First drive review: Skoda OctaviaSkoda

Since its arrival in 1996, the Octavia series has done more than any model in changing perceptions towards the Czech brand. Always a value-orientated proposition, the clever Czechs have added a touch of premium flare to this new third-generation model.

AOL Cars travelled to the Algarve in Portugal to try it for size.

What is it?
It's the latest iteration of a car Skoda calls the "heart of the brand". Completely new for 2013, the new Octavia is based - surprise, surprise - on the VW Group's new MQB platform. In other words, like the new Seat Leon and Audi A3, this is a Golf with a different body. More importantly, however, the new Octavia marks Skoda's push upmarket. The new Rapid takes on the value-focused proposition of the previous generation Octavia, allowing the new generation to be a little more expensive and just a little more stylish - but it still holds onto a slice of its value-for-money character which it is renowned for. An estate variant arrives later in the year, as does a hot vRS model; Octavia hatchback appears in showrooms Saturday, March 16.

What's under the bonnet?
Few surprises here. All the engines available are tried and tested in a variety of VW Group products. Kicking off the petrol line-up is a zesty 103bhp 1.2 followed by a rather more brisk 138bhp 1.4 - both have the choice of a six-speed manual or DSG. Meanwhile, in the black corner, there's a choice of a 103bhp 1.6 or a 148bhp 2.0 - the former being the most economical and environmentally-friendly in the Octavia line-up, returning 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and producing 99g/km. A 1.6 TDI arrives later in the year that will emit 89g/km; a high performance vRS - which is promised to be the most powerful Octavia vRS ever - appears in the UK in the summer.

What's the kit like?
Like any other Skoda, the svelte Octavia comes in three flavours - namely S, SE and Elegance. Entry-level S models start at £15,990 and come loaded with equipment such as 16-inch alloys, Bluetooth, DAB radio, manual air con, front electric windows, hill hold, leather steering wheel, multimedia input with USB and a touchscreen radio system with a six CD autochanger. SEs kick in at £17,190 and throw in rear parking sensors, dual-zone air conditioning, front fog lamps, trip computer, rear electric windows, body-coloured door mirrors, chrome interior trim and curtain airbags. Top-drawer Elegance Octavias add 17-inch alloys, Alcantara and leather trim, sat-nav, electric and heated door mirrors, High Beam Assist, cruise control, driver alert fatigue system, driver knee airbag and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Prices range from £20,240 to £23,240.

First drive review: Skoda OctaviaSkoda


Any rivals?
As with the two generations of Octavia before it, this third-generation car ploughs headlong into the great C-segment hatchback battle. The new Octavia continues the model's traditional mantra of being value-orientated and so naturally goes up against big guns such as the Ford Focus and the Vauxhall Astra. The Octavia is keenly priced, packed with loads of equipment, has clever safety tech and has class-leading bootspace. Strangely, the Octavia has lost its value positioning in the VW Group line-up as it costs £220 more than the entry-level version of the new Seat Leon.

Is it any good?
We got behind the wheel of the 1.2, the 1.6 and the 2.0 litre and we were particularly impressed with the former. When mated to the very slick six-speed 'box, it's a zingy little thing that provides plenty of get up and go despite the Octavia's large dimensions. The 1.6 diesel - the predicted best-seller - is perfectly adequate and is the pick of the diesel selection thanks to its low CO2 emissions. General fit and finish of the interior is a noticeable step up over the previous Octavia (although a rather scratchy glove compartment lid was a minor gripe) and there are some pleasant design touches. The interior space is excellent - particularly in the back - and the car handles with confidence. It's composed, grippy and safe - not Ford Focus levels of driver involvement, but above the class average.

The AOL Cars verdict
Skoda is getting rather clever these days by doing 'an Audi'. The Czechs are filling in the slots between its models and making its range more colourful and appealing to new customers. It started with the Rapid, which took the place and values of the old Octavia, while the new Octavia has been given a firm shove upmarket. On the whole it has worked, with this third-generation car being a very credible C-segment player. While prices have risen, it's still good value, and although the dumpy looks of the old car have made way for a stronger, more design-led approach, the new Octavia is still rather undramatic to look at. Overall the new Octavia is still a car that will be purchased with the head rather than the heart. But who said there was anything wrong with that?

The knowledge
Model: Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI Elegance
Price: £21,090
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged diesel
Power: 103bhp, 250Nm
Max speed: n/a
0-60mph: n/a
MPG (comb'd): 74.3
Emissions: 99g/km