Does the Octavia remain an excellent affordable family car in its new generation?
Why we’re running it: To discover whether this fourth- generation best-seller continues to impress as the left-field family car
Month 7 – Month 6 – Month 5 – Month 4 – Month 3 – Month 2 – Month 1 – Specs
Plug-in woes – 25 August 2021
Electric motoring around the city in our temporary iV Estate is really enjoyable. But the issue talked about for what seems an eternity still stands. The not-so-close lamp-post charging points I’ve previously mentioned have seemingly been out of action for more than a fortnight. A look on the app’s map of charging points and, where they once were, they no longer exist. Not ideal.
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Can’t place that sound – 4 August 2021
The sporadic ‘pop-pop’ sound coming from the dash, already heard in the diesel and diesel vRS Octavias we’ve run, is also occurring in the vRS iV plug-in hybrid. I haven’t seen the problem reported elsewhere, but reader Colin Hathaway made contact to say he’s heard similar in his Volkswagen ID 3. I’d bet it’s the same thing causing this oddity.
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Our vRS has changed its ways after a filling station fracas – 28 July 2021
Truth be told, our vRS was involved in a ridiculously low-speed glancing prang at a fuel station. Not the finest moment, and made worse because the owner of the Range Rover, whose bumper was grazed but whose vehicle barely moved, is making an injury claim.
The only upside is that while Skoda kindly fixes the vRS diesel, I have the opportunity to try the newest addition to the vRS line-up for a few weeks – the iV plug-in hybrid.
At first glance, there’s not much difference: the iV has a slightly classier red paint (a £975 option) and, of course, there’s a charging port on the front nearside of the car as well as the normal fuel cap. The car’s list price is £3345 more at £36,875.
My first job was to work out where I could charge to make the most of the car’s electric-only power in town. What I wasn’t going to do was emulate my neighbours, who have an Audi A3 PHEV and run a wire across the pavement to charge it and leave passive-aggressive notes for those who park outside their house. A note to them: if you want to park directly outside your house, move away from overpopulated south-west London.
This is the rub: plug-in vehicles are best suited to towns and cities, yet typically people who live there don’t have a garage or parking space from which to charge. I’m a prime example of this. The upshot is that I’m not using electric-only power as much as I’d like to be, but when I have time to travel to an on-street charger, it costs about £2.50 to charge the 13kWh battery for around 35 miles of range. So far, I’m enjoying the nicely weighted steering and the sensibly fast acceleration (0-62mph in 7.3sec – 0.1sec slower than the diesel). Plus, it’s satisfying and calming to be driving electric around town.
For now, I’m choosing to use electric-only power until it runs out, but the battery can be maintained at your specified level, using the petrol engine and brake energy recovery, should you so choose. Or the system can operate autonomously, deciding based on the current driving situation when to draw power from the battery and when to recharge it.
For me, it’s perfect because I love an Octavia estate – the practicality, the understated yet comfy interior, the decent acceleration and the electric power around town (if only it were easier to charge…). On the other hand, an electric car quick off the mark is hardly a novelty, and I can feel the extra weight, particularly when cornering. It’s still handles well overall, yet it strikes me as a car that, while very enjoyable, is probably one step too far to be badged a vRS.
Peace and quiet I’m not yet bored of silent, electric motoring around town.
Heavy burden The inevitable extra weight of a PHEV belies Skoda’s vRS badge.
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Press to start – 7 July 2021
This is a nifty feature: rather than the Octavia vRS’s engine stop-start system activating when you press the throttle pedal (although it does that too, of course), it senses when the vehicle ahead begins to move off in traffic and starts the engine, allowing a smooth getaway. It’s easy to criticise stop-start (just look online), but this makes driving on busy roads a little less arduous.
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Big boot won’t quite lead you to Narnia, but a beach break is eminently possible – 30 June 2021
My long-standing theory: you spend according to your means. If you earn more, you spend more. And the same is true of boot sizes, I reckon. Whatever the size of your boot, you fill it if you’re going anywhere overnight. And so it was that I managed, really quite easily, to fill the gargantuan Octavia vRS Estate’s boot on our first weekend break away since lockdown lifted. As a reminder, it has 600 litres; the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class has 540 litres, the Bentley Flying Spur 420.
