Skoda Octavia review: an octave above?

A quick drive in the Skoda Octavia reacquaints us with what it, and its maker, have to offer

MLADA BOLESLAV, CZECH REPUBLIC — Think of this more as a first-impressions drive of the Skoda Octavia, ahead of a review when we get our hands on the car in Singapore.

A visit to Skoda’s hometown and HQ of Mlada Boleslav, a sort of giant Jurong if Jurong were built around a single company, gave CarBuyer the chance to drive an Octavia 1.0 TSI around the country roads that surround the city, er… town, er… place.

That was something of a homecoming for me. I test-drove the first modern Octavia through the same area in 1996, and found it a usefully large and pleasantly refined car.

The current model, the Octavia A7 (or Typ 5E to use its Czech codename) is that car’s grandson. It actually dates back to 2013 but was facelifted to keep things fresh in 2017, when it received the split headlamps that adorn it now.

It’s a handsome, well-proportioned car that is actually a five-door hatchback, like the two Octavias before it. And it’s still Skoda’s most popular car.

Under the skin, Skoda builds the Octavia the MQB platform that underpins the current Volkswagen Golf. But the two cars have little in common when it comes to size.

At 2,686mm, the wheelbase is 60mm longer than that of the Golf. For that matter, it’s 35mm longer than that of VW’s Jetta, the popular sedan that once made up the bulk of local Volkswagen sales.

This makes for plenty of legroom in the back, where you’ll find generous headroom as well. In terms of width, the rear seating is more ordinary. Six adult buttocks would fit with ease, but not without rubbing.

The “more is more” approach also applies to the boot, where there’s an enormous 590 litres of space on offer (80 litres more than in the Jetta), rising to 1,580 litres with the rear seats folded.

But the Octavia, and Skoda in general, seems to want to be about more than mere real estate.

The brand’s “Simply clever” tagline means there are useful features littered about the vast interior: a small bin for trash in the passenger door pocket, for example. There’s also an umbrella drawer under the front passenger seat, and a couple of USB ports with a 220V power outlet for rear passengers.

And in the giant boot there are deep bins, fold-out hooks and nets to keep stuff from flying about. It’s as if Ikea had a hand in designing the Octavia.

All of that would be invalidated if the cabin were a nasty place to be in, but the pleasant surprise is that it’s nicely put together. Things fit well, and the VW-sourced switchgear feels both high-quality and familiar. If you’re wondering about the brand’s connection to Volkswagen, Skoda has been a subsidiary of the giant German group since 2000.

Perhaps it’s unexpected then, that some of the plastics actually feel slightly better than they did in the Jetta, although Skoda does pull a common carmaker trick of using softer-grade stuff in the front of the cabin, and deploying noticeably cheaper polymers in the back.

Run your fingers along the front windowsill and then the back, to see what I mean.

Still, in the areas touched by VW, the Octavia is genuinely appealing.

Our test car came with a fancier “Amundsen” touchscreen system that isn’t sold in Singapore (so disregard it in these pics), but local cars come with the eight-inch Bolero model. It trades some screen space for capacitive buttons, but it looks classy and the display is crisp and bright. It doesn’t come with GPS navigation, but it will pair with an iPhone through Apple CarPlay to let the built-in Maps app tell you where to go, which is the next best thing.

As for whether you’ll enjoy getting there, there answer is probably no. That’s not to say you’ll hate the experience, though.

It’s more that the Octavia’s powertrain — a combination of a 999cc turbo and a seven-speed, twin-clutch auto — is more about frugality than performance.

The numbers bear this out: 100km/h takes 10 seconds to reach, but if you can drive with saint-like restraint, the car sips just 5 litres of petrol per 100km.

It isn’t a problem to shuffle along with day-to-day traffic, thanks to a chubby spread of mid-range torque, but overtaking or merging with highway traffic is where you’ll feel the 1.0 TSI start to strain.

There are no driving modes but the DSG transmission does have a sport setting, and using it helps to make the Skoda feel more alert.

Being an MQB car, the Octavia shares the Golf’s fluency over bumps and dependable handling. Some of the roads ringing Mlada Boleslav are in pretty crumbled condition, but the suspension soaked up the bumps in its stride.

The steering is set up light so twirling it is almost effortless, which creates the impression that the Octavia is a car meant to make driving easy, rather than fun.

If it’s excitement you want, there’s an Octavia RS 245 on the way to Singapore. That has a 2.0 TSI engine with 245 horsepower, giving it the ability to hit 250km/h. 0 to 100km/h takes just 6.4 seconds in that car, which will be on sale here in a matter of months.

While driving enthusiasts await the RS 245, the 1.0 TSI is about value for money. It delivers a useful amount of space and some welcome refinement at its price point. In that sense, much of what I thought about the Octavia 22 years ago still applies.

NEED TO KNOW Skoda Octavia 1.0 TSI
Engine 999cc, 12-valve, turbo in-line three
Power 115hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 200Nm at 1,500 to 3,500rpm
Gearbox 7-speed twin-clutch automatic
Top Speed 202km/h
0-100km/h 10.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.0L/100km
Price From S$113,400 with COE
VES Band C1
Agent Skoda Centre Singapore
Available Now

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.