Czech brand’s hatch bids to maintain its flag-bearing status with a light refresh
Skoda likes to bill the Octavia – its biggest-selling model in the UK and a range mainstay for the past two decades – as its backbone. Having received wholesale surgery in 2013, this time round the model receives a more modest chiropractic tweak of the styling, interior and equipment levels.
The mechanicals are essentially the same, meaning you get that generous 2686mm wheelbase, the same basic choice of hatch or estate and a carried-over engine line-up of two petrol units (the 1.0 and 1.4 TSI) and two diesels (the 1.6 and 2.0 TDI).
There will be new Scout and spicier petrol and diesel vRS models eventually, too, but they come a little later. For now the focus is on cooking- option minutia,available in the now time-worn S, SE, SE Technology, SE L and I.aurin & Klement trim levels, and starting at £17,055.
The good news for bargain hunters is the standard-to-all-models adoption of the latest generation of infotainment system. It’s an upgrade that brings with it not only a better class of touchscreen but also a SmartLink software application that makes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available at entry-level.
To enjoy those material gains,any would-be owner must first pole-vault the elephant on the driveway: the new and subjectively unsatisfying styling rethink enacted on the Octavia’s front end.
Bisecting the front headlights is plainly Skoda’s idea of injecting some dynamism into the models benign appearance, but it flounders in much the same way the Mercedes W212 E-Class failed, by making the previously keen nose look oddly proportioned and fussy.
Inside, where the dashboard has been gently remodelled to accept the new infotainment display, there’s no such imbalance. The previous Octavia was at the vanguard of Skoda’s march into Volkswagen’s old sensible-shoes stomping ground, and here it remains notably well laid out and finished. The touchscreen, at least in the larger 9.2in format tested, is a glossy one-piece affair; shedding physical shortcut buttons fora mostly intuitive on-screen menu system and slightly zippier functionality.
Its slick convenience suits the Octavia well. This, after all, is the C segment in its most level-headed and user-friendly format. The car shares its front-drive MQB platform with a raft of other similar-sized options, but its wheelbase is 50mm longer than a Golfs – a structural variation that only contributes to the earnest and eminently strait-laced driving style engineered into the larger model. The addition of 20mm of rear track width only reinforces the sensation: Skoda’s standard- bearer steers, rides and handles with a fastidiousness that’s both hard to tire of and also difficult to develop a lasting affection for.
The shortfall in vitality is hardly made up for in the engine bay: the 113bhp 1.6 TDI and 148bhp 1.4 TSI are amenable, discreetly tractable and ultimately nondescript choices. The former lacks the sixth cog it desperately needs on the motorway; the latter doesn’t quite live up to the billing of its output. But the Octavia is so adept at tuning you into its methodical frequency that it almost seems churlish to complain given the lack of effort you’re expending.
Truthfully, there are few more placid or well-engineered ways of demolishing a commute, nor are there many that offer superior value or practicality either. The new Octavia is probably better with the optional adaptive dampers fitted and the larger touchscreen aboard, yet it occupies much the same place in our affection as it ever did – even with those gawky lights. Mr Dependable then, to a four-star tee.
Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI SE L
Engine: 4-cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, diesel
Power: 113bhp @ 3250rpm
Torque: 184lb ft @ 1500rpm
Gearbox: 5-spd manual
Kerb weight: 1230kg
Top speed: 126mph
Economy: 67.3mpg (claimed)
CO2/tax band: 109g/km, 21%
Rivals: Ford Focus 1.5 TDCi Zetec, Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi Elite
Redesigned lights aside, the new Skoda Octavia hasn’t really changed very much – and that’s a good thing