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Driven: Skoda Octavia Estate. Image by Skoda UK.

Driven: Skoda Octavia Estate
The ghastly quad headlights of the Mk3.5 have gone, while the Octavia’s interior has been shoved a long way upmarket. Result!

   



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Skoda Octavia Estate

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: handsome looks, superb interior design, acres of interior space, cleverly thought-out digital offering, smooth drivetrain, impressive refinement and ride quality

Not so good: not massively exciting, £33k as tested

Key Facts

Model tested: Skoda Octavia Estate SE L First Edition 2.0 TDI 150 DSG
Price: Octavia Estate range from £22,210; First Edition TDI 150 DSG from £29,515, car as tested £32,960
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 141g/km (VED Band 131-150: £215 in year one, then £150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 52.3mpg
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Power: 150hp at 3,000-4,200rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 1,700-2,750rpm
Boot space: 640-1,700 litres

Our view:

We, like so many motoring outlets, have always been big fans of the Skoda Octavia. And, like Penn and Teller showing you just how simple it is to stage a visually astounding magic trick, the secret to the Skoda's enduring success is so plain for all to see that it's a wonder a load of other manufacturers haven't simply copied the template. Basically, what you have here is a car based upon its contemporary Volkswagen Golf. It is built on the same floorpan. Yet its body is considerably larger than its source material, leading to a more capacious interior and a vastly bigger boot. Then, to top it all off, weirdly Skoda gets to charge less money for this confection, instead of more.

As the old adage goes, however, if things seem too good to be true then they usually are, so the pay-off for all of the Skoda's attributes was that it didn't feel quite as polished or upmarket as its Golf relation. It had a plainer interior, it had perhaps less rolling refinement, it didn't quite have the latest switchgear or technology. It was, in short, restrained from nipping at the Volkswagen's heels. Seems sensible, given VW owns the whole group and would hardly want this Czech upstart (or the Iberian analogue in the form of SEAT) to get ideas above its station.

Only... having now sampled all of the SEAT Leon Mk4, the Golf Mk8 and this fourth-generation Octavia, we're absolutely convinced that something totally befuddling has happened. Volkswagen, for whatever reason, has let Skoda and SEAT loose at a great big box of the very latest components. And the result is that both the supposedly 'inferior' marques have turned up C-segment challengers that are more rounded, more talented and more likeable products in all regards than the Golf 8. In the case of the Skoda, it might well be the pick of the entire bunch... and we're not just talking Volkswagen Group cars of this size and price, but any car from any manufacturer in roughly the same sphere of influence.

For starters, on the outside the Octavia (tested here in Estate SE L First Edition form) is looking grander than ever. It picks up some of the crystalline design features started with the Scala but makes them work better on its larger form. Not only that, but the gopping quad headlights of the facelifted third-gen Octavia have, quite rightly, been dropped as a bad idea and the Czech machine is back to its handsome best with single-piece lamp units at the nose. It looks as good as, if not better than our previous favourite wagon at this sort of level, the Octavia's big brother Superb wagon, and the fact the car looks expensive and upmarket even in a plain monochrome colour and on modest alloys (Rotare Aero-design 17s as standard on the SE L First Edition, optional Perseus 18s fitted to our test car for £680) is testament to the inherent 'rightness' of its design.

And then you climb aboard. Goodness, this is remarkable. Traditional Octavia strengths are retained or even built upon, because the Mk4 is a bit longer in body and wheelbase than its predecessor and so rear-seat passengers have even more space in which to lounge about, while the boot is up from a whopping 610 litres previously to a double-whopping 640 litres here. Indeed, fold the Octavia's rear seats down and you have a van-like 1,700 litres of capacity into which to cram stuff.

But it's not the sheer space which astounds, nor the plethora of Simply Clever touches (including bespoke smartphone pouches in the outers of the pockets on the front seats' backs) throughout. No, it's the stunning quality and the glorious design of it. Don't, not even for the most infinitesimal fraction of a second, let anyone try and convince you that the Golf 8 has the finer cabin out of it and the Skoda, because it just isn't true. Every surface and material used in the Octavia Mk4 looks and feels magnificent, the wing formation of the dashboard is deeply pleasing on the eye, the attractive 10-inch touchscreen infotainment and the beautiful 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster are both corking, there's plush ambient lighting glowing from various contours when you're driving at night, and then the crowning touch to this masterpiece of a passenger compartment is a two-spoke steering wheel - marvellous. What this now feels like, in here, is a cabin from a car from several classes above the C-segment melee; so not only does the Octavia look like a bigger vehicle than its competitors, its cockpit finally allows it to come across as a more aspirational one too.

