Prepare to say hello to the returning Octavia brand name in India, sometime during this year. I say returning because after the first generation Octavia did enough to establish the Skoda brand in this country, it continued in time honoured Indian fashion even after its successor was launched in the country but badged with an altogether different model name, the Laura. This time round though, it is the Laura which will continue in the Skoda India line-up with an all new Octavia making its return to prominence.
It was also saying something about the rich automotive heritage of the brand that the launch event was held at the spanking new Skoda museum at Mlada Boleslav on the outskirts of Prague. Just under a couple of years ago this venue was just the old assembly facility but the designers had refurbished it massively to bring the technology, design and performance traditions of this Czech automaker to life in the most glorious manner. In fact among the front ranked VW Group brands, Skoda lacked a museum in the modern vein but just two weeks prior to the launch and reveal of the third gen Octavia the new Skoda museum was up and running and the Octavia's launch also highlighted the first real view of the museum to the rest of the world.
The third generation Octavia was already on everyone's minds when Skoda showed its Mission L concept during the VW Group Night on the eve of the 2012 Paris Auto Salon. Based on the VW Group's much acclaimed MQB floor pan and parts matrix, the new car is cleaner, leaner, better proportioned, even more roomier and larger but yet lighter to the tune of 102 kilos and in line with its time honoured price-performance proposition.
None else but Skoda CEO Winfried Vahland acknowledged how important the Octavia remains to Skoda. "Our aim was to make this car even better for its third generation and this is reflected in the values of the new offering." Who could have foreseen that what was essentially a small family hatchback almost two decades ago has now grown in size and esteem to challenge the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia set. In India, I can just see it stamping its authority on the class in which unfortunately also resides the brilliant VW Jetta! Yes pricing and value proposition would count just as much if not more in India as well and should help Skoda India to establish its foothold in the segment even more strongly.
Sober yet striking!
The new Octavia is the handiwork of Skoda design boss Jozef Kaban who has taken the cues already penned into the Mission L as well as in the new European Rapid where the finely chiseled look and character creases were applied in fine sync to endow the exterior with a finely styled look devoid of any adornments or embellishments. In fact, the manner in which it has grown longer (90mm) and wider (45mm) and yet the proportions are so finely crafted means that the 108mm longer wheelbase seems to have presented Kaban and his band the rare opportunity to carve out acres of cabin space with good ergonomics and aesthetics to boot.
Speaking of which the cabin is huge but hasn't compromised boot space, now able to take in 590 litres of luggage as compared to the 585 litres of its predecessor. In fact, one cannot but marvel at the short rear deck and the swoopy C-pillar pulled far backwards which disguises the large boot and as with all Octavias, this third generation model also delivers its own take on the large tailgate meaning that practicality hasn't been neglected at all.
There is a certain dynamism to the new Octavia what with the very short front overhang, that all new Skoda front face and the valences bonnet along with those deliberate bonnet shut lines which overlap the fenders somewhat on both sides. The dynamic window line ends at the rear with a finely crafted 'fin' which hints at a new pushy direction for the Octavia brand. If that's not all, the typical Skoda values remain intact but there is a more sportier yet elegant air about the car which is a very welcome aspect. The C-shaped tail lights and the clean and precise shut lines are another exemplary detail of this Czech offering and overall the verdict is that it is surely a very good move forward from the Laura, a.k.a. the second generation Octavia.
Space, space and even more space
While it might have grown in length and width yet has more cabin space, weight has been lopped off with intelligent use of high-strength steels to slash the fab without sacrificing the rigidity of the structure. Credit this to the magic letters spelt as MQB. This modular matrix of floor pans, suspension, and drivetrain integration has already been a major ingredient for efficient production of many new VW Group models like the latest Golf, the Seat Leon and also the highly acclaimed Audi A3 but for sure it isn't going to be the last. However Skoda's approach to MQB has been in keeping with its standout value proposition in mind and the results reflect this effort.
Power to the people
Apart from the flab being lopped off by the MQB programme and the new design and manufacturing processes, the new Octavia's very clean aerodynamics result in a very low drag co-efficient which helps in the areas of performance and fuel efficiency as also of course lower emissions. The new Octavia range will encompass a choice of four petrol and four Diesel engine options from day one though in India it would yet continue to have the same proven mills already doing duty in the present Laura and Jetta models. In Europe, the Greenline model is the most endearing of the lot with its 1.6-litre TDI unit offering 109bhp yet being frugal to the tune of sipping just 3.4-litres of diesel per 100km while firmly setting the cat amongst the hatchback pigeons with a CO2 emissions rating of just 89 g/km!
All four petrol engines would feature TSI tech while the four TDI diesels would continue to rank right up there's its the best in class. A CNG-fuelled engine is also on the cards as are hotter and more powerful vRS models (with both petrol and diesel motors). Transmissions would include six-speed manual gearboxes and the much more preferred seven-speed DSG dual-clutch units but what is of even more interest to the enthusiast set is that all wheel drive versions are also on the anvil!
While the Octavia might have grown up, Skoda's product planners have thought it fit to upgrade the level of equipment and technology in it by way of further safety and comfort enhancements. There is adaptive cruise control which is pointless for India but then Start-Stop is a welcome addition. There are no less than nine air bags to keep occupants safe in the event of a crash including knee bags and rear side bags being offered for the first time on an Octavia.
Throw in automatic high beam headlights, traffic sign recognition (won't make it to India), automatic lane guidance, emergency city braking, adaptive drive modes and such tasty tech bits make their entry to further enhance the safety credentials of this Octavia. A pop-up bonnet is also in the equipment list for errant pedestrians to be even better served should they veer into the path of this third gen Octavia!
If that's not all, there is an all new panoramic sliding and tilting sunroof as an optional extra but even more useful and practical a feature should be the new KESSY (Keyless-Entry-Start-and-Exit-System) automatic door and ignition-lock system. And while we might not need it here in sunny India, flip up the fuel filler lid and you'll find the Skoda ice-scraper there. Just to ram home this point forcefully, on the very evening of the launch the heavens opened up and Europe was sheathed in snow!
Inside the cabin, the dashboard and instrument and switchgear layout is typically VW Group personified with ample attention to detail and also a good mix of materials with fine craftsmanship. What I liked was a double-sided floor mat in the boot - carpet on one side and rubber on the other. Ample storage bins, holders and hooks dominate the cabin while cargo anchoring points in the luggage bay are a sensible addition. For the musically inclined, cabin acoustics have been enhanced with the adoption of a new Canton sound system.
When where and how much?
The third gen Octavia goes on sale in the New Year in the Czech Republic and then on sale all over Europe in a phased manner from the first quarter onwards. Expect it to make an appearance in showrooms in India sometime during the third quarter of calendar 2013 and for a benchmark pricing look at how the VW Group did the business with the VW Vento vis-a-vis the Skoda Rapid and only substitute Jetta to get a semblance of how the new Octavia would be positioned. This would require some fair bit of price jiggling because the Laura would also remain for at least a year or two more and this would mean the Skoda domination in the price band from Rs 12 to Rs 20 lakhs should continue strong as always.