The hooks and pockets to either side may be simple, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. A bag of dirty wellies can hang off each, meaning there’s no chance of them tipping over and spilling dried mud all over the boot floor.
Once I had packed the car to the brim, we were ready for a drive to the south coast, having almost forgotten what the sea looked like after about a year of outer-London life. Having spent a few months with the Skoda now, I’m fairly au fait with all its systems – and when they work, they work beautifully. That’s the case more often than not, but there are a few blips. Sometimes the Apple CarPlay icon doesn’t appear on the screen, sometimes the infotainment doesn’t load (and says something like ‘Finding settings’ but then fails to find them for the journey’s entirety) and changing the climate controls remains deeply frustrating on the touchscreen. I get the occasional sensor error, which soon rectifies itself, and I’m still baffled by an occasional ‘pop-pop’ from the speakers at random times (seemingly no one else on the entire internet has had the same problem).
They’re the niggles, but broadly speaking, the set-up is great, as it was for our trip to Chichester: I hopped in the car, put a route into my phone and it appeared almost instantaneously on the car’s screen.
The first leg of the journey was motorway, including that particularly jarring asphalt on the M25 just south of the junction with the M3, which demonstrated the vRS’s excellent sound insulation. Sometimes in performance-oriented cars like this with stiffer springs and lower-profile tyres, you get considerable noise and vibration into the cabin, but the vRS does a great job of isolating it.
The ride, be it on the motorway or the more rural roads nearer our destination, proved to be really good, too. You can feel that it’s firm but only with experience of a standard Octavia would you say that it is conspicuously so. In fact, the only time I really became aware of it was over the harshest of speed bumps. As we came off the motorway and started to meander towards the coast, the relative compactness of the car’s proportions made windy rural lanes easy to manoeuvre when oncoming traffic was in play, while the handling around corners broke up the monotony of the journey and, well, of life as we currently know it.
Three days, plenty of walks and a trip to the beach later, I arrived back home no less convinced by the car than when I started. Then it was time to start removing the sand…
No noise is good news The Octavia is demonstrating good noise isolation on motorways.
CarPlay gremlins There are occasional connection blips when I want to get on my way.
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The prize scalp of VW’s Golf GTI is now there for the taking – 23 June 2021
A Volkswagen Gold GTI drove past me recently (the less said about the driving the better), which got me thinking: would I have a Golf GTI or this vRS? The Golf GTI is the natural (and faster) choice, yet the vRS might just pip it to the post in my eyes.
Skoda’s vRS brand has become more grown up over the years – perhaps a natural progression, but perhaps also a disappointment for performance fans. Gone is the garish vRS green that used to adorn the sporty models, and instead we have a more toned-down interior with red accents here and there, plus increasingly good exterior looks. Compared with some previous vRS models, our car is toned down in the dynamism stakes too, but it remains effortless fun on B-roads.
If I had no other considerations, the GTI would probably swing it, but the vRS estate ticks more boxes for me these days with an extra dose of comfort and practicality, while still having plenty of verve. A vRS isn’t as cheap as it once was but it’s still better value than the GTI, too.
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An excursion – 9 June 2021
I ended up in a posh enclave near Chichester recently, full of yachting types and their fancy cars. What struck me was how well the Octavia vRS Estate fitted in. It’s no Porsche or Audi (although some parts are the same), but given where Skoda was even a decade ago, the brand positioning has moved considerably to hold its own in that company.
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Petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid? We weigh up the vRS options – 26 May 2021
The diesel Octavia vRS makes plenty of sense if you want to balance frugality with performance, but how does it compare with the petrol vRS? The petrol starts at £31,850 for a six-speed manual, but if you look at like-for-like (with a DSG gearbox, because the diesel isn’t available with a manual), there’s only a fiver between them: the petrol costs from £33,530 and the diesel from £33,535.
If performance statistics are your thing, the petrol will undoubtedly be your preference: it can achieve 0-62mph in 6.7sec and a top speed of 155mph, versus the diesel’s 7.4sec and 152mph, while producing 242bhp to the diesel’s 197bhp.
