Parking Assist and acoustic front and rear parking sensors
Advanced Keyless Entry including Smart Start [KESSY] and Alarm
Premium German Canton sound system [10 loudspeakers, digital equaliser]
Driving Mode Selection
OPTIONAL PACKAGE – COMFORT PACK
Electrically-adjustable driver and passenger seat, driver seat with memory function
Automatically foldable door mirrors with auto dimming, memory function and environment lights
Front and rear heated seats
Leather appointed seat upholstery with red stitching
Overall, the interior design is comfortable in a utilitarian, rather than premium, kind of way. There is no frivolous frippery to get in the way.
Annoyingly, many of the best bits were part of option packs.
If you had any misgivings about Octavia, they evaporate the second you unlock the door by merely grabbing the door handle. As long as the key is about your person, you are allowed to enter. The starter button is on the steering column which feels a bit pov. It is almost as if Skoda was trying to save money by putting the button where the key hole once was. Other than that, it is all good news.
The sports seats are extremely comfortable. The (optional) infotainment screen allows easy access to settings, and in radio mode, has direct select buttons for stations. Like all VW brands, the screen has an auto-hide menu bar along the bottom of the screen.
The optional VRS driving mode selection system has settings for eco, normal and sport driving, as well as a mode the driver can customise. You can make the drive train sporty, but leave the steering and other systems in comfort mode. Most importantly, you can turn off the naff exhaust noise that is “enhanced” for a better cabin experience. If it doesn’t come from the engine or the exhaust, then leave it out altogether. Having a valve that directs noise into the cabin, or a sound system that has a completely artificial noise, is for amateurs.
But, I digress.
The drive is superb. The ride is supremely smooth and quiet. The DSG, while only 6 speed, is crisp with instant changes, especially in sports mode. It would be nice to have an extra cog or two on the highway but the fuel figures are still relatively good given the performance. The turbo petrol 4 cylinder puts out 162kw/350Nm, and does 6.6 L/100k with a 0-100kph of 7.1 seconds. That’s not too shabby for a 1,400kg car.
The highway run was done in Normal modes in both DSG and Driving Mode Select system. It highlights excellent road manners on good tarmac. The active cruise control will slow you right down to zero, but does not have a queue function. The driver is required to apply the brake once the car stops, and you have to reactivate the cruise when the traffic moves off by pressing Resume. It’s just a little thing and would take so little to add queue assist to the existing system.
In the tight bends and undulating countryside, the RS is absolutely joyous. Although 162kw doesn’t sound too fiery, the 320Nm catapults the Octavia out of corners like it is fired from a bow. It is almost impossible to really convey the way it moves. It handles the way hot hatches used to without the bone-jarring suspension.
The platform has already proved to be a peach in other models, and doesn’t disappoint here. The body feels tight, and the steering and brakes are responsive with just the right amount of feel. The sophisticated suspension feels supple with rear Independent, four-link with coil springs, with anti-roll bar. Up front, there is lowered Sports suspension, and MacPherson suspension with lower triangular links and torsion stabiliser. This means the ride is compliant. It follows the road surface to keep contact while leaving passengers unruffled, but corners like a fun park ride.
Our spirited driving returned 11L/100k which is hardly surprising, but it was the kind of experience that would well and truly appeal to a boy racer. Metallic paint is $500, and the option packs add $1,700 for the tech pack and $1,900 for the Comfort Pack, but the base RS is $40,990 drive away (NSW). 45 grand doesn’t get you very much these days but an RS is $10,000 cheaper than the slightly smaller Golf GTI. It is a delight to drive and very comfortable to ride in.
I could easily do the cross country road trip quite happily.
Would I buy one? Yes, I loved it.
Engine/econ: 162kw/350Nm, 6.6 L/100k, 0-100kph of 7.1 seconds, 6 SP DSG
Price: $40,990 (drive away NSW)
Test car include: paint $500, tech pack, $1,700 and Comfort Pack $1,900