Bigger Octavia achieves the nimble feel of a smaller car
Škoda's latest version of bestselling model offers a smooth ride
Posted: January 16, 2013
The latest Octavia is nothing if not an important car for Mladá Boleslav-based Škoda Auto.
As the company's bestseller, the Octavia has, since its launch in 1996, spearheaded the company's growth in new parts of the world while maintaining a leading position at home, where Škoda last year achieved a 30.9 percent market share.
If Škoda is to achieve its aim of increasing sales across its model range to 1.5 million a year by 2018, compared with 879,200 in 2011, the third edition must attract swaths of new buyers.
Škoda unveiled the latest Octavia at its museum in Mladá Boleslav in December, but it was only this month that journalists were able to try out final production vehicles themselves.
Hundreds of motoring writers from across the globe are this month being flown into Faro in southern Portugal to test the car on the Algarve's broad highways and twisty hill roads.
Externally, the differences with the current model are clear: The latest version has the sharper, bolder, more angular look that debuted in the smaller Rapid model last year and which is set to influence the design of future Škoda models.
While some may prefer the softer appearance of the old Octavia, the bestselling car in the Czech Republic, the new appearance is certainly contemporary, and strongly echoes the look of current models from Audi, which, like Škoda, is part of the Volkswagen Group.
The interior feels well put together with plenty of softer plastics that put the car just a few small notches below a premium model.
The dashboard is neat and functional, thankfully not oversculpted like that of some of its rivals, such as the Ford Focus.
The car is available with black or beige trim - the latter probably is the better choice, since it offers a contrast to the black dials and dashboard included in all models. However, keeping the beige interior clean would pose a challenge.
Pulling away and cruising along in the 2.0 liter turbodiesel version, one of four diesels available, it is clear Škoda has done a good job of controlling engine noise. The engine note is not a particularly attractive one, but when it is this quiet that is hardly an issue. Also there is very little wind noise, so the car remains quiet at all speeds.
Acceleration is brisk without discernible turbo lag, and similar lively performance is also offered by the 1.2 liter turbocharged gasoline version that generates 105 horsepower. This smaller engine even pulls willingly up hills, an impressive performance no doubt helped by the fact this third-generation Octavia averages 102 kg lighter than the previous model, despite being 90 mm longer.
The six-speed gearbox offers a clean change between gears, with a relatively short gear lever movement, and the car is good at soaking up bumps even on poorer roads, yet body roll is well controlled.
As a result, this relatively large vehicle feels composed even on narrower, twisty sections. At higher speeds on highways, however, the steering feels fractionally unresponsive.
A team of about 20 people spent two-and-a-half years working on the car's handling and related characteristics, said Roman Havelka, technical project manager for the third-generation Octavia.
"Because it's a large car, we found the challenge was to offer as much space as possible, including for cargo, while at the same time keeping the comfort standard of the car and ensuring proper driving characteristics even in different situations," he said.
Thanks to the growth in the car's size, trunk space has increased marginally to 590 liters, and there are acres of legroom in the rear.
The new model is offered with a range of comfort or safety-related assistance systems, including traffic-sign recognition, parking assistant, an automatic braking function to ensure adequate space to the vehicle ahead, electronic stability control and multicollision braking.
"This [multicollision braking] system is designed in such a way that in an accident where the airbag is deployed, the system automatically brakes to prevent the car from, for example, hitting another car in the opposite direction and causing more damage," said Miroslav Rakušan, head of electronics system development.
Eight engines are available, all turbos. There are 1.2 liter gasoline options generating 86 and 105 horsepower, a 1.4 liter that produces 140 horsepower, plus a 180-horsepower 1.8 liter gasoline engine.
In terms of turbodiesels, the new Octavia is offered in 1.6 liter versions that produce 90 horsepower, 105 horsepower or 110 horsepower, plus a 2.0 liter good for 150 horsepower.
Prices start at 334,900 Kč for the 1.2 liter 86 horsepower version with the basic Active set of features and climb as high as 639,900 Kč for the 2.0 liter turbodiesel with the most luxurious Elegance specification and an automatic gearbox.
Given its capabilities, it seems a safe bet this latest Octavia will surpass the current model's sales of nearly 400,000 units a year. Assuming the smaller Rapid does not steal too many sales from the Octavia, Škoda is likely to have cranked out another winner.
Daniel Bardsley can be reached at