The payoff is, naturally, fuel economy and CO2 emissions. The diesel promises a return of 55.9mpg and 132g/km, unsurprisingly making it more virtuous than the petrol, which gets 40.2mpg and 159g/km. And so far, that MPG figure hasn’t been far off in reality.
Then there’s the wild card: the new vRS iV plug-in hybrid. It has the same 242bhp as the petrol but is slightly slower in the benchmark sprint, at 7.3sec, but it promises an incredible 233.3mpg and 27g/km of CO2.
It costs £36,875, which is a decent chunk more than the petrol or diesel, but is a lot more tempting if you’re leasing. Monthly lease costs for the diesel and plug-in hybrid are on a par.
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Eye of the beholder – 5 May 2021
A friend of mine – who isn’t fussed by cars yet owns an Alfa Romeo Giulia – remarked on my new Octavia vRS diesel wagon: “That’s a good- looking car.” I’ve long thought the same, but if the driver of a car that I continue to think is one of the most handsome of recent times agrees, it must be true. I like the Octavia hatchback’s looks, but the estate wins hands down.
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We’ve swapped our everyday diesel hatchback for a model still frugal and practical but much more invigorating – 28 April 2021
The more astute among you will have noticed that our long-term Skoda Octavia is looking somewhat different.
That’s because we’ve swapped our boggo-spec 114bhp 2.0-litre diesel hatchback for something less frugal but a lot more exciting: a vRS estate.
Handing back the keys of the standard Octavia would have been disappointing if it weren’t for the arrival of the vRS. The former came along at the perfect time for me: with an expanded family, it became the effortless, chuck-everything-in vehicle I needed to fit seamlessly into my new life. Its relative compactness meant it was easy for trips into town – which, of course, is as far as any of us have travelled recently. But while it was adept at suiting urban life, its well-known capaciousness didn’t disappoint either. As I’ve mentioned previously, my grand intentions to travel light with a family have failed.
Alongside its impressive space, particularly in the rear seats and the boot, the Octavia was faultless on the comfort front, while the infotainment system broadly made for intuitive use, ignoring the common foible of one too many controls being via the touchscreen.
Making mostly short trips in the Octavia didn’t let its frugality shine – the very purpose of opting for this variant, the lower-powered diesel of the range. With an average of 56.8mpg, it is still respectable, but some heavier motorway mileage would have allowed a figure nearer the official combined consumption of 68.0mpg.
If impressive economy is your thing but you crave something more exciting than the excellent but somewhat dull TDI, here’s where our latest long-termer might appeal. While the future of vRS is largely electric (Skoda’s first performance EV will be the Enyaq iV vRS), the Octavia vRS continues for now with petrol and diesel options, as well as a new plug-in hybrid version. As you would expect, the petrol is set to be the most popular derivative of the new model, taking some 60% of sales, while the PHEV should account for slightly more volume than the diesel (21% versus 19%).
We picked the diesel vRS, which pairs a 197bhp 2.0-litre engine with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox to do 0-62mph in 7.4sec.
It’s now the least mainstream of the three power options. How times change. Less than a decade ago, the Volkswagen Golf GTD was even outselling the Golf GTI, believe it or not. However, the diesel Octavia vRS still takes a fifth of sales. That’s no doubt helped by the fact that 68% of Octavia vRS sales are to businesses, and while diesel isn’t as fleet-friendly as it used to be, it can still be a good bet for high-mileage drivers.
The official figures promise a return of 55.9mpg for CO2 emissions of 132g/km. So far, that economy looks almost achievable in the real world, but I’ll report back once there are a few more miles under its belt. Since having the vRS delivered, I have noticed a fair few looks coming my way, no doubt helped by its, well, red-ness (this paint is a £595 option).
It’s far more head-turning than the standard Octavia, helped by lots of exterior black detailing, including on the grille, door mirrors and badges, and red brake calipers. That vibe continues inside, with black vRS sports seats, red stitching and heated three-spoke leather wheel with gearshift paddles.
The red paint is fitting for a sporty car, but the most popular colours on the vRS tend to be staid, as on regular variants of the Octavia, given the business focus of the car. While the very dull and inoffensive Quartz Grey is most selected for your average Octavia, vRS owners are slightly more daring, going for, um, Meteor Grey. It’s far from wild, but the gunship-like colour is one of my favourite car shades of recent times and looks blooming great on the vRS.
