Three years and 85,000km into the life of this car, I finally think I'm ready to owner-review it. What is it? A 2015 MY16 Skoda Octavia Ambition Plus six-speed manual with a couple of options.
I should start that it took me over 12 months to research and eventually purchase this particular model. I'd like to think that this isn't uncommon for Skoda owners. I'd like to think that because it somewhat justifies the many hours spent online and at dealerships.
My previous car was basically the same car – an MY11 90TSI manual. I was reasonably happy with that car, plus the little issues I had seemed to be addressed – mostly the lacklustre performance with the 90TSI engine. So after comparing and driving most of the competitors in this pricepoint, I soon realised nothing could tick as many boxes. I opted for the Tech Pack and added a power tailgate, metallic paint, 18-inch wheels, and Smartlink. I managed to get all this for almost exactly $30K – $2K less than the previous model. Kicking goals already.
Initial impressions were positive. The performance of the 110TSI engine in a car that lost a significant amount of weight is noteworthy. The low-down torque still surprises a lot of people. One particular guy was convinced I re-badged an RS to make a sleeper. I hadn't.
Space was an obvious plus too. A few little tweaks not only made the boot bigger, but also more practical. I used to fit two adult bicycles stacked inside the MY11 if you planned where the handlebars ended up. Now, it's pretty easy to fit them in without too much thought. Or maybe I'm just getting better at it?
I should say, though, this is no Falcondore. The boot might be as big, but the cabin width will hurt if you're travelling with five adults. So will your behind. The front seats are poor. The support is lacking, the shape is basic, and the materials are questionable: 85,000km shouldn't be enough to notice a flattening of the outside of the cushion. From what I can gather, the RS units are light-years better. Oh, and don’t bother with the power tailgate. It's $500 you could spend elsewhere.
The biggest improvement over the old model is the technology. Smartlink is great. It isn't perfect, but great is, well, great. I haven't used the Tech Pack-included navigation pack since first plugging the phone in (I haven't driven much outside of mobile range, though). The steering wheel controls are pretty good, and they seem to have a good mix of enough buttons without getting too crazy-busy.
The touchscreen is okay. Don't try to use too much of it while driving at speed, as you may end up testing the Skoda Front Assist with City Emergency Brake. The Smartlink voice control will do almost everything you would use the screen for anyway. Use that instead.
The dash has everything you need, and nothing you don't. It's (cliché warning) simply clever. Nice airbags in a $30K car is exceptional. Period. A little too exceptional if you ask Skoda apparently, because the only way to get nine and a manual now is to buy the RS.
Now on to a point that initially confused me – fuel economy. Full disclosure, I'm almost a hypermiler. I returned mid 5L/100km in the MY11. A car that was ADR rated at 6.7L/100km. The new unit is rated at 5.5L/100km, so I was expecting high fours to low fives this time around. Nope. Still mid fives. No change.
Why? Well, I can only conclude that VAG got better at passing the test rather than actually making the cars more efficient. I have no proof and sample size of one, so it's not exactly science. And let's face it, mid fives in a car that will take two adult bicycles, do 8.2sec 0–100km/h, and still have nine airbags is still pretty damn good. Like I said, ticks a lot of boxes.
Ticks a lot of boxes, just not all perfectly. The right-hand-drive conversion was clearly a cost-cutting measure this time around. The handbrake and bonnet release are left on the left. But for me, the biggest killer was the killing of the accelerator dead pedal. For something so small and cheap, it's the biggest annoyance I have comparing the old and new model. I use cruise control all the time and struggle to find a comfortable spot for my right foot/leg. The old dead pedal was perfect. I'm wiping tears thinking about it.
And while we're on the subject of the cruise control, the adaptive cruise control (ACC) is brilliant. And not. It works and performs brilliantly for most situations. Just remember to hover your foot over the throttle, or get ready to turn it off, if you approach a turning lane (with stopped cars in it) that is in your direct line of sight – i.e. your lane curves around the turning lane. Because if you're not ready for it, the car will slam the brakes on – not cool Skoda.
I wish you could switch between ACC and normal CC. ACC for the open highways and normal CC around town. On the plus side, I love how the ACC won't turn off if you're going through the gears. It simply stops accelerating while you're changing gears and starts again when you release the clutch. Bravo Skoda.
Now it seems I've brought up the elephant in the room. I didn't buy, nor will I probably ever buy, a DSG. Firstly, the VAG manual is brilliant. Considering the equivalent manual is usually $2–3K cheaper – go to NZ with your savings! Then consider the DSG itself. The reliability is a topic for another day (I personally think most of the issues stemmed from the dry-clutch DQ200). That aside, they are far from perfect. I have completed about 10K in a 147kW Jetta and a current-model DSG RS, so I think I'm partly qualified to comment.
Full throttle and grandma throttle, it works great. Everything else is not good. Especially for drivers like myself who do both. How can a gearbox get confused what gear it wants/needs? Please fix this VAG. So I bought a manual. No regrets. A clutch really isn't that hard to operate. Plus, saving a few hundred dollars come service time increases my smugness too.
Oh, speaking of which, my local Skoda service centre, Cricks Skoda on the Sunshine Coast, have been pretty good. I was a service advisor a few years ago, so I know the tricks they play. So far so good. They replaced both leaky tailgate struts without complaint. Although they tried and somewhat failed to fix a vibrating centre speaker that only occurs in cars equipped with Premium Sound. Next service maybe?
Putting Bridgestone Potenza S001s on a car at this price is spectacular, until you need to replace them. Be sitting for that phone call.
I think that covers my experience. Overall, I'm very happy, I do not regret buying the car, and I don't believe anything else has been released since that can come close to matching it for box ticks.
Would I buy another? Don’t know yet. The warranty still has almost two years left on it, so I’ll probably start researching after that. That depends on if Skoda decides to release a 4x4 manual Karoq – I’m not holding my breath. I’ll let you know in 2022.
A Note from the Editor: A stock image has been supplied with this review