First drive review: Skoda Octavia 1.8 TSI DSG SE Plus
What is it?
This is the all-new Skoda Octavia, in final production form, although because we are still three months from the car’s launch the test car wears a mild disguise. The Mk3 Octavia, like its predecessors, is part of Volkswagen’s extended Golf family. This time around it is based on the new MQB platform, which will underpin future VW Group front-drive models from Polo to Passat size. MQB factories are also being built around the world, to allow local market production of its mainstream models. This will be useful for the Octavia 3 because China and Russia are two of its biggest markets.
The Octavia is based on the longer wheelbase version of this platform, getting an extra 50mm compared to the Mk7 Golf, all of which is to the benefit of rear passengers. Compared to the outgoing model, the new Octavia is 90mm longer, 45mm wider and has a 108mm longer wheelbase.
The company claims that that this car has interior space comparable to a model from the next class up: the total interior length is 1782mm and it can carry a 240cm flatpack with the rear seat folded; fold the front passenger seat and that goes up to 2.74cm. The boot is even bigger, at a vast 590 litres. The Octavia 3 is also, in this form, around 85kg lighter than the old model. The lower-powered models get a rear beam axle which saves another 16kg.
The exterior styling is a sharper and crisper take on the current model with the tail shaped to look more like a saloon than a super-sized hatchback. The clunky chrome grille has been replaced with a chrome-edged aperture, giving the Octavia a more sophisticated face. Sheer body surfaces, prominent wheel arches and the defining shutline that runs off the rear door and down the sill give the impression of tight build quality and technical precision.
The finish of the cabin plastics are a notch back from the what you’ll get in the new Golf but the whole interior is a festival of restrained good taste, clarity and slick assembly. All the controls are neatly drawn and nicely weighted, but there’s no great design flair, either. The only criticism of the Octavia’s aesthetics lie in the fact that this new design language is pretty close to that being deployed both on the Golf 7 and the new Seat Leon.
With the adoption of the MQB architecture comes more in the way of sophisticated options, including active cruise control, automatic dip beam, keyless entry, traffic sign recognition, a panoramic sunroof and Skoda’s new top-end Canton audio system. Traditionally practical touches include a doubled-sided (carpet and rubber) boot floor and a way of storing the parcel shelf when carrying tall loads.
What is it like?
While the entry-level Octavia petrol engine is the new-generation 1.4 TSI, next up in the range is this 177bhp 1.8 TSI unit. In this car, it was hooked up to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Push the starting button (which sits where the ignition key used to be) and the motor spins up into a very subdued idle. Pull the (very slick-action) lever into ‘D’ and the Octavia pulls away with remarkably little mechanical intrusion.
This drivetrain is exceptionally smooth and refined, with the transmission worthy of a special mention such is the instinctive way it interacts with the engine. There’s a handy turn of speed, too, partly thanks to this car being around 85kg lighter than the old model. It’s even lighter than the 1996, Golf Mk4-based Octavia 1.
There’s a great delicacy and accuracy to the steering, which shone through even on the very uneven and snow-packed B-roads outside Prague. This car can be driven through the fingertips and rewards precise inputs. The ride was also highly impressive, doing a very fine job of round off ridges and short bumps. On the motorway it was flat and stable. High speed refinement was notable for the calm in the cabin, though the result was the noise from the snow tyres and wind being more to fore.
Should I buy one?
Quite possibly. There’s a great deal to be said for this particular Octavia. Interior space is impressive, without having to suffer a car a unwieldy as today’s Mondeo and Insignia. The boot is vast, being both deep and long, without affecting the car’s styling, which avoids the Octavia’s previously tail-heavy look.
In this petrol turbo form, a smooth, sweet transmission is matched by an equally sweet-handling and smooth-riding chassis. It’s the sort of car that would be ideal for a precise and thoughtful driver. The UK-bound Octavias promise to be more expensive than the outgoing models, but more lavishly specced.
The only Octavia-shaped caveat is that this model has the multi-link rear suspension and a motor that’s a good 60kg lighter than in the diesel Octavia. I suspect that the entry-level, beam-axle, oil-burning, version will not be quite as impressive. First drive review: Skoda Octavia 1.8 TSI DSG SE Plus Review | Autocar