Road test: Škoda Octavia 1.4 TSI Elegance

There’s an elephant in the room here. We have a brand new Škoda on test at Motor Writer this week and its VW-group build quality, practical three-box shape and roomy interior mean it will certainly sell well. The elephant? It’s going to become a taxi at some stage in its life.

Let’s dwell on this for a moment – whether Škoda would like to or not. The only reason it is omnipresent in the taxi ranks is for exactly those reasons you or I should buy one. The last Octavia I sat in had 317,000 miles on the clock and still rode and handled fine, especially during the additional hurtle back home when my wife forgot her ‘phone on the way to the airport. The interior, too, had withstood an accelerated lifecycle in the world of private hire.

Well proportioned

What’s new on this one, then? It’s 90mm longer, 45mm wider and has an extra 108mm between the axles. At a casual glance, there isn’t much to make the Octavia stand out from the crowd – proportions are fine; front and rear are neat. Look a little closer and the excellent panel fit, needle-crisp, high swage lines and understated lower door creases which carry-through into the rear overhangs all follow the group’s current, neat design themes. On the front and rear corners, there are some exceptionally-well tailored lines. The grill is perhaps a little coarse but works with Škoda’s new, bolder badge atop. It doesn’t have a ‘coupé silhouette’ (sorry, Škoda PR) but it is extremely well-proportioned and very attractive.

Cavernous space

Of note is the boot, actually a hatchback. The only downside is the sheer size of the lid which seems slightly ungainly. Everything else is to its advantage, from the excellent access and cavernous space, to the useful rear wiper.

Inside, the dash is plain and dark – in true Škoda fashion – but lifted by the silvered door inserts, some narrow chrome and additional silvered plastic around the gear lever. The seats on this Elegance model are electric with memory (front) and Alcantara-finished which adds to the comfort and feel.  Leg room in the rear is notably generous. Over all, it is smart (echoing those crisp exterior lines) and well laid-out.

The infotanement system here is very easy to use and has the clever (or gimmicky, depending on how you look at it) feature of highlighting buttons and additional information as one’s hand approaches the screen. Apart from refusing to talk to any MP3 player via the USB connection, I couldn’t fault it.

The latest Skoda Octavias run the extremely good VW-group engines and while many will be familiar with the old 1.9 litre oil burner, the latest 1.6 diesel and 1.4 TSI petrol (fitted here) are very civilised units. With the increasing blur between petrol and diesel in terms of fuel consumption and emissions advantages, this petrol engine’s near silent tick-over makes it very civilised choice. In terms of driveability, the only downside of the smaller petrol unit is the requirement to lift the revs a little on pulling away; otherwise it is very competent all the way up the rev range. In fact, it is a whisker faster to 62mph than the 2.0 diesel. There is also a sport-normal-eco selection available on the new Octavia (using a button by the gear lever, then making a choice on-screen, so not particularly quick to switch between modes). There isn’t much difference between normal and eco but sport does quicken the steering action and throttle response is a tad crisper.

More solid than cushioning

The handling on the new Octavia is probably pitched right for the car – not particularly involving but inspiring confidence, all the same. Where it falls down is in the ride which is more solid than cushioning; all the road’s imperfections can certainly be felt and heard. A couple of extra passengers and a boot-full gentle it a little but it remains quite unforgiving.

In a world of motoring lavishness, despite the double-dip recession (or was it just one big one?), Škoda again provides us with a vehicle which delivers everything one might need, in a very attractive package. Škoda’s record sales during the first six months this year emphasises that they are pitching their models extremely well. We’ve just knocked the half-point off for its aggressive ride but otherwise this third generation Octavia is hard to fault.

Škoda Octavia Elegance hatchback 1.4 TSI petrol (tested) costs £20,735, incl. met paint @ £495. Octavia hatchback range starts at £15,990 for 1.2 TSI in S trim.

Power: 140PS (@ 4,500 – 6,000 rpm), torque: 250 Nm (@ 1,500 – 3,500 rpm), emissions: 121 g/km CO2 (band D), 0-62 mph: 8.4 secs.

Motor Writer rating:

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