No Jetta? No problem. The value-packed Skoda Octavia is the heir apparent to VW’s once popular sedan
Despite the surging popularity of the sport utility vehicles (SUVs) worldwide, the traditional sedan is still very popular Singapore, the latter outselling the former five to four in 2017. One of the harder hitters was Volkswagen’s Jetta, which was on sale from 2005 to 2017 and for a period constituted about one third of the company’s sales here.
With the semi-demise of the sedan though, many popular four-doors have gone extinct, such as the Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Sunny, and even the Jetta too.
The Jetta’s retirement has left a sedan-shaped hole in Volkswagen’s Category A lineup, and while the Golf hatchback remains the gold-standard in its class, some Singaporeans just really, really love sedans.
Thankfully, salvation is close at hand; just 50 metres away in fact, at the other end of the Volkswagen Singapore building at Leng Kee.
It might not wear the letters VW on its nose, but the Skoda Octavia is, for all intents and purposes, a new Jetta.
Volkswagen MQB platform, check; Cat A Certificate of Entitlement, check; chiselled European three-box styling, check. There’s just one teeny-tiny difference: the Octavia is technically a hatchback, rather than a sedan, but that’s actually a good thing. More on that later.
Compared to the Golf, the Octavia is 412mm longer overall, with an extra 66mm between the axles, at 2,686mm. Even next to the Jetta, the Octavia’s got a 35mm longer wheelbase, which means colossal legroom for everyone.
But apart from cabin space, the other thing that will make buyers go ooh and ahh in the showroom is boot space; there’s 590 litres of it seats-up, or 1,580 litres folded down. And although that’s far and away the most commodious rear end in a small-to-mid sized car, the numbers only tell half the story.
The liftback tailgate makes it significantly easier to load or retrieve items compared to the letterbox boot openings you get in some 4-door saloons.
Up at the other end of the cabin, the Octavia is put together with the same Teutonic logic and solidity that sets VW Group car brands apart from the Asians, although it’s not hard to find some reminders that Skoda is the value-driven brand in Volkswagen’s empire.
The interior looks great, and for the most part feels great too, but plastics of the Fisher Price variety are present – unfortunately in common touchpoints – the lower centre console surround for instance, as well as part of the door grab handles, and steering wheel buttons. The indicators also tick away more audibly and harshly than in a Golf, and there’s an unyielding click-clack feel to the shift paddles.
That’s not to say that the Octavia’s cabin is a torrid place to be, it’s just that it doesn’t exude the same premium feel that a Golf’s does. Best to think of it as being 80 percent of a Golf’s interior.
Thankfully the driving experience is anything but budget. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine (as first seen in the VW Golf 1.0), if anything, feels slightly more refined here than in the Golf. That said, the dual-clutch gearbox often upshifts too early, causing the engine to lug until it gets back into the torque band; something that becomes very obvious with five people aboard; this seems endemic to fuel-sipping VW Group cars like this.
Looking at the specs, it’s not too surprising that the Octavia can struggle off the line – with just 114hp and a 1.4 tonne kerbweight, it’s clearly not going to win any drag races. What is surprising though, is how accomplished it feels at higher speeds.
There’s sufficient torque to make highway or B-road overtaking a painless affair, but what’s really impressive is how refined and long-legged the Octavia is. Speeding tickets are a very real danger in this car, purely because of how comfortably you can cruise at speeds far higher than you realise – even at above-Malaysian-highway velocities on much-smaller-than-Malaysian-highway B-roads.
The squishy suspension helps in this regard too, but on the flipside that does mean the Octavia can’t offer much fun when the going gets twisty.
Light steering is great around town but with less feedback through the wheel; solid stability is great while cruising, though making the car less eager to turn, and soft, long-travel suspension is great at soaking up patchwork bumps, but allows for a fair bit of wallow.
Ok, so it’s no hot hatch, but it’s still worth a note that rivals like the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus might offer a bit more for the keen driver. For everyone else, the comfort bias of the Octavia is totally within comfort parameters.
What the competition can’t hold a candle to is the Octavia’s daily liveability. The aforementioned space is one thing, but the standard equipment is another besides.
Even in the most basic Ambition trim, you get seven airbags, a reverse camera, cruise control, keyless go and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, along with a crisp and colourful 8.0-inch touchscreen display.
To that, the Ambition Plus model we tested adds LED headlights, 17-inch rims (up from 16-inchers) and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert. Oh, and there are also nifty touches, like a chilled glovebox, an umbrella compartment under the passenger seat, and bag hooks in the boot.
The Octavia range starts at $104,900 with COE, rising to $108,400 with COE for the Ambition Plus.
In comparison, the closest-priced Golf, the 1.4 Comfortline, has a slightly more powerful engine, but lacks the keyless entry, cruise control and blind spot/rear cross traffic alert systems of the Octavia, and yet is $7,500 more expensive than the Ambition Plus.
On a side note, East Asian rivals, including the new Kia Cerato, start from well below $100k, but if you’re looking at a Skoda/VW, you’re probably not looking in that direction to begin with.
The Octavia doesn’t have to be the same price as its ostensible rivals from Japan and Korea, it just has to be, like the Jetta was, less expensive than a Golf. The fact that it has even more room and far more equipment than its ‘predecessor’ ever had is one benefit of the Skoda badge.
Skoda Octavia 1.0 TSI Ambition Plus
Engine 999cc, inline 3, turbocharged
Power 114hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 220Nm at 2,000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 202km/h
0-100km/h 10.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.0L/100km
Price S$108,400 with COE
Agent Skoda Centre Singapore