For many years, the Octavia has been the yardstick of European quality by which other cars were measured. It was classy, good-looking, well-built, and no matter what engine you chose, it was fun to drive. There was the punchy yet frugal diesel, an all-rounder of a standard petrol version, and a hotter RS version for enthusiasts. In short, there was an Octavia for everyone. The latest fourth-generation model has big shoes to fill and it’s not going to be easy this time. For one, it is now very expensive. The model we tested costs Rs.37 lakhs on road. Then there is the lack of a diesel engine option this time around. And to make matters worse, there is a crossover pandemic going on.
The previous car designed by Jozef Kaban of Bugatti Veyron fame was one of the best-looking Octavias to date. The new one has a slightly smaller wheelbase, lot more overhangs, a jacked-up body, and thinner tyres which messes up with how you perceive the Octavia styling. It plays with the classic proportions too much. To understand the difference, look up ‘Octavia Pro’ sold in China which has better proportions thanks to the longer wheelbase. The front grille is set a level lower, the bonnet swoops down a lot and the headlamps are slimmer – all of which makes it appear pinched up towards the front. There is a lot of visual mass around the C pillar area. The rear-end design of the previous generation Octavias was a simpler affair, but this one sees some stylish tail lamps and split Skoda lettering. Our biggest gripe are those 17-inch wheels which look like a cheap aftermarket addition and the thinner tyres used.
The insides are a stark departure from the previous generation. Quality has gone up unless you judge it against the price. The dashboard has a simpler design, with cleaner minimalistic controls. Most of the functions are now integrated into the touchscreen. If you want to adjust the AC settings, that involves going into the submenu which is annoying as well as distracting. The music system in the L&K version is the 12 speakers 600W Canton audio controlled via the 10-inch screen with third-generation UI. The central AC vents are placed lower and above that sits a few buttons for essential functions and on top of that, a slider for the volume control. Internationally too, the regular Octavia doesn’t get a sunroof, but the estate and LWB variant does get it. The driver gets a digital gauge cluster that can toggle between a twin dial layout and a simple minimalist readout. The two spoke steering wheel that is now shared with the Karoq looks odd but is great to hold. There are excellent knurled finish knobs for the thumbs which are also clickable. The Octavia comes loaded with eight airbags, ESP, park assist, fatigue warning, foot-activated tailgate, request sensor on all four doors, etc. The front seats are wide and have good bolstering on the shoulder area which can almost pass off for an RS seat. Even the passenger seat gets electric adjustment with three memory settings. The rear seats are much more spacious than last time with good support all over. The seats and the fabric strip on the dash are made of a cream suede material which will be tough to keep clean in the long run. The boot is 600 litres and has clever hooks, a small partition, and a cargo net. The tailgate is electrically operated and opens quite high, but you can set it to rise up only to a certain height for basement parking lots with low ceiling heights.
The Octavia uses the 2.0litre four-cylinder engine that also powers the Superb, Tiguan All Space, etc. It makes 190bhp and 320Nm channelled through a 7 speed DQ381 dual-clutch gearbox. The engine is very docile at low speeds in town, with good tractability. The gearbox likes to shift up at the earliest opportunity. At times, the DSG gets a bit confused at slow speeds feeling jerky and clunky especially when parking. You don’t get any driving modes in this car. There is a strong surge once you cross 2000rpm and it gets stronger once you get past 4000. It also sounds great when revved up. 0-100kmph comes up in 8.1 seconds and the gearbox is quite responsive though not as eager as the last-gen EA888. The EVO series engine is a long stroke motor and has a relatively low redline of 6000rpm. While a few more revs would have made it even more enjoyable, it is still loads of fun and feels punchy on open roads.
All generations of the Octavia have impressed us with great road manners. The ride quality is excellent with an underlying firmness that’s typical of VAG cars. The suspension is on the softer side, but the car feels very well balanced through the corners. You can feel the car tucking in more as you go faster, with help from the brake vectoring front axle. The standard-fit 205/55 R17 Goodyear Assurance tyres are inadequate for this car and they lose grip quite easily. Also, Skoda recommended tyre pressures make the ride skittish. Braking is okay, but grippier tyres would make it even more confidence-inspiring. The steering is on the lighter side and lacks proper feedback. But with an engine this eager and a chassis this dynamic, it is still a car you enjoy driving.
With everyone wanting a crossover, the Octavia lands itself in a dying segment. The cars that made up the segment -the Corolla and Civic are gone; the Elantra sold here is the last-gen car. Save for a few misses, the Octavia does everything right. It feels premium, is well built, has good quality interiors, the seats are comfy, the space is decent, it is fun to drive. But all this is very expensive. You can get a Superb Sportline for roughly the same money.
With everyone wanting a crossover, the Octavia finds itself in a dying segment. Driving pleasure and classy three-box proportions make way for more practicality, a tall driving position, and more ground clearance. The cars that made up the segment – the Corolla and Civic are gone. The only other car in the segment is the last-gen Elantra. We wish more people saw what a good car this was and bought more of them.
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