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2009 Skoda Octavia - First Steer
- by Paul Maric
Skoda, Skoda, SKODA! Remember that name; the brand is here to stay.
It was very brave of Volkswagen to launch the Skoda brand in Australia last year (2008), despite the fact that the main model it was launching, the Octavia, was two breaths away from tapping out.
The Octavia II as it’s more affectionately known overseas has been on the European market since 2004. Skoda essentially launched in Australia with a four-year-old car. With the backing of Volkswagen though, it has been keen to push on and I must say, the persistence is certainly paying off.
The first thing you will notice about the new Octavia is a much prettier face. The designers have gone to work on the nose, altering the headlight cluster, grille and many other aspects, which plagued the dated previous model.
Walking around the exterior of the car, you no longer feel like you are staring at a car amalgamated from used Volkswagen parts. The car no longer feels like the brother of a rock star, it has its own character now and is being developed as a proper Skoda.
For those still curious about the Skoda brand, consider this. In 2008, Skoda ranked number two on the J D Power and Associates Study. It placed only second to Lexus in terms of customer satisfaction with the vehicle. Although it hasn’t been in Australia for a considerable amount of time, it is well respected overseas with people who have experienced the brand.
Prior to the new Octavia, Skoda’s entry-level model was a diesel; this time around the company has gone for a petrol variant to open the range. This is the breakdown of the models on the Australian market:
- 1.6-litre Liftback (Hatch) and Wagon – five-speed manual/six-speed auto
- 1.8TSI Liftback (Hatch) and Wagon – six-speed manual/seven-speed DSG
- 2.0TDI Liftback (Hatch) and Wagon – six-speed manual/six-speed DSG
The seven-speed DSG is the same gearbox used in the VW Golf VI range. Rated at 250Nm, the gearbox is only used in the 1.8-litre TSI variant. The outgoing six-speed DSG on the other hand is rated at 350Nm and is used solely in Skoda’s 2.0-litre TDI range.
It’s certainly confusing, but the changes are designed to optimise performance and efficiency.
Although some interior changes are hard to spot, the most obvious are the steering wheel, interior layout of buttons and features and white backlit illumination, opposed to the traditional green.
In terms of technology upgrades, the new Octavia now features the Volkswagen Group RNS510 multimedia system. Standard on the 1.8TSI and 2.0TDI, the system uses a 6.5-inch colour LCD screen, accepts six CDs and has provisions for an SD card, MP3 music files and optional satellite navigation.
The first cab off the rank, so to speak, is the Octavia 1.6, and powering the base model is a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated engine, which was used in the outgoing Golf.
Delivering 75kW and 148Nm, the engine uses a relatively miserly 7.8-litres of fuel per 100km. It comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox, but can be optioned with a six-speed automatic gearbox. Zero to 100km/h takes around 12.3 seconds for the manual and 14.1 seconds for the automatic.
The relatively archaic engine features just two-valves per cylinder and we ware guessing that it would struggle to pull the Octavia’s 1.4-tonne mass.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to drive the only Octavia 1.6 at the launch because it was reserved for another journalist.
Beginning at $26,990 for the five-speed manual Liftback, the six-speed automatic costs an additional $2300 and the Wagon is an additional $2000 on top of Liftback pricing. The Octavia 1.6 is very well equipped. Standard features include 15-inch alloy wheels; power windows all round; air-conditioning; leather wrapped steering wheel with radio controls; eight-speaker stereo; cruise control and cooled centre storage.
Safety features, which are standard across the entire range, include six airbags – dual front; front side and full length curtain airbags, along with stability control with ABS, EBD and ASR.
Also fitted to the Octavia range is an electro-mechanical steering setup. The system draws a maximum of just 4.1Nm, equating to savings of around 2.0-litres/1000km or 0.2-litres/100km.
Skoda decided to introduce this model into the range as it felt some people still weren’t convinced by diesel technology, plus the comparative price of diesel fuel to petrol.
This is the model I spent most time in, firstly in the Liftback and then in the Wagon. One thing for sure, you’re not going to notice much difference at all between the Liftback and the Wagon in terms of handling.
As soon as you climb aboard, you feel right at home. The interior carries a pleasant ambience with dark colours contrasted with silver highlights along the dashboard and centre console.
