If Skoda today is a well recognised and trusted brand, it has a lot to do with the way it started off here in India. By bringing in the Skoda Octavia as their first car on offer in the early 2000s, they made all the right moves to mark its entry into a market in which growth had no bounds as long as the product was incomparable. Of course there are oodles of other factors that influence the way a brand is perceived but for Skoda, the Octavia was just what they needed to make a strong first impression.
Since the launch of the first generation Octavia, the car has been well received thanks to a good balance of performance, technology, features and most importantly a Value for Money price tag. It was quick to gain popularity in a segment that wasn’t quite bringing the numbers back in the day and with this third generation Octavia is now promoted one segment up in place of the outgoing Laura, Skoda intends to regain the hold in the market they once had. So what does this new package offer as inducement to ensure that it makes a place for itself in a segment that has cars like the Volkswagen Jetta, Chevrolet Cruze and the Hyundai Elantra ruling the roost? Let’s find out…
Is it a looker?
The Octavia has always been a good looking car, even the first generation model was sure to turn a few heads, and it remains so even in this new iteration, but the fact that it still continues to hold the typically Skoda DNA is without doubt commendable. The front end looks simply stunning, with the black Skoda family grille, the new logo and the clean cuts on the bonnet. The LED daytime running lamps add more blush to the face of this newest baby but is unfortunately available only in the top of the line Elegance variant. We drove the top-end automatic variant with the LED lamps as well as the mid-spec Ambition which gets the halogen daytime running lamps and without doubt the difference in night time vision is tremendous.
While the front looks simply spectacular, the profile is rather disappointing. The only thing that actually tries to add some spunk into the relatively bland profile are the C-shaped tail-lights. One look at the rear and you will immediately notice that the Octavia seems pretty much identical to the smaller Rapid, especially with the diamond cuts around the number plate. Interestingly, the only badging on the boot is ‘Skoda’ and ‘Octavia’, aside from which there is no indication of the trim levels or engine variants on the outside. Although a sharper and more aggressive profile would definitely have given the Octavia a perfect 10 in this department, at no point can it be said that this baby is not a good looking car. Almost perfect score then for the designers and engineers…
Step into the cabin and one can instantly notice that the good looks have been carried forward to the insides as well. The dual tone dashboard looks subtle but elegant and gives the cabin an airy feel. The dark dash is complimented well by the light coloured leather upholstery. The centre console with the piano black surfaces, hints of chrome and soft touch materials sync well with the rest of the interior design. The new Octavia marks a tick against a lot of the features that most cars in this segment offer – electronically adjusted driver seat with memory, sunroof, Bluetooth, a six-CD changer and the works. The audio system is good but comes with just a media port instead of AUX and USB connectivity which is surely not going to earn any brownie points amongst this generation of ipod fanatics.
The seats are comfortable and the fact that the driver seat is electronically adjusted makes it that much easier to find that sweet driving position. There is plenty of knee and leg room and all the extra space in the cabin is courtesy of Volkswagen Group’s new MQB platform that has now enlarged the wheelbase for that extra bit of space that we call comfort. Although there is ample of shoulder room for the fifth passenger the oversized transmission tunnel might just be a cause of discomfort. The 590-litre boot is large enough to pretty much accommodate your world for an entire week.
There is plenty of knee and leg room even at the back but the oversized transmission tunnel can just be a cause of discomfort for the fifth passenger. The 590-litre boot, which is probably one of the largest in the segment, can pretty much accommodate your world for an entire week.
While the interiors have been tastefully done, we felt that it somehow lacked a certain character that would make it appealing over the long term, but that again is an extremely subjective affair. Having said that, no compromises have been made as far as the build quality is concerned and everything looks extremely well structured.
Under the hood
The Skoda Octavia comes with three engine options, the 1.4-litre TSI petrol and the 2.0-litre diesel mill that is also seen in the Jetta along with a 1.8-litre TSI gasoline unit as well. This particular mill has been the bread and butter unit for a lot of Volkswagen Group cars like the Audi A4, the Jetta and the Laura before this. The 1,968cc engine produces 143PS at 4,000 rpm and a whopping 320PS between 1750 and 3000rpm. The engine on the Octavia has been tuned differently from the Jetta to offer a larger torque range of almost 500rpm which makes it rev more easily upto 3000rpm. Power delivery is linear which not only makes it easy to drive in the city but also ensures that you have the extra bit of punch when you need it for quick overtaking manoeuvres on the highway. That said, although it is pretty easy going even at higher engine speeds, it does get a little noisy once its crosses its peak torque range.
We experienced a little bit of lag at lower engine speeds but then the smart gearing of the six-speed DSG wipes it out almost entirely. The autobox is smooth and offers quick shifts and for those who like to like to drive enthusiastically and choose the ideal gear for the same there is the Tiptronic manual gear changing feature as well. We also got our hands on the 6-speed manual transmission which is the same as on the Jetta. While the throw is quite short we found the gearbox to be slightly notchy when shifting from first to second. But what really bothered us was the long travel on the clutch pedal which can really be painful when driving in bumper-to-bumper city traffic.
While the MQB platform does make a substantial difference in terms of space and comfort, it has an equally positive effect in the Octavia’s performance taking into account that it shreds off quite some weight. There is a 105kg and a 65kg difference in weight between the Octavia and the Jetta in the 6-speed manual and the autobox trims respectively with the former being the lighter. This difference in weight comes evident when you hit the pedal and let the car do the rest of the talking.
Crazy about corners
We have always had a soft corner for Skoda cars mainly for being able to pull off a good balance between ride quality and handling thanks to a great suspension setup. The new Octavia is in fact no different. It not only glides smoothly over broken tarmac and absorbs all the undulations of the road without throwing the passengers around but also handles fairly well of you intend to push it around corners. The 205/55 R16 support this character of the car really well without any drama whatsoever. As much as we really loved what Skoda has done with the McPherson-Compound link combination, a little more feedback on the steering from the front two wheels would have worked wonders in making the car much more confident while cornering.
There is no doubting the fact that the Octavia has grown with time, not just in terms of its design but also in what it has to offer. Its much larger in size, presents much more space, interiors have also been improved massively and now also marks a tick against a long list of features. What is really laudable is the fact that while it has managed to achieve all of this, it hasn’t quite lost its DNA.
Having said that, India is a really price sensitive market and although the Octavia has a lot to give at a price ranging from Rs 13.95 lakh to Rs 19.45 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) let’s also take into account the fact that the base variant of its elder sibling, the Skoda Superb, is almost a lakh cheaper than Octavia’s top end variant. Now this is an extremely bold move from the Czech car-manufacturer as some might just opt to go for the Superb instead. With this pricing Skoda is flirting an extremely fine line that might just reflect in the sales of its top of the line variant. That said,no points canbe taken away from the car itself and the fact that it is a great all-round package that stands alongside the best in the segment.
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