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Skoda launched the current generation of the Octavia back in 2013. Since then sales in that segment have been tapering, but the Octavia has still managed to be the second-best seller in its class. Three and a half years on, here is a facelift to keep things fresh and keep sales going till the Kodiaq comes in later in the year. Here are our first impressions of this new car.
The front of the Octavia has been worked on a fair bit with the biggest change being to the headlamps. Instead of the wide, single unit, the headlamps have been split up. The DRL strip runs along the bottom of both units, as do the indicators, split by a strip of the bumper. The LEDs get an added characteristic — short eyelash like slashes inside the cluster. Other changes to the front include an update to the signature Skoda butterfly grille. It now comes in a glossy black finish, and with the slats being interrupted by a thick pillar down the middle. The lower part of the bumper has been reworked as well — the fog lights are sleeker and they have a new chrome strip running between them. In the rear, as with most of these facelifts nowadays, the taillamp cluster has been updated. Otherwise, the car remains the same. It still gets tis chiselled bonnet, distinct shoulder line and its notchback design. The first time I saw photographs of the update, I didn’t take to it much. I couldn’t understand why Skoda would want to mess with the clean, uncomplicated design of the pre-facelift car. However, it looks far better in the flesh. The more you look at it, the more it grows on you. The design seems to accentuate signature Skoda styling cues like the hump on the bonnet and it’s unmistakable snout.
On the inside?
The biggest, most visible change is to the infotainment system. Out goes the older touchscreen unit only to be replaced by a larger one. The clickety-click buttons flanking the screen make way for feather touch ones. The screen is responsive to touch, and works well. Just like the older car, it gets a host of connectivity options. Apart from the hygiene stuff like USB, aux, SD cards and a CD player, it also gets great smartphone connectivity. You can pair your phone with AndroidAuto, MirrorLink or Apple CarPlay. So now you don’t have to base your car buying choices on what phone you have. Other changes to the insides include better graphics on the digital display in the instrument cluster, and slight touches to the door panels to make it feel more premium. This facelift gets a fair bit of new equipment as well. To enhance the premiumness of the cabin, you now get ambient lighting and you can choose from over 10 colours. The car can now detect if a driver is fatigued and warn him to take a break. It also can park itself — at the press of a button, the car will take control of steering and leave you to accelerate and brake to get in and out of tight spots. You get two USB slots in the backseat so those being chauffeured around can stay connected. And these people can also control the infotainment system, add navigation commands and a whole lot more through a smartphone application — BossConnect is what Skoda calls it.
The Octavia’s interior is still the benchmark in its class. It feels airy thanks to the beige interiors and the sunroof, there’s premium touch leathers everywhere. All the buttons are well damped and don’t feel cheap. It feels expensive without being overly so.
What’s it like to drive?
Well, the same. You see Skoda haven’t chosen to make any changes to the drivetrains on offer. You still get the option of three engines — a 1.4-litre petrol, a 1.8-litre petrol and a 2-litre diesel engine. Outputs of the engines remain unchanged as well. The entry level petrol makes a perfectly adequate 148bhp and 250Nm, and comes only with a six-speed manual. The enthusiast’s pick would be the 1.8 TSI, the same engine that makes an appearance in a lot of the VW group’s ‘hot’ cars like the Polo GTI. It makes 177bhp and 250Nm but comes only with a seven-speed DSG twin clutch box. Then there is the money-raker, the most popular of the three, the 2-litre diesel. With 141bhp and 320Nm of twist, it is no slouch either. This is the only engine that comes with the option of a six-speed manual or DSG, and this is the one we tested.
The engine is a supremely refined unit. There is a mild clatter on the outside, something that is inherent in diesels, however all hints of this are cut out when you’re inside the cabin. There is turbo lag below 1500rpm but the torque hits quickly, peaking by 1750rpm all the way till 3000rpm and tapering off by 3500rpm. The DSG box is quick to respond and the car never really finds itself caught out by your inputs. For more spirited driving, you do get paddles mounted on the steering.
Dynamically, the new Octavia should score some additional points over the old car. The rear track width on this car 20mm wider on the 1.4 TSI and 2.0 TDI, and 30mm wider on the 1.8 TSI (the 1.8 gets an independent rear suspension while the others don’t). However, we tested the car on a mix of highway and city roads and it was hard to tell if anything was different. A more comprehensive test on more familiar roads later in the year should clear the air on that. Grip levels on the old car were great and they continued to impress on the few bends we encountered. The suspension is softly sprung, making ride comfortable rather comfortable over bad roads. However, at no point does it feel floaty, and body control at high speeds is taut and not all over the place.
The steering response is precise, it is direct but the electric assistance kills any sort of feel. This is something we’ve grown used to from cars from the VW group. It is predictable while throwing it in to corners but you sense the limits of grip with the noise from screeching tyres and not from a twitchy steering.
The facelifted Octavia has essentially taken all the strengths of the pre-facelift car and enhanced it further. It is still a proper driver’s car, but looks more distinct and it has upped the ante inside the cabin as well. The car is due to be launched in a month’s time, and we might see the prices of the car drop considerably since GST will be in effect. But for that, we’re just going to have to wait and watch.