Our car is as well-specified as you would expect from a top-of-therange Skoda, including a 10.25in touchscreen, sat-nav, dual-zone air conditioning, Apple CarPlay and parking sensors, although cameras are noticeable by their absence. It also has lane-keeping assistance, a system that I have previously grumbled about on the standard Octavia. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m still grumbling about it with this car.
The vRS was wasted on me in my first few moments in it: I was parked in a tight space on the street and resented the heavy steering when manoeuvring out – a far cry from the Octavia that had just left me. Thankfully, I had a valid reason that day to be driving on some quiet country lanes, and nowhere is better to demonstrate exactly why one might invest in a vRS. That once-annoying steering became exactly the dynamic, accurate set-up required, alongside neat handling, for fun cornering.
So far, the diesel vRS is living up to my expectations as an everyday, performance-focused estate. The next few months will offer me more chance to enjoy it, and to consider the relevance of the diesel in the line-up.
Our Octavia vRS isn’t fitted with adaptive dampers, and it will be interesting to see if that becomes a glaring omission. We know from past editions and from its contemporary cousin, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, that the DCC option gives the chassis superb breadth. That said, I recently tried the diesel vRS on the same passive suspension that we have here and thought it nicely judged for day-to-day driving with the odd B-road blast.
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Our plus-size hatchback proves its worth as indispensable family transport – 14 April 2021
As lockdown has gently eased over recent weeks, I’ve had a few valid reasons – hoorah! – to travel slightly farther afield with the Octavia. It’s all relative, of course: I’m not doing the miles that most drivers would traditionally do in this particular model, given that around 80% of sales are to fleet buyers.
The local trips here and there that I’ve enjoyed so far have solidified all I already thought about the car. This is a great all-rounder that’s as functional as I had hoped it would be, offering comfort, practicality and unremarkable but sufficient power.
That’s perfect right now: as a new parent, I’m not thinking about a car that excites but instead something that involves the least fuss possible. And that’s exactly what I have: I haven’t had to consider a single thing about the Octavia that might hinder a journey in it.
Interior space remains one of its stand-outs, as it has been for as long as I can remember. Rear leg room is often comparable to that in cars occupying the segment above, and the boot space is crazy big. The hatch can hold 640 litres – 260 litres more than that of the Volkswagen Golf. Recently, I chucked in all the absurd baby items that I swore I would never have, and didn’t even have to think about packing it all in sensibly.
The Golf is always my reference point when explaining the Octavia’s place in the world. My oversimplified response to the same semi-regular enquiries – “What’s this car then?”, “What’s it like?” – is this: “It’s basically a Golf.” Of course, the two aren’t identical, but with the same Volkswagen Group platform and engines and with much shared hardware and software, it’s a good starting place for context and begins to convey how good the Octavia is.
This isn’t meant to be a driver’s car, and it isn’t one, but neither is it offensive to those with the driving bug. The nicely weighted steering is neither too quick nor too slow, and while the entry-level 114bhp 2.0-litre diesel, paired to a six-speed manual ’box, will never blow your socks off, it rarely fails to deliver what’s needed.
That said, the engine may be refined compared with older diesels, but it feels quite rickety on a cold morning next to a modern petrol. If you want a more powerful diesel Octavia, there’s also a 148bhp version offered.
I’ve previously mentioned how good-looking I think this latest Octavia is, described by Skoda as a more “emotive design” than previously. Okay, that’s designer lingo, but basically this car looks better than it did. Of the four 16in and 17in alloy wheel designs available, I reckon our 17in Rotare Aeros are most handsome. The 17s do drop into potholes quite hard, though, so I suspect the entry-level 16s would be better suited, if not so stylish.
The car’s good looks and the Skoda brand are charming for the lack of ostentation. No one feels the need to behave badly towards you when you’re driving the Octavia, which is just the sort of motoring I like. The car doesn’t define you in the way some people feel their car might – unless you’re lucky enough to know what an excellent choice the Octavia is.
The easy life Everything about this car is easy: loading it, the ample space inside it and the simple act of driving it.
Unwanted assistance I remain irritated by the inaccurate lane-keeping assistance and other ‘driver aid’ systems.
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Life with a Skoda Octavia: Month 2
Small touches add class – 31 March 2021
There’s no doubt that this Octavia hatchback is the best-looking one yet. The coupé-esque car has lost some previously awkward rear lines, while inside a new design makes for a smart and uncluttered existence. Little design details such as the chrome ‘floating’ door handles add a premium feel – a favourite word of almost all car makers these days.
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If only its active safety systems were as great as the rest of it – 17 March 2021
Electrification aside, safety continues to be top of the agenda for the car industry – as it should be. So when it comes to commenting on the increasing number of safety assistance systems, many of them legally mandated, I tread carefully.
Yes, I’m an Autocar journalist who might sometimes prefer an old-school car, but I’m also someone who is (mostly) open to positive change, and few can argue that ultimately such tech will help prevent accidents. Of course there’s a but, because I feel that so many of these systems are still flawed. While I’m going to talk about the Skoda Octavia here, it’s only fair to note that it isn’t alone in earning criticism on this front.
For example: my previous long-termer, a Nissan Juke, had an overactive automatic emergency braking system. When I was squeezing into narrow lanes at traffic lights in London, it thought I was about to crash into the car coming up beside me and put on the brakes, alarming me and, honestly, sometimes feeling quite dangerous.
As for the Octavia, it’s the lane-keeping assistance that’s winding me up. It regularly tells me that I’m not in the centre of the lane. My partner – who would tell me with glee if he agreed – has responded a number of times: “You are in the centre of the lane.” “I know!” I exclaim in reply, full of indignation.
Even worse, if it thinks you’re ignoring its attempts to steer you back to the so-called centre, an alert sound bellows, unnerving me and taking my attention away from the important matter of actual driving.
There are two ways of turning it off: an easy-access button on the right side of the steering wheel or the more convoluted option – finding the relevant settings on the infotainment touchscreen. Either way, you don’t have the choice to keep it switched off; it automatically turns itself back on the next time you get in the car.
It’s in the name of safety, of course, but when the systems aren’t accurate enough to know what is safe and what isn’t, it’s frustrating. All the more so because lane-keeping assistance is probably one of the most in-play systems in day-to-day driving, so there’s rarely a trip during which I don’t come up against it.
Rant over. As I say, active safety system qualms are by no means just an Octavia thing, but it would be great if the lane-keeping assistance issues here were addressed.
That aside, the Octavia is just as easy to live with as I had hoped. Naturally, the journeys haven’t been far in these times, but the accurate and nicely weighted steering and effortless gearshifts are perfect for getting around town. And the cavernous boot is great for throwing all manner of things into and, on that topic, handy for changing a new baby.
Couldn’t be easier There are few more practical cars to live with on a day-to-day basis.
Questionable tech Active safety systems need to be nothing less than perfect.
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Life with a Skoda Octavia: Month 1
Simply Skoda essentials – 24 February 2021
Back in 2005, my Volkswagen Polo had a secret underseat drawer that appealed to someone who likes unexpected compartments (I don’t get out much). It’s why I’ve always liked the umbrella hidden in the door of Skodas. It’s proving to be more than just a gimmick in the Octavia: I’ve used it many times recently as succour from my disorganisation.
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Price savings because of the badge – 10 February 2021
Skodas have long been known for their value. Looking at the Octavia’s options, the Winter Pack (heated seats, heated steering wheel, tri-zone climate control, heated windscreen and washer nozzles) costs £935. How does that compare with its pricier VW Golf sibling? What appears an identical pack is £1200, so the Octavia’s is 28% cheaper.
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Welcoming the Octavia to the fleet – 27 January 2021
The Octavia has long been, in my eyes, a motoring journalist’s best kept secret.
That’s not to give the model its due, really; it is, after all, Skoda’s best global (and UK) seller, and it has won plenty of accolades, including recently being named Britain’s Best Family Car in estate guise by Autocar.
But still, people either know this car or they don’t. If they know it, they recognise that it’s held in high regard by owners, but if they don’t know it, they tend not to have heard of it and are probably still in that camp of people who aren’t yet quite convinced by the Czech brand.
