Underrated. Underappreciated. Under the radar. Historically, a Skoda Octavia review has never been complete without these words or phrases.
Yet it seems medium-car buyers in Australia are getting the message. Up to the end of July 2018, the Octavia was outselling its Volkswagen cousin, the Passat, as well as the likes of the Subaru Liberty, Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata.
With its largest market share to date of seven per cent, it’s just behind the third-most-popular model, the Ford Mondeo, with a bigger gap to the Mazda 6… And the tiny dot in the distance that is the all-conquering Toyota Camry that accounts for more than half of segment sales.
The latest-generation Octavia was released in 2013, though there have been several key updates since – covering design, drivetrains, features, variant names, and pricing. This year (2018) brings the tiniest of running changes – the addition of wireless charging to the optional ($3900) Tech Pack.
Octavia pricing still begins at $23,490 for a 110TSI manual sedan, venturing up to a $43,990 turbo-diesel RS wagon.
In the middle of the pack is our test car – the $31,490 Skoda Octavia Sport Wagon 110TSI DSG. It’s essentially what was known as an Ambition trim grade (until 2017) but with a Sport Pack added.
So equipped, the mid-range Octavia wagon’s exterior adopts full LED headlights, black exterior decals, privacy glass, black roof rails, black side-mirror caps, 18-inch Turini dark alloy wheels and a lowered sports suspension.
Considering the standard Octavia – polarising quad headlights aside – is not exactly a car that makes people look twice, the Sport model has to be considered a visual success.
There are also sports seats inside, though gains over the base model are otherwise limited to rain-sensing wipers and two extra airbags (for the rear seats).
The cloth sports seats look fairly posh with their white pinstriping, though more importantly they provide excellent comfort, with bolstering that feels supportive without suggesting you’re in the RS model.
Smart rather than sporty is very much the cabin theme, with nice trim touches via the brushed-metal effect applied to the doors and centre console, as well as the chrome surrounds for the gear lever and vents.
From a tactility perspective, the heating-ventilation dials borrowed from the Volkswagen parts-bin are the only significant let-down.
A better acquisition from the Czech brand’s parent company is the glass touchscreen housed in the Octavia’s V-shaped centre stack – 8.0 inches as standard, or the optional 9.2-inch version featured on our test car as part of the aforementioned Tech Pack.
With its rotating main menu, well-designed graphics, intuitive operation and excellent touch response, this is the infotainment system mainstream rivals need to beat.
The wireless charging is a welcome addition to the pack, and there’s a Canton surround-sound system that sounds very good, if not necessarily as impressive as the Beats audio we experienced just days earlier in the VW Polo GTI.
Volkswagen’s Active Info Display digital instrument panel isn’t available for Skoda models until late 2018, so for now it’s an analogue arrangement, with a central graphic display providing various pieces of information, including an always-useful digital speedo.
The Octavia has long been renowned for being priced like a (related) Golf, yet offering substantially more space and practicality courtesy of its larger size.
In the front half of the cabin, you’ll find large door bins (with a rubbish bin on the driver’s side), a well-sized glovebox with cooling, a driver’s dash-side compartment, and – in Skoda tradition – an umbrella (under the passenger seat). A removable multimedia-device holder is a partial case of a rectangular peg trying to fit a round hole – it doesn’t fit naturally into the moulded tri-cupholder section – though is useful as a place for slotting in a smartphone and car key.
Up back, there are smaller but still usefully sized door bins (taking 500ml bottles whereas the fronts take 1.5-litre bottles), seatback pockets, an armrest with cupholders, and a ski port.
Plenty of leg room and a comfortable rear bench, too, though the optional ($1700) sunroof squeezes head room slightly.
An automatic tailgate should probably be standard on a wagon that will cost about $35,000 drive-away before options, but Skoda has thought about pretty much everything else for the boot.
Aside from being a large boot for the segment (588 litres), there’s a reversible (carpet/plastic) cargo floor mat, cargo blind, cargo net, six tie-down points, four fold-out hooks, small and large side-storage straps, 12-volt socket (with another in the cabin console bin), and removable LED torch.
There are also release levers to lower the 60-40 seatbacks and expand cargo space to 1718L. It’s just a shame they leave a large step when folded rather than creating a flat floor.
Regular Octavia models like the Sport continue to employ a more basic torsion-beam rear suspension, whereas RS models follow the Golf route with a fully independent multi-link set-up.
Combined with the firm damping of the lowered sports suspension, the Octavia Sport Wagon’s ride can be busy, and occupants will be aware when the Skoda’s wheels pass over cat's eyes and road joins, for example.
It’s not an unduly uncomfortable ride, however, and it’s less tiring than you might initially imagine on longer country drives. And there’s a bonus in the way the suspension minimises bouncing on particularly bumpy bitumen.
Body lean is also kept largely in check, and the Octavia Sport Wagon generally provides a decent level of dynamic ability for its class, or those not requiring the more focused approach supplied by RS versions.
The brakes modulate nicely and the steering offers plenty of smooth accuracy – with useful weight, if not actual feel, added with the Sport mode that’s another feature of the Tech Pack.
Sport mode also hastens the response of the Skoda’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo engine. Throttle response is generally good in normal driving, but it’s not uncommon to experience some mild lag at lower revs. The DSG auto shares some of the guilt – not entirely free of the low-speed hesitancy issues that have blighted these dual-clutch transmissions over the years.
The engine maintains good refinement even at higher revs, where it’s happy to be, even though the best performance is found in the middle of the rev range.
A 0–100km/h time of 8.3 seconds also pips a Golf Wagon with the same engine by three-tenths, while fuel economy also betters the Volkswagen: 5.2 litres per 100km versus 5.6L/100km.
That it also offers a fair few more features than the equivalent Golf Wagon (including adaptive cruise control), the 110TSI Comfortline, for just $710 extra is indicative of the Octavia’s strong value.
It also comes with a longer warranty (five years) and is cheaper to service. A three-year servicing pack costs $1150 or there’s a five-year pack for $2250 – saving nearly $500 over the Golf Wagon in both cases.