OK, if we're being hyper-picky, then the way you control the various menus in the Octavia's instrument cluster isn't quite as easy as performing the same tasks in the Leon, Golf and Audi A3 equivalents, as those two roller-cylinders on the either spoke of the Skoda's wheel need some familiarisation and ancillary button-pressing to work smoothly. But if this is what we must have in order to attain that gorgeous wheel in the first place, so be it. Furthermore, the configurability and displays of the Skoda's cluster are never less than superb in their layouts, so you can always get the information you need at the briefest of glances, and then the compensation for the cluster perhaps lacking the last degree of intuitive operation is that the company has done a much better job of the human-machine interface when it comes to the infotainment touchscreen. Unlike the Golf and the Leon, Skoda hasn't quite shoved all of its eggs into one digital basket, so there are still key shortcut functions on 'hard' buttons beneath the centre screen and above the air vents. One of these is for the heated rear screen, an item which is sequestered away with the headlight controls on the SEAT and VW equivalents, while another takes you straight to the HVAC menu on the main display. This means you don't need to press a digital button somewhere on the screen just to cool or heat the cabin, and this makes the Skoda's system a good deal less infuriating to use on the move than the Volkswagen's set-up.

Talking of being on the move, while 2.0-litre turbodiesel drivetrains might be rapidly slipping out of fashion, they still have an immense amount of appeal when they're executed as well as this 150hp/360Nm unit in the Octavia SE L. Sure, the engine becomes a bit vocal if you decide to (pointlessly) rev it out, and the DSG transmission has that unnerving and occasional step-off/low-speed hesitance in response to sudden, sharp throttle inputs that can become highly annoying if you're the sort of person who likes to gamble with tiny gaps in traffic at every T-junction and roundabout you encounter, but in the main the drivetrain is a civil wonder. It burrs you effortlessly up and down motorways in near-silence, it's got a goodly amount of low-range punch and mid-range muscle, and it is in short a total pleasure to deal with, suiting the laid-back and highly refined nature of the Octavia Estate to a tee. There might be slightly more tyre and wind roar about the cabin than we would like from the SE L First Edition on 18s, but then that might also be down to the fact we could hear them both all the more clearly because the turbodiesel was so blinkin' quiet. The motor's fantastic on fuel, too; we covered almost 483 miles in the Octavia in a week, the overall economy figure being an exceptional 63.2mpg, bolstered by a best long-distance motorway return of 68.4mpg recorded down the M1 and M25. A plug-in hybrid under the iV banner wouldn't get close to such parsimony.

Admittedly, like many Octavias before it - save for the ones wearing vRS badges - there's not a huge amount of dynamic treasure to unearth with the Mk4. It's commendable, no doubt about it, with adept body control, well-weighted steering and oodles of grip, but at no point are you going to be grinning behind its wheel at anything the Skoda is doing in terms of kinematics. Suffice it to say, the Octavia is composed and classy in the corners, if not exactly invigorating.

But then, you don't need a diesel estate like this to be some sort of revelatory handling experience. You instead need it to be comfortable, easy on the eye, filled with useful tech and ergonomically bang on the money. You want a frugal yet suitably fast drivetrain, and you want the vehicle to be effortless as its soaks up endless motorway miles in supreme comfort. Judged like that, it's hard to know how this sublime fourth-gen Skoda Octavia Estate could hit its target briefs any more comprehensively than it already does. In fact, judged like that, it's hard to know what else in this class could possibly do premium family load-lugger much better than this Czech chariot - because there's no hidden parlour trick here. Only blazingly obvious engineering magic from the Bohemians once more.

Alternatives:

Ford Focus Estate: good selection of engines and there's even an Active off-road model to go at, plus a fast ST derivative. But the Ford doesn't have the looks or interior quality to match the Octavia.

Renault Megane Sport Tourer: quite a long way off the pace, if we're honest. By-the-numbers C-segment wagon from the French, with ho-hum engines, a so-so cabin and nothing like the interior space of the Skoda.

Toyota Corolla Touring Sports: strong contender in this marketplace, because the Japanese marque has significantly improved the looks, interior and hybrid drivetrain of its C-segment machine. We'd still have the Czech car, though.


Matt Robinson - 4 Sep 2020



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2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.

2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2020 Skoda Octavia SE L Estate UK test. Image by Skoda UK.








 

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