The Skoda Octavia has been a mainstay of the Czech brand's presence in Australia since it returned in 2007.
It will be joined by the smaller Rapid in 2013, with the Octavia itself replaced by a next-generation model the same year.
Until then, the Octavia remains a model that straddles the small car and medium car segments in size and price.
The Octavia starts at $24,990 for the 90TSI model we tested.
The 1.4 litre TSI engine delivers 200 Newton-metres of good old fashioned pulling power, from 1500-4000rpm, and that’s more than enough for this family chariot to feel like a fun, if not, sporty car to drive.
Proportionally, the Octavia wagon looks like a large vehicle, but once you’re comfortably nestled in behind the wheel, it feels like you’re steering nothing bigger than a Volkswagen Golf, such are the dynamics and versatility of this engine and the progressive way the car puts the power down. It's also quiet inside the cabin, but with just the right dose of engine note, when you have cause to prod the right pedal.
My first test car was fitted with only one option, the DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) 7-speed transmission, and what a treat this piece of technology is. Super smooth shifts, with almost no loss of power between those shifts.
Of course, you don’t have to buy an Octavia wagon, for many, the Octavia Liftback would be the better choice although, few would argue that it’s not as visually appealing as the wagon. What Skoda calls the ‘Liftback’ is actually a hatch, but the clever design makes it look like a traditional sedan with a boot and what a boot it is, the word ‘huge’ comes to mind.
It’s been a while since I climbed aboard a Skoda Octavia, and the first thing you notice is that rock solid prestige ‘thud’ when you close the door. Even in this base model, you can’t help feel that you’re sitting in a premium marque and it sure is a nice place to be.
It’s not about any one feature, it’s the whole package, from the quality plastics and materials, the superbly bolstered and comfortable seats (which you would expect to find in a proper Euro sports car), together with a first class ride quality.
Even the steering wheel is a thick rimmed, leather bound, sports style tiller, with easy to use remote audio controls. There’s also cruise control, power windows and remote central locking as standard kit, as well as a full inventory of active and passive safety features.
Driving down into the Galston Gorge in Sydney’s Berowra Valley, there were plenty of hairpins and quick corners to test the handling of the 90TSI, and it didn’t disappoint. Turn in is accurate and the steering is quick to respond, while body roll is non-existent at the speed limit, even in the wagon. This thing feels very planted on the road.
Skoda, like its big sister brand Volkswagen, have always had the Midas touch when it comes to suspension tuning. While the Octavia’s ride is suitably firm to combat any hint of lean in the bends, it's always complaint, ironing out potholes and bumps on the worst of our tarmac.
Forward and side vision is good too, there's plenty of window depth around the Octavia, despite the rather thick A, B, and C pillars, which clearly add to the structural rigidity of the car.
On my return journey back to the airport, I hopped into the $24,990 entry model 90TSI with a six-speed manual transmission, which I was more than ready to rule out given how easy the DSG box is to live with.
How wrong could I have been, and precisely the reason why test-driving different variants is mandatory before making that final purchase decision.
I seriously doubt there exists a smoother, more slippery manual transmission than what Skoda have employed in the Octavia 90TSI. This car puts the fun back into the daily drive. Slipping into any one of the six gear ratios requires fingertip shift effort only, while the sheer smoothness of each gear change, makes for an incredibly enjoyable driving experience. Would I take the manual version over the DSG? The short answer is, yes.
The other good news in the Octavia stable is the addition of SatNav on the 118TSI and 103TDI variants as standard equipment. That alone, is a saving of $2590 off the previous iteration.
The RS gets the SatNav too and also picks up another useful piece of standard fit technology in the Extended Electronic Differential Lock (XDL).
Skoda has loads of potential especially in Australia, with sales this year up 50 percent on 2009 numbers. That means around 1800 new Skoda club members for 2010 and the Octavia model range will be a big part of that sales drive.
The biggest problem Skoda has here in Australia, after supply, is getting folks to at least visit a Skoda dealer. Once they test drive the cars, dealers report a one in five success rate, which is not at all surprising, given the value for money proposition this marque represents.
There are currently twenty-four Octavia variants to choose from in Australia, from $24,990 for the 90TSI Liftback with the six-speed manual transmission, through to the halo car, the Octavia RS Wagon with DSG for $43,790.