The seating position is comfortable both in the front and rear. The steering and seating positions are infinitely adjustable, catering for people of all sizes.
The new steering wheel size has helped with handling the car in tight parking situations. The old wheel was quite curved and sometimes a bit awkward to hold onto.
New steering wheel controls also add to the other intuitive features of the car. Buttons have been replaced with wheels on occasions, while other buttons are far more logical.
Controls for changing the dual-zone cabin temperature now also appear on the LCD screen; indicating fan speed, vent directions and selected temperature. The new screen is also much easier to read now with larger font and vibrant colours.
The rest of the interior is relatively familiar territory though.
Powering the 1.8TSI is a 1.8-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that produces 118kW and 250Nm, and the engine sips through just 6.7-litres/100km when coupled with the seven-speed DSG. Yes, it’s an incredible fuel efficiency figure and it’s most certainly not a typo.
Weighing in at 1495kg, the 1.8TSI moves along quite briskly when pushed. There is noticeable torque steer on B-grade roads, but it’s not uncontrollable or intrusive. The 0-100km/h dash is taken care of in 7.8-seconds.
The suspension has been tailored for comfortable driving and does an impressive job. Over the corrugated B-roads the launch traversed there were numerous occasions where the European car shone. Potholes are absorbed with great ease, while mid-corner road damage doesn’t impact the car’s direction of travel.
If you decide to start stretching the car’s legs you reach a point where there is a comfortable split between fun, comfort and road holding. Although the Octavia won’t set the world on fire, it’s quite capable when punted through some corners.
Sweeping bends are the Octavia’s best friend, while tight and sudden turns tend to push the Octavia’s nose wide, especially if you jump onto the throttle before you’re done with the bend.
The brakes are quite capable, with the 1.6 receiving 280mm front brakes and 260mm rear brakes, while the 1.8TSI and 2.0TDI get 288mm front brakes and 260mm at the rear. A descent through the Adelaide hills really exercised the brakes and although they won’t hold up with hours of torture, they seemed to do a good job with 15 minutes of spirited driving.
In addition to the Octavia 1.6, the 1.8TSI gets dual-zone climate control; six-disc CD player with auxiliary socket; heated and folding side wing mirrors; automatic headlights; fog lights; automatic dimming rear vision mirror and rain sensing windscreen wipers.
Unfortunately though, the Octavia requires 98RON petrol, meaning that each refill can be quite pricey when you take into account this fuel’s premium over 91RON.
The 1.8TSI’s pricing begins from $31,490 for the six-speed manual Liftback, with the seven-speed DSG being a $2500 option, and again the Wagon is an additional $2000 on top of Liftback pricing.
The frugal member of the group is the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel that produces 103kW and 320Nm, which means this miserly oil-burner chews through just 5.7-litres/100km. It moves from 0-100km/h in a ‘not too bad’ 9.6-seconds, adding to its credentials.
Much like the Golf range, driving the diesel variant of the Octavia is a totally different experience to the 1.8TSI petrol variant.
The relatively quiet diesel comes on boost quite early, meaning there is very little noticeable turbo lag, which is often associated with turbocharged diesel motors.
Again, there is an element of torque steer when you jump onto the throttle, but like I said earlier, it’s quite manageable and doesn’t hinder the drive.
Although the diesel is the heaviest of the bunch at 1525kg, it is more than capable of attempting overtake maneuvers with confidence.
The rest of the package feels much the same as the 1.8TSI though, considering they’re equipped with the same level of features.
To some degree not all that much has changed with the new Octavia and it’s pretty much the same formula as last time, a very affordable vehicle that appeals to those who aren’t overly brand conscious.
That’s certainly not a bad thing though. The Octavia has always represented great value for money, it seems that you can rarely fault the Octavia as it ticks all the boxes and does almost everything right.
The only gripe I had with the outgoing package was the somewhat bland design. This has been addressed with the redesign, so it’s really hard to consider anything else after driving the Octavia.
Drop in to your local dealer and have a poke and play inside the new model, it’s the type of car that needs to be seen to be believed!
EDIT: Skoda has contacted us to advise the 1.8TSI will run on 95RON PULP. 98RON PULP is recommended for maximum power and fuel efficiency. Likewise, the 1.6 entry level model will run on 91RON petrol.