Fourth-gen Skoda Octavia review | As thrilling as the Octys of yore?
There is no longer a straight-forward rival to the Skoda Octavia! Sure, there is the Hyundai Elantra but truth is this segment of cars have been all but wiped out under the onslaught of SUVs. Honda has canned the Civic. The Jetta was withdrawn three years ago. Even Maruti and Toyota decided it wasn’t worth the effort of slapping on a Suzuki badge on the Corolla Altis and selling it from Nexa showrooms. Entering an almost dead segment, can the new Octavia still tickle our senses like it has always done in the past?
Skoda Octavia design
In the flesh, the new Octavia looks crisp, expensive and so very appealing. It has grown up and it wears more bling. The Skoda family grille has more more presence, more chrome and allied to the angular adaptive full-LED headlamps make for a sharper nose. The ride height has been raised for India and it is visible in the wheel arch gaps (despite 17-inch rims) but it’s not ungainly by any stretch. The roof line dips in a more exaggerated fashion to give it that 4-door coupe-effect every car designer seems to be aiming, but it doesn’t compromise on head room. Staying true to its genes, the Octy retains the notchback, which now operates electrically. And that boot! It’s massive! 600 litres, expands to 1555 litres with rear seats folded and there are all kinds of nets, hooks and adjustable luggage compartments so even if you have a small bag you can secure it and it won’t slide around and drive you nuts when you’re gunning it round corners.
Skoda Octavia interior
On the inside, everything is new. The gear lever is a new shift-by-wire controller which dispenses completely with the gear lever and frees up more space around the centre console (while lacking the meatiness of a proper gear lever I must add). This also aids in making the cabin seem more airy though in reality the dimensions are unchanged.
Staring you in the face is Skoda’s new 2-spoke steering wheel that feels really high quality, particularly the knurled-metal-effect on the rotary dial for the volume. But if you want to make your passengers go ooh-and-aah, you slide your finger on the track pad below the infotainment to adjust the volume. Hit the climate control button to go into the air-con menu and use two fingers on this slider to adjust the temperature. You could call it gimmicky but, just like BMW’s gesture control, it’s a nice fun touch. You also get gesture control to operate the reading lights, and while we are up near the mirror there’s a USB-C slot which, before you think of it as utterly silly, is actually useful if you want to plug in a dash cam. You get another two USB-C slots next to the wireless charger and another two under the vents for the rear passengers. The infotainment is a new 10-inch screen running a new Android-like operating system which not only boasts wireless CarPlay and Android Auto but you can also setup the display into separate tiles so you get access to both CarPlay and the car system menus at the same time. The digital cockpit is also a new generation, and has reached a level of sophistication where even the hardcore traditionalist will find it silly to demand a return to analogue dials.
Skoda Octavia performance
I’m sure the 1.5 TSI, maybe even a manual transmission, will come next year in more affordable versions but for now you get the 2-litre TSI that makes 187bhp of power and 320Nm of torque, mated to the 7-speed DSG automatic. 0-100kmph takes a claimed 7.4 seconds and top speed is 240kmph. Even more noticeable than the step up in performance are the leaps in refinement and smoothness. There is a butter-smooth linearity that makes the Octy feel more expensive and there’s also better sound insulation which makes the cabin a beautifully hushed place to be in. Cane the engine and there’s only a faint roar that comes in, and that’s where enthusiasts will miss the old 1.8 TSI. The new 2.0 TSI has almost nothing in the way of turbo lag, which also means you don’t get that solid kick the old engine delivered when it came on boost, and neither do you get that chunter from the waste gate. Don’t get me wrong, all these are signs of how much more sophisticated the new engine is, but the old motor was bristling with character; it was more thrilling when you gunned it. And, unlike the past, you cannot make your own RS by boosting and tweaking your regular Octy.
Skoda Octavia features
The version tested here is the L&K which gets a different design for the 17-inch wheels, a 600-watt Canton sound system with 12 speakers including a sub-woofer and on the safety front you get 8 airbags along with ESP. The seats are a mix of suede where you park your back side and harder wearing leather for the corners, and these aren’t ventilated. As for connectivity, you get the mySkoda app to geo-fence the car and even check how the car is being driven and if your partner / kids / driver has been out indulging in the Thrill of Driving.
And one thing that many will cry boo-hoo over, the new Octy doesn’t get a sun roof. Now this should absolutely not be the reason for ignoring the Octavia but I would be remiss in not pointing this out to you. So there. And the reason is not that Skoda India do not know what you guys want, rather the Octavia sedan, nowhere in the world, gets a sunroof and Indian volumes aren’t big enough to warrant engineering one in.
Skoda Octavia chassis, ride and handling
The Octavia was always the enthusiasts’ choice — the nicest engines in the class mated to the most sorted chassis. The new Octy continues with the outgoing car’s MQB platform with the same 2680mm wheelbase and the same hard points. There are of course detail improvements and most of that has gone into making this new car ride much better. So much better in fact that all I could think of was the Superb. I’m not exaggerating, the way the Octy almost flattens small speed breakers and undulations is astonishing, you don’t feel anything. Octys in the past always had a bit of firmness at low speeds and their ride compliance got better and better as you built speed. This new Octy adds a layer of low-speed bump absorption that makes it incredibly comfortable on the city commute. It’s so good, and the interiors too are so much nicer, that there’s almost no need to upgrade to a Superb. Except for the fact that the Octavia hasn’t grown any bigger in the back and, by today’s standards, is no longer a paragon of space.
What Indian cars do get is the higher ground clearance package which, at 137mm, is good enough to clear the worst of the speed breakers without touching its underbelly. It’s well worth the trade-off for slightly large gaps in the wheel arches. And, as I’ve already mentioned, these dampers are setup for comfort, so much so that for the first time you get a bit of float on the expressway in an Octavia. It is still far more planted, stable and confident than its only real rival, the Elantra, but it is also a bit Superb-ish in that gentle loping gait that you get on our typically wavy highways. In the hills there is more body roll when you hustle it and the steering is not as plugged into the car as in the past, enhanced by the fact that the steering wheel itself is of a much larger diameter. Understeer is actually well contained and it is absolutely unflustered by mid-corner bumps, courtesy sophisticated dampers and that independent rear suspension. But the body does lean heavily on the outside front wheel and direction changes aren’t sniffer-dog snappy.
So, what do I think of the Octavia? Well, we have loved every single generation of the Octy and this new one takes things to another level altogether. The design is timeless and attractive, the cabin is luxurious and packed to the brim with equipment, the punchy turbo-petrol engine ensures that it’s still fun-to-drive and in the Indian context, the ride quality has become so much better that it reminds me of the Superb. What’s left to know is the pricing. I would expect it to be priced around Rs 20-25 lakh but the indication that we have got is that it might be priced slightly higher, between Rs 25-30 lakh, ex-showroom. Amidst an ocean of SUVs, there’s no doubt that the new Octy is one cracker of a sedan that will make us fall in love with cars again. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that it is priced correctly.