2017 Skoda Octavia: First Drive Review
- Jun 22, 2017
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There was a time when the executive sedan segment flaunted the longest feature lists and a better driving experience, justifying their premium over midsize sedans. Today, it’s not as clear cut though, with better numbers driving those distinguishing features into the lower segments as well. But sometimes dimensions, performance, size and beauty can add up to a lot more than a bunch of numbers and a list of features on a piece of paper, and it’s this sentiment that the D segment is relying on today. Time to pick a standout from these three standouts - the Skoda Octavia, Toyota Corolla Altis and the Hyundai Elantra.
A sense of style
Style was something that the old Elantra had in bucketfuls. With the second-gen Fluidic design update, it’s lost a little flair but gained some much needed poise. The Corolla Altis was quite soft around the edges but the update earlier this year has sharpened things up quite nicely. It looks a lot more sporty and current in this new avatar. The recent facelift and new split LED headlamps haven’t changed the Octavia too much but then again, it always did wear a nice sharp Euro look that has a classy appeal. There is no clear distinguished gentleman in the looks department and we’re quite divided as to which one looks the best.
But, it’s easier to pick favourites once you step inside. The Altis greets you with a very old school layout. Everything feels nicely put together and it all feels luxurious but in a very old fashioned way. There is lots of leather covering the dash and cushioning for the armrests too, but the design and textures age the experience. Details like the gated shift lever and the low resolution 7-inch media screen stand out as soon as you’re seated.
The Hyundai, on the other hand, is a complete contrast. The all-black interiors are a little sportier and more youthful, but the Elantra has ditched the curvy lines of the dash for a more classy look. As you’d expect from Hyundai, technology levels are high, such as the 8-inch HD touchscreen with the requisite Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The plastics are all soft-touch but there is less fabric and cushioning where your fingers and elbows rest. It does make up for that with supportive ventilated driver and co-driver seats.
The Octavia has found a nice middle ground between the traditional and the modern and manages to do it better than both the Elantra or the Corolla Altis. The two-tone interiors look and feel much nicer, with soft cushioning for your elbows where the Hyundai comes off feeling a little plasticky. It may sport only a 6.5-inch touchscreen but its capacitive technology is the most responsive we have tested and is very intuitive in function too. And, the screen looks gorgeous.
It’s safe to assume that these three cars will spend a good chunk of their time in an urban setting, so these automatics would be the most hassle-free choice around town. The Hyundai uses a more traditional 6-speed torque converter automatic that also features three drive modes - Normal, Eco and Sport. Shifts are smooth and quick in Eco and Normal mode, making the Elantra really comfortable to drive around town. Sport mode makes the throttle response too direct to be smooth when driving through stop and go traffic. The steering is light and responsive and though there is no feedback, it reacts quickly to any driver inputs. What you do notice is the drone of the 2.0-litre VTVT under the hood. This increases as revs rise and it’s not the quietest cabin out of the three.
The Corolla Altis features a CVT or constantly variable 7-speed transmission (Clever electronics create steps to mimic the feeling of gears), mated to a 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol. The transmission is actually quite responsive in town and with small throttle inputs, there is little of the rubberband effect that plagues most CVTs. The engine note is a lot more muted. It feels and sounds more refined than the Hyundai, but the experience in stop-start traffic around town is not as nice. The car seems to lurch forward as the power builds, no matter how gently you squeeze the pedal. and no amount of pussyfooting could get it to smoothen the experience on our drive. The steering has a healthy helping of old school weight to it compared to the Hyundai but it never feels like a problem in town. The ride quality is on the softer side and it really does take care of small road imperfections well. But though the Corolla absorbs nearly everything and makes for smooth progress, what lets down the experience is that a lot of road noise resounds in the cabin. The CVT transmission is known for being efficient and it’s no surprise that the Toyota returned a city-best 11.91kmpl.
