Skoda’s Octavia set fair to fill big market hole

Skoda's third-gen Octavia is bigger and better, and cruising for mid-range market action
Skoda's third-gen Octavia is bigger and better, and cruising for mid-range market action

IS SENSIBLE enough? Probably not. If you want a purely functional vehicle, there are many cheaper than Skoda’s third-generation Octavia.

If, on the other hand, you want good common sense mixed with a warm feel-good factor that reminds you how wise your purchase was, Skoda’s now Mondeo-sized and much-improved mid-ranger could be just the ticket.

There’s always been substance to the Octavia, and this third-generation car, which despite its Golf underpinnings moves up a size into Mondeo and Insignia territory, explores that theme still further. The look may be evolutionary, but this platform has real legs. Get used to it as it’ll be sticking with us for quite some time.

The Octavia’s engine line-up will look familiar to anyone who, perhaps not realising the increase in size of this new design, may be considering a slightly smaller Volkswagen Golf or Seat Leon as an alternative purchase.

Four turbocharged powerplants are offered: 105PS 1.2, 140PS 1.4 and 180PS 1.8-litre petrols and 105PS 1.6 and 150PS 2.0-litre diesels. A Greenline version of the 1.6 TDI diesel that emits just 89g/km of CO2 is available too.

Four-wheel drive has also been developed, along with a vRS sports model and a Scout version of the estate with additional body cladding and raised ride height.

Like the rest of its sibling vehicles in the Volkswagen empire, this Octavia rides on the modular MQB chassis, which means that it will ride well, handle competently and won’t cost the earth to develop.

That’s a major difference between this car and the less sophisticated family hatch-sized Rapid model that sits just below it in the Skoda line-up.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the Octavia has grown, and by quite some amount, now properly big enough to prospect amongst families you might have been considering Mondeos, Insignia and Passats. If you were a little puzzled as to why the Focus-sized family hatchback Rapid was slotted into Skoda’s range, this bigger and plusher Octavia gives the answer. The Rapid now has breathing space and the Octavia can push for family customers more convincingly.

The third-generation model is 90mm longer and 45mm wider than the second-generation Octavia. At the same time, the wheelbase has grown by 108mm, mainly benefiting the interior and space on the rear seats.

This means the Octavia is now almost as long as a Ford Mondeo and there’s genuinely impressive rear seat space — enough for a six-footer in the back to be comfortable behind one in the front. The boot has increased in space to 590 litres. A typical family hatch such as a Ford Focus boasts 320 litres. Now you see how far the Octavia has stepped up in size.

Despite the notchback design, it remains a five-door car with a massive tailgate. There’s a really crisp, architectural neatness to the exterior design and detailing, with plenty of shape in the flanks, an elegant sweep to the roofline and a refreshing simplicity to the front end. Less really is more here. It’s a great piece of work. The interior is similarly simple and elegant as a result. 
Materials quality has improved and there’s stacks of clever storage ideas. They include foldable cargo elements and a double-sided floor covering for the boot, plus a multimedia holder with space for an iPod, a mobile phone and the like.

The current range of petrol and diesel powerplants looks a good starting point but expect this to be rapidly extended with bigger and more powerful engines. Prices look to have crept up by around £2,000 at the entry level, with around £16,000 marking the entry point to the Octavia range, but this is now a significantly bigger and better equipped car than before, so we need to be comparing like with like. And given that the Ford Mondeo range kicks off at more than £18,000, the Octavia starts to look very reasonable value for money.

The old Octavia was never really renowned as a car with a lot to boast about in the equipment department. It needed to maintain its place in the hierarchy with the SEAT Leon and the Volkswagen Golf, so it always seemed a bit sparse inside.

The third generation model has improved things still further, but You’ll need to ascend to the upper specification variants to get features such as swipe control functions for the touch screen system. Likewise automatic parking assistance and adaptive cruise control will require you to fork out a good deal more than 16 grand.

The upfront costs of the Octavia are certainly attractive when you weigh up what you’re getting in the package but what about running the car? Skoda’s engineers have achieved significant improvements in fuel consumption and emission figures thanks to advanced petrol and diesel engines, a low drag coefficient and reduced vehicle weight.

Despite its increased size and better quality interior, this third generation Octavia is up to 102kg lighter than its predecessor. It sounds impossible but this has been achieved thanks to resolute lightweight engineering, a progressive body design, utilisation of high- and ultra-tensile steel and a careful selection of materials.

The 1.6 TDI Greenline version of the Octavia underscores this commitment to efficiency with CO2 emissions of only 89 g/km and consumes a mere 3.4 litres of diesel per 100 km, which in old money is around 83mpg. Except for the entry-level petrol and diesel option, all engines are available in a fuel-efficient version with a start-stop system and recuperation.

This third generation Skoda Octavia shifts the buyer proposition subtly but decisively. It’s no longer something that goes head to head with most family hatchbacks. It’s grown out of that class and is now looking for bigger rivals to challenge.

Cars such as the Peugeot 508, the Ford Mondeo and the Vauxhall Insignia will all be fair game for the aggressively priced Octavia. What’s particularly interesting is that those models have all seen the big threats to their market share come from the premium models of BMW, Audi and Mercedes – and in response they’ve become more expensive and better finished as a result. This leaves a huge hole in the market into which the hefty Octavia can now settle. It’s a nailed-on winner. The established players should be very worried indeed.