2008 Škoda Octavia Ambiente 4X4 TDI Review
Škoda Octavia Czechs all the boxes
AWD Grip, Fuel Economy, Fit and Finish
Mild Performance, Engine Noise, Brand Obscurity
– by Matt Brogan
It’s not often a new comer is treated with as much enthusiasm as Škoda, and so far the Czech brand’s arrival has been met with deserved praise for offering a thoroughly decent vehicle at a competitive price. I was therefore very keen to try it for myself and see if this new kid on the bloc (pun intended) was as good as I’d been led to believe.
For my introduction to the marque, I was handed the keys to what is arguably the ideal family wagon. The Octavia Ambiente 4X4 TDI is a handsome full sized wagon and Czechs all the boxes (sorry couldn’t help myself) so far as meeting the needs of a perspicacious family buyer.
It’s safe, well built, generously proportioned, economic and perhaps best of all slightly different to all the cars your friends own. Something not to be frowned upon when the essence of the car’s background is inherently Volkswagen. So with that said just what is it about our little Czech mate (I’ll stop now) that has earned its standing.
Outside, you could be forgiven for thinking the Octavia looks slightly familiar with many of Volkswagen’s styling cues from a couple of years back still evident in the overall appearance of the car. Perhaps a little lacking in character, it’s nonetheless attractive enough not to raise any eyebrows.
From the inside as well it’s clear to anyone who’s been privy to ride in an Audi or VW that an air of affinity exists in the layout, especially in that of the switchgear and instrumentation, which shares much of its componenture with the family namesake.
From where I stand this is a good thing. The Volkswagen Group have a solid reputation for building some of the best and most reliable vehicles on the planet, so although jumping in to one at a reduced price may feel similar to being sold a genuine Rolex from some bloke’s trench coat, the Škoda name does have a worthy renown of its own, again deservedly so.
The quality of the fit and finish is evident. Panel lines are tight, paint finish excellent, and all the doors have that solid reassuring noise on closing. The plastics and interior materials are first rate and blend well enough with each other to lift the cabin’s ambiance above that of your average $35K wagon.
So, it’s a quality product, but if it’s like driving an army tank that means very little. Fortunately it’s almost as good as driving a new Passat. Honest! The seating position is very comfortable, quite supportive and proportionally generous, the steering is well weighted, light enough to not prove burdensome, and provides the tactile feedback you’d expect of a modern car.
The 4X4 (all wheel drive) system provides encouraging levels of grip and with MacPherson struts up front and multi-link rear end suspension tuned especially to the slightly raised ride and higher profile tyres, manages road holding of a degree that surprised me. In fact I’d put it on par with last year’s Subaru Outback.
Braking too is just what you’d expect. Strong and certainly capable, the dual rate system offers quite a lot of (vacuum) assistance through the pedal to make rapid deceleration easy for even the slightest of legs. Pedals are well positioned and offer fluent feel and feedback, especially the clutch which makes light work of the silky smooth six speed manual.
The gearbox is precise, with quite a short throw between shifts and is well matched to the engine making the most of the modest power available. Although on paper the figures are hardly breath taking, the 77kW delivered at 4000 revs should not be what you consider most when buying a diesel.
With diesels, it’s all about the torque, which basically, is the grunt or pulling power the engine offers, and fortunately the 1.9 litre TDI has enough of it to make the overall power delivery a rather decent proposal.
Producing 250Nm from just 1900rpm, the little oiler makes short work of most situations, even with the car fully packed. Keep within the torque curve and shift quickly and the Octavia has no trouble in reaching 100km/h in around 13 seconds, albeit with a bit of engine noise.
Once cruising though, the noise is nominal and allows for the enjoyment of the vehicle, the fuel economy (6.1 litres / 100km combined average) and a further appreciation of the space on offer. Glance in the mirror and you’ll see that the wagon offers masses of room not only for rear seat passengers, but also for all manner of things you’d possibly wish to carry.
The sunken cargo area with retractable blind and clever hidden side panels make for a large and usable load space with even further versatility offered from flat folding 60/40 rear seats should additional room be required. I had no trouble carrying four small trees and gardening equipment home from the nursery, and even had room left over. If the 660 kilogram payload and acres of space still isn’t enough, you can also tow up to 1700kg (braked).
On the safety front, Škoda has not left you lacking with the whole alphabet rearranged into nifty little three letter bunches of surety. ESP, ABS, EBD, EBC, TCS, EDL, HBA and DSR are all standard, as are dual front, side and curtain airbags. Front seats also get active headrests to prevent whiplash. When last tested the Octavia offered a four star NCAP rating, though Škoda believe small changes should see the next test reach the maximum five star rating.
With good on road manners, nice balance, and pleasant surroundings, the Octavia represents a good buy for the budget concious growing family. If you’re sizing up a wagon and like the sound of all that’s on offer, bundle the wife, kids and dog in to one and go for a test drive, there’s very little not to like.
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