What is it?
The Skoda Octavia has been on sale in India for more than three years. With only mild upgrades along the way, newer competition like the new Hyundai Elantra and the Toyota Corolla Altis facelift have been stealing its thunder. Finally Skoda has come up with a mid-life facelift and though the changes are subtle, they go a long way in making the Octavia look fresh and current.
On the outside there aren’t any major sheet metal changes but thanks to the new headlamps, front grille and bumper, the refreshed Octavia looks more purposeful and in your face when viewed upfront. The split LED headlamps may look odd in pictures, but in flesh they look attractive and cohesive. Even the grille which now comes with gloss black finish is larger and makes the car look wider and more purposeful. At the back, you now get LED tail-lamps similar to the Superb. Even the bumper is new and the pronounced crease running across, makes the car look wider and more appealing. When viewed in profile, the Octavia remains unchanged except for a new design for the alloy wheels. So you get the same coupe like silhouette and well-proportioned body.
Based on VW group's MQB platform, mechanically the Octavia remains the same, except for a wider rear track(30mm for 1.8TSi and 20mm for other variants), which according to Skoda has helped improve ride and handling.
How is it on the inside?
In terms of design there aren't any major changes on the inside and you get the same high quality dashboard as before. Despite being more than three years old, the dashboard still looks modern and the beige and black colour combo makes the ambience airy too. Quality like in the old car is top-notch and it is hard to point at any one thing that you could call cheap. With the update, Skoda have made subtle changes to uplift the cabin even more. Now you get new air-con vents, wood door garnish and the addition of ambient lighting with ten colour options. The biggest change however, is the new 8-inch infotainment system that replaces the smaller 6.5-inch found on the old car. This new system is of high quality and everything from the graphics to the way it functions makes it one of the best in business. Like with the old car, the one thing we miss is the tank like build quality you use to get from the now defunct Laura or even the VW Jetta. Although better than most of the competition, this MQB based car feels light and it doesn’t have the same solid door shut as the Skodas of the old.
Upfront the large seats are comfortable and the well contoured backrest keeps you into place. The host of steering and seat adjustments lets you find your ideal driving position quite easily too. At the rear the Octavia has loads of space and despite the sloping roof, headroom is adequate too. What could have made the rear seat experience even better though is a longer seat squab and better underthigh support. The wide cabin ensures decent comfort for even the third rear passenger, but like before they will also have their feet astride a sizable transmission tunnel.
The Octavia is so practical that it can put many SUV’s to shame. You get loads of cup, bottle holders and other storage spaces for knick-knacks. But it’s the massive 580-litre boot which is the icing on the cake. It’s well shaped, the loading lip is reasonably low and the hatch opening just makes it very easy to load large bags. You can also fold the rear seats to have your own king size bed in case your wife throws you out of the house.
The Octavia comes loaded with equipment too. You get key-less go, 8-inch colour touch screen infotainment system which is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, leather seats, electric driver seat adjustment, LED headlamps and tail lamps, parking sensors with camera, auto-park, sunroof and dual-zone climate control amongst others. In terms of safety you get eight airbags, multi collision brake assist, fatigue detection, ESP and ABS.
How does it drive?
Like before the Octavia comes with three engine options. You get two petrol motors, a 147bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol which comes mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox and the larger 1.8-litre motor capable of 177bhp. The diesel Octavia is powered by the tried and tested 2.0-litre 140bhp motor and comes mated to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual clutch auto option.
We got to sample the larger petrol motor in Chandigarh and it is a reminder of what a capable motor it is. Powered by the 1.8-litre TSI engine, this EA888 unit develops best in class 177bhp and 250Nm of torque which is identical to the old car.
Like before this motor feels silky smooth and refined right through its rev range and even when you wring it out, it emits a very addictive snarl. At lower rpms there is some hesitation from the motor, but pass 2500rpm, you are pushed back in the comfortable seat as the Octavia accelerates in a linear tidal wave. The 7-speed dual clutch transmission in D mode feels conservative, as it rapidly upshifts in the interest of fuel efficiency and then gets confused when you change your throttle position. But as soon as you shift to S mode the gearbox responds really well, as it stays in the right gear in any given moment. In manual mode though it feels the best, as it downshifts on demand, accompanied by a blip from the throttle.
Like before, the Octavia in the 1.8 TSi guise comes with a more sophisticated, independent rear suspension as compared to the non-independent setup on the other variants. In our brief drive we weren’t able to figure out if the wider rear track has improved handling but like before the Octavia felt planted and well balanced. The electric steering felt direct and even when pushed hard, body roll was well in check and it felt willing in quick directional changes too. In terms of ride, the suspension does a good job of isolating the cabin from the road surfaces. But you do have to take sharp edged bumps with caution, as the suspension tends to thud through them.
Should I buy one?
Overall, the facelifted Skoda Octavia builds on the strong points of the earlier model and wraps them in a package that is even neater and more modern than before. The subtle exterior changes work well and lend the Octavia lot of character than before. Buyers will also appreciate the extra bit of kit that has been added to car. The fact that it is very practical just adds to the package. Overall the upgraded Octavia is an exceptional product and a car that is easy to recommend. Its blend of luxury, space, comfort and performance at this price point is hard to match. Now with a four year warranty and an optional Rs 39,999 maintenance package (takes care of your regular service for four years) the Octavia has become a relatively safe buy too.
Where does it fit in?
The Octavia rivals the VW Jetta, Hyundai Elantra and the Toyota Corolla Altis. Prices for the facelifted car are likely to be a bit higher than the outgoing car and will be officially announced very soon.
Pictures by Kapil Angane