The Skoda Octavia wagon is a compromise car. A car for people who want more than a compact hatch, but not the excess of a medium SUV. It's for people who want space without giving up features, and efficiency without giving up practicality.
Octavias start at $23,490 drive away. Add $1,500 for the wagon body and $2,300 for a dual-clutch auto and you have all the space most families need for a few grand less than a medium SUV. Or looking another way, you can get a mid-spec Octavia for about the same price as a stripper medium sedan or SUV.
The Ambition Plus wagon manual reviewed here has been superseded by a revised 2016 model with an additional seven kilowatts, start-stop system, rear-view camera, and a new batch of infotainment systems with improved connectivity. The key qualities, however, remain the same.
The interior is a pleasant, if plain, place to spend time. Interior design is simple and a little dark, but it will age well. The optional panoramic sunroof covers brightens the interior, entertains the kids (they especially like watching the rain), and features a powered shade. Materials are generally high quality, with tight, consistent gaps. Auxiliary controls are well-damped with a pleasant action, but several blanked buttons remind you that Skoda has saved some pennies. The climate knobs are devoid of the scratchy plastic resistance that makes other cars feel cheap. I especially like the knurled rollers on the steering wheel, though I find the wheel rim to be a little fat for comfort. At least it's covered in leather and adjusts for reach and rake. Exterior design, like the interior, is handsome but lacks flair. The car doesn't stand out, but will still be handsome in ten years.
The front seats are comfortable over long trips with plenty of adjustment, including height and lumbar. The rear seat is firm, but as I learned on a week away at Kangaroo Island, it is spacious enough for an adult, a child, and a baby in a car seat. The huge boot (588L/1718L) managed to take a week's worth of clothes, food, and baby stuff, though just barely. An effective A/C with rear floor and console vents helps to keep the climate mild, and the engine starts warming the interior after only a few blocks.
The 5.8 inch Bolero infotainment system with optional Canton audio is clean and clear, but the sub-woofer could use a little more oomph. Several different inputs (CD, Aux, Bluetooth, USB, and SD) give you options for your music. A 32Gb SD card allows me to take weeks worth of music. I love the proximity sensor that brings buttons up as your finger approaches the screen. It makes more sense on a navigation equipped car, but it's still a fun novelty.
103kW from the direct-injection 1.4L turbo doesn't sound like much, but with 250Nm of torque arriving at just 1500 rpm, it will pull a full load up a hill in top gear with nary a complaint. A claimed 0-100kph time of 8.6 seconds places it towards the front of the mid-size pack and I average about 6.5L/100km (official combined is 5.7) in everyday city driving. With some effort I can get that down into the high 4s, but the fuel savings are offset by the need for premium. The engine itself is smooth and quiet. It has a diesel clatter from the outside, but a pleasant growl inside.
Major controls are in keeping with its family conveyance role. The steering is smooth and light, but lacks feel. There is a resistance just off center, but it's only prominent in cross-winds. If I'm honest with myself, I don't really need to feel every camber change on my way to the shops. What I do end up feeling is bumps, potholes, and cracks. Another, fortunately infrequent, example of cost cutting, the torsion beam rear-end transmits impacts into the cabin at urban speeds, but settles down on the highway and does a decent job isolating course vibrations. The leather gear knob is pleasant to hold even if the six-speed gearbox is notchy. I'm just happy Skoda still offers a manual option on a mid-size car. Could it be the last? Even better, I didