The very embodiment of a sensible set of wheels, the 1.6-litre diesel-engined Octavia isn’t all that fast but does everything else well enough to make you wonder if you really need to spend more. It’s also so economical you’d probably end up hating yourself if you did.
The Octavia was Skoda’s watershed car. Before it arrived in 1996, the Czech car maker was a second division value brand. By 1997, the penny had dropped: it was Volkswagen’s value brand.
Over a million Octavias were sold before the second generation version went on sale in 2004 and consolidated its predecessor’s success among canny buyers who appreciated what a good deal it represented. A face lifted range was introduced in 2008 and has continued to expand and perform strongly in the market since then. It’s the popular mid-level SE Plus version of the 1.6-litre oil burner we look at here.
The Octavia’s supple suspension and accurate, nicely weighted steering making light work of poorly maintained urban streets while remaining reassuringly crisp and secure on faster country roads. It’s also a fine long-distance cruiser with excellent mechanical refinement and good suppression of road and wind noise.The 1.6 TDI engine develops a modest sounding 105bhp, but this is backed up by a beefy 184lb ft of torque between 1500 and 2500rpm, so stirring the gear-lever of the five-speed manual ‘box isn’t a pre-requisite for brisk performance. Skoda claims 0-62mph in 11.8s for the manual version on the way to a top speed of 118mph.
Perhaps ‘pretty’ is too flattering, but the latest generation Octavia certainly looks more style conscious and less wilfully drab than the original. Actually the nose treatment verges on the striking with large, up-swept headlights flanking the prominent chrome-topped grille. Revised bumpers and side moulding bring more interest to the profile while the chunky tail lights add a hint of Volvo solidity to the rear aspect.
Even the entry-level cars have air-conditioning and electric front windows, while stepping up to SE adds alloys, a CD multi-changer and rear electric windows. The SE Plus model tested here brings sat-nav, Bluetooth and rear parking sensors to the party, while the Elegance has dual-zone climate control and cruise control. There’s also an abundance of luggage space, with or without the seats folded back.
The case for not choosing an Octavia grows more feeble still if you factor in running costs, and the 1.6-litre diesel is the star of the show when it comes to minimising the bills. In the eco-optimised Greenline II model, the engine is capable of truly spectacular results, returning 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and a tax-busting 99 g/km of CO2. But the SE Plus isn’t that far behind with 62.8mpg and 119 g/km.
Residual values are respectable, too: 39-43 percent after 3 years or 36,000 miles. All right, a Golf holds onto more of its value – 42-56 percent - but also consider the 34-37 percent you’d get for a comparable Ford Focus.
The Octavia doesn’t have the Golf’s iconic status, its classic design or the last few degrees of interior finish finesse. But benchmark more practical criteria like build quality, equipment, space, and economy and it would seem to have much of the mainstream opposition on the back foot.
The sweet and frugal 1.6-litre diesel engine from the Golf suits it very well and still manages to deliver outstanding economy, despite the Octavia’s extra bulk. The simple fact is, for those in the know, owning a Skoda has become rather cool in these straitened times. When a car’s this good, why would you want to pay more?