It’s a tired line, since Skoda has been on the up and up for more than a decade now, but so entrenched are some people’s opinions that Skoda is still gaining ground.
In fact, it often shines among its Volkswagen Group peers; even in 2020, of all years, it recorded a ¤469 million (£416.1m) operating profit for January to September and a return on sales of 3.9%, despite the number of cars it delivered falling by a fifth.
Across 2020, Skoda sold 257,400 Octavias worldwide, nearly double that of its second-biggest seller, the Karoq SUV. It’s a little bit important to the brand, then…
You will probably be familiar with the Octavia formula: it sits on the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform, also used by the Golf, Audi A3 and many more, and it closely echoes those cars in terms of engines and technology – but at more affordable prices, in part thanks to the Czech Republic’s lower production costs. The Golf has long been a more premium rival to the Octavia, but equally the Octavia has traditionally sat in an awkward dimension bracket, meaning it actually falls between the Golf and Passat for size.
Probably because Skoda is keen to push its smaller Scala as the real Golf rival, the latest Octavia is 19mm longer than the outgoing hatchback, 22mm longer than the old estate and 15mm wider than both, helping to differentiate between the two. Plus, let’s be honest, the Octavia ‘hatch’ is much closer to a saloon in its styling. There are no big surprises for this fourth-generation Octavia. It keeps getting better looking – to my eyes, anyway – in both its hatch and estate bodystyles, plus it’s offered with petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains for the first time.
Those slightly bigger dimensions mean even more interior space, for which the Octavia was already famed. With 30 litres more boot space than before, the hatch has 640 litres; the Golf has 380 litres.
We’re going to be exploring two ends of the diesel Octavia spectrum. First up is the frugal 2.0 TDI 114bhp hatch in mid-range SE L trim, so we can experience life with the more practical, longer-mileage diesel option. Then, in a few months, we will switch to the popular top-of-therange vRS TDI performance estate. While many makers are ditching diesel altogether, Skoda (and the wider Volkswagen Group) is sticking with it for the time being.
Predictions for Octavia sales in the UK suggest 20% will be diesel, 10% will be the plug-in hybrid and the remaining 70% will be petrol.
There are two 1.0-litre TSI petrols, one with mild-hybrid tech, as well as a 1.5-litre TSI unit, while the 2.0-litre TDI we’re running is the only diesel available. The iV PHEV will arrive soon, powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine and a 101bhp electric motor.
The diesel just about wins the CO2 race, with emissions starting from 113g/km – 2g fewer than the mild-hybrid 1.0 TSI. Our first long-termer is finished in Race Blue metallic paint, a £595 option and a welcome addition for Autocar’s photographers, who always want brightly coloured cars to shoot. It’s not the norm, though: historically, the most popular colour is Quartz Grey. That’s not surprising when you consider that the Octavia is the safe, sensible bet for businesses, to which 80% of its sales go.
A few other options have been added to our £26,060 SE L model, which is already heavily specified, although I suspect that the most welcome for this current season will be the £935 Winter Pack.
It’s early days with the Octavia, and so far it has matched my expectations, and that’s no bad thing. It feels like a trusty, middle-of-theroad car that’s hugely practical, easy to drive and comfortable, without setting your heart on fire.
On limited lockdown journeys around town, the relatively light steering means manoeuvring is easy while refinement swallows up speed bumps. The next few months will prove whether this car is as effortless as early impressions suggest.
The new Octavia is by no means the most exciting long-termer I could imagine running, but I have absolutely no doubt that it will fit seamlessly into Rachel’s life. That is what’s so appealing about these cars: they just get on with the job of being comfortable, practical, no-nonsense daily transport with minimal fuss or bother. Bland but very easygoing.
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Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI 114 SE L specification
Specs: Price New £26,060 Price as tested £29,220 OptionsBlindspot detection £500, head-up display £690, LED interior light package £260, metallic paint £595, steel spacesaver spare wheel £180, Winter Pack £935
Test Data: Engine 1968cc, 4cyls, turbocharged diesel Power 114bhp at 2750rpm Torque 221lb ft at 1600rpm Kerb weight 1360kg Top speed 128mph 0-62mph 10.4sec Fuel economy 65.7mpg CO2 111g/km Faults None Expenses None
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