The Octavia sports the most modern technology here, with a direct-injection, turbocharged engine combined with a 7-speed dual-clutch auto. We weren't surprised that it was the quickest, but we didn’t expect it to match the other two transmissions for smoothness as well! At city speeds, the ‘box shifts up early and quickly, making the best of the 250Nm of torque from the turbocharged 1.8 TSI engine. The steering weight is right between the Elantra and the Altis and it hits a sweet spot around town. The ride quality is firmer than the Altis but still manages to soak up the slight imperfections and joints on a bumpy concrete road. What really sets it apart is the noticeable step up in sound insulation compared to the other two cars. It’s easily the quietest of the three at city speeds, and that enhances the cabin experience manifold.
Out on the open road the Octavia lords over this lot. It packs the most powerful punch, with 180 horses under the hood. And in a sprint, it will run rings around the other two cars. Its stiffer suspension setup keeps it nicely planted at highway speeds and the steering weighs up to further enhance that feeling of stability. It also pleasantly remains the quietest cabin of the three at highway speeds too.
The Corolla Altis continues to feel the more sedate and sensible option on the open road too. The CVT gearbox, which felt a little jerky around town, feels a lot nicer on the highway. It’s only when you call upon all 140PS that you do feel the slight rubberband-like feeling that is a trademark of the transmission. The Toyota feels planted as speeds increase and the steering weight that was a little heavy in the city feels much more natural at speed. However, the cabin lets in a little more road noise than we’d like.
The Hyundai livens up on the open road. The nippy steering makes it feel particularly exciting and engaging. Sure, in Eco and Normal modes it is a bit light, but it firms up nicely in Sport mode. The 152PS engine also feels really eager in Sport mode and the twitchiness at city speeds transforms into a great feeling at the pedal at triple digits. While this is no floaty Hyundai of old, the Elantra doesn’t feel quite as planted as the competition as speeds cross over into triple digits. There is also a fair deal of road noise in the Hyundai, in addition to the engine note that we noticed in the city.
For the driven
If you are looking at spending more of your time in the passenger row, then the Corolla Altis is the clear choice out of the three. The rear seats are the most comfortable, with ample legroom and support, and they even recline a couple of notches. You will miss the rear AC vent when you first step into the car on a hot day, and it’s a strange omission by Toyota on a car that offers the best back seat experience.
The Hyundai passenger bench is the next up and though there is slightly little less underthigh support, its seats are nicely angled and contoured to seat two comfortably. Even though it sports the narrowest shoulder room, the conuntoring of the seats and the slightly raised seat for the center passenger allows for a slightly staggered seating position and three passengers will actually be more comfortable in the Elantra.
The Octavia boasts the largest dimensions out of the three, with heaps of leg and shoulder room. Its seats, while comfy, aren’t as generous or supple as either the Elantra or the Altis. However, unlike the other two cars, the Octavia gets a USB charging port at the rear. The light beige further enhances the feeling of space at the back.
All three are standouts in their own right and it really is quite a close finish. The Toyota Corolla Altis is clearly the backseat passenger's delight, with the most comfortable second row of the three. Your Rs 19.37 lakh buys you old school charm with a solid reputation of reliability and class-leading fuel efficiency to further strengthen its contention. It’s just not quite a driver's car and so, for someone who is planning to be driven more often than not, the manual may be the more economical and sensible choice.
The Hyundai Elantra has grown up nicely and is still one of our favourite lookers. The responsive 2.0 engine is a delight to drive in Sport mode and still has the smooth Eco mode for city use as well. Those ventilated seats up front make this clearly a driver-focused car, which we like. And at Rs 18.08 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), its value for money is undeniable.
The Skoda Octavia has the most powerful engine, is packed with as many features as the Elantra, and feels the most modern and luxurious of the lot. Skoda, of late has been taking large steps in improving its service network, and now offers a 4-year prepaid maintenance package too. Its only chinks are the less than sumptuous back seats and an asking price of Rs 21.94 lakh which is Rs 2.57 lakh dearer than the Corolla Altis and Rs 3.86 lakh over the Elantra. But, with its performance, driving pleasure and richness of overall experience, the Octavia is still the most desirable and capable pick here.
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