Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Skoda Octavia (2009-) Review


Volkswagen threw a lot of cash at their new Mk6 Golf, with extensive sheet metal changes and an all-new interior. But not every carmaker has their resources: Skoda's efforts to freshen up the Octavia for 2009 are a little more modest.

In comes the new corporate face, adopting new light clusters and a grille that stretches across the bonnet, while at the rear there are new tail lamps. Inside, the Octavia gains a new steering wheel, classy new instrument panel graphics and the option of a new touch-screen sat nav.

The big changes are under the bonnet. Say goodbye to the old 1.6 petrol, replaced by a turbocharged 1.4 and a 158bhp 1.8 turbo from the Superb. Both are available with the recent seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The diesels are less impressive. With the exception of the sporty range-topping vRS, the range is stuck with the old pumpe duse engine, rather than the smooth and refined new common-rail diesel.

That aside, the Octavia is as impressive as ever, offering near-Passat space for Focus money - but are the mild tweaks enough to keep it at the front of the pack?

Reliability and Quality

Skoda has consistently remained one of the darling brands of the JD Power customer satisfaction surveys, and the 2008 survey is no exception.

Out of 100 cars the Octavia was fourth, with Skoda second only to Lexus as the brand with the most satisfied ownership.

Inside the Octavia doesn't cosset as well as the Golf. The plastic steering wheel doesn't give you the impression of a budget Audi, but everything feels constructed with a typically Germanic feel of solidarity, so there's little to complain about.

On the road

Our Octavia 2.0 TDI test car is not our pick of the range - we expect the 120bhp 1.4 turbo petrol to take those honours, offering a blend of low emissions, the ability to hit 43mpg and a 0-62mph sprint of 9.7 seconds.

The decision to stick with the old pumpe duse diesels, rather than VW's new common-rail engines, means that the 2.0 TDI is a little noisy under the bonnet. There's also less flexibility throughout the engine, although a remap has addressed some of these issues.

Perhaps surprisingly, performance has not suffered: the diesel offers 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds and onto 129mph, which is normal for this class.

Handling is impressive. The nose felt well-planted in a bend, even at speed. When the front tyres do eventually relent, the nose gently pushes forward but coming off the throttle helps neutralise the understeer.

Safety and Security

The last time the Octavia was crash-tested by Euro NCAP, it received four out of five stars for adult occupancy protection - a decent result back then. Unfortunately, five stars is now the class norm.

All is not lost: the Octavia now comes with additional standard safety equipment, so it may receive that coveted fifth star next time it's tested. It's just a shame that life-saving ESP is only a £365 option.

An alarm and immobiliser are fitted as standard.

Running Costs

Here's where the decision to stick with the old diesel engine hurts.

The 2.0 TDI averages 51.4mpg and emits 145g/km of carbon dioxide, putting it into VED band C and the 20% Benefit-in-Kind company car tax bracket. But that's no worse than the 134bhp Focus TDCi - proving Skoda's old engine is still a contender.

In comparison, a Golf driver gets 57.6mpg and 129g/km.

Disappointingly, the less powerful 103bhp 1.9 diesel fails to slip into the lower VED band B, with its 130g/km CO2. It averages 57.6mpg.

The new turbo 1.4 petrol averages 42.8mpg and emits 154g/km of CO2, meaning it slips into VED band D while company car users pay 18% BIK tax. Impressive for a petrol.

Comfort and Equipment

Ride comfort is impressive, especially for those who plump for the SE trim. What small 15" alloys lose in aesthetics, they gain in how well the Skoda absorbs imperfections in the road. Even big bumps are shrugged off in the manner of a much larger car.

Equipment levels are fair for the class. Base S models come with air-con and electric front windows as standard. Parking sensors cost an extra £500.

Upgrading to SE costs an extra £970 and gets you a four speaker sound system, 15" alloys, electric windows for the rear and a trip computer.

Another £1,050 gains the plusher Elegance that upgrades trim material, adds bigger 16" and cruise control.

Finally, for another £2,850, the L&K spec brings xenon lamps and a leather interior.

Astonishingly, only the top spec gets ESP as standard. Elsewhere it's a £365 option, whereas all Ford Focus models come with it as standard.

Used Value

On average, an Octavia will hold onto the money you paid for it better than the equivalent Ford or Vauxhall.

After the average three years/36,000 miles, used car experts expect the Octavia range to hold onto between 39-43% of its value. This is a long way off the Golf's bulletproof 42-56%, but still better than the 34-37% returned by the non-ST Focus range.

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