Skoda Octavia 2021 long-term review
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 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Specs-
-Life with a Skoda Octavia: Month 3-
*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 *Options*Blindspot 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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