When I was searching for a new car in 2015, a number of the small car regularly reared their heads as potential options. The Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf were the leading contenders with their above-average cabins. During my search however I happened upon the Skoda Octavia.
I had previously seen an Octavia in a Skoda dealership in Adelaide and was unimpressed – the 2013/14 base model Ambition lacked cabin ambience, especially next to the Golf it was situated next to. However for MY15, Skoda added a 5.0-inch touchscreen that significantly enhanced the cabin when combined with the comfort pack (adding a centre armrest amongst other things). This all combined to place the Octavia on my radar.
In the end it was the Octavia's combination of price and practicality that had me leaving a Skoda dealership in Brisbane with a new car. The Octavia was priced competitively against the small car segment while offering significantly more room in wagon form than the competition.
Safety credentials were looked after with a good amount of airbags, though the Octavia lacked electronic aids such as blind-spot assist at the Ambition trim-level. With the Comfort Pack optioned, The Octavia had cruise-control, a rear-view camera and rear sensors – all items ranging from “nice-to-have” to “downright essential”. The car looked good, and the cabin though a bit dour was very comfortable and spacious. The boot was absolutely cavernous.
Over the two years I owned my Octavia, it impressed in a number of ways. The Ambition's basic cloth seats were surprisingly comfortable – I managed a trip from Brisbane to Sydney with only a couple of stops and no real discomfort over the 12 hours or so the drive took.
The sound system (upgraded to eight speakers with the Comfort Pack) was surprisingly decent for a base model small car and the boot swallowed everything thrown at it.
A non-RS Octavia is never going to win any awards for dynamics but the car acquits itself well in the city and even out in the country. The 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine is surprisingly punchy despite the modest 103kW power output – particularly when placed in sports mode and allowed to rev more freely. Overtaking has always been a breeze unless heavily laden (see: Brisbane to Sydney) and the car never struggled for power around hills.
The DSG is a star performer while on the move, however around town it certainly has its issues. The delay from stop with Volkswagen Group's dual-clutch gearboxes has been noted in nearly every article on a VW/Skoda car so I don't need to harp on about that here suffice to say that it is surprisingly manageable and you definitely get used to it. That doesn't make it ideal, though.
Another annoying aspect of the DSG is I sometimes found it wanted to sit a gear higher than needed. While this is likely to assist fuel efficiency, it is unendingly frustrating to exit a roundabout in fourth gear when third would be pushing it. It leads to a hefty delay as the car figures out it needs to shift down to put more power to the wheels. This can sometimes occur during overtaking as well, however I primarily found it a problem at roundabout exits.
The interior is generally quite dull, though very well thought out. The centre armrest is well-sized for a small car, the door pockets are large and two cupholders are essential when passengers are in the car (oh how I miss two cupholders). I found the chilled glove-box to largely be a gimmick. Rear passengers are taken care of well with rear air vents and a fold-out armrest with (again) two cupholders.
The infotainment system is simple with no Carplay or Android Auto, though generally it performs very well. Bluetooth is easy to pair, phone calls are clear and Bluetooth audio is generally hitch-free. The boot is, as mentioned, huge. With seats down you can transport damn near anything and the two-sided rubber/carpet boot mat is excellent.
I found the Skoda dealership to be easy to deal with, and the car came with reasonable ownership credentials. Resale even proved decent enough given Skoda's reputation for depreciation values. Fuel efficiency over two yeas generally averaged in the low 5L/100km range on the highway and 7-8L/100km in the city. Unfortunately I found good fuel economy was largely offset by the need to use 95RON fuel.
Despite all the positives of the car, all good things come to an end. While the Skoda was an excellent practical run-about, after I sold my motorcycle earlier this year I just needed a car with a bit more... dynamism. Regardless of me moving on from my Octavia, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the car to anybody looking for a family wagon. That said, if you've got the cash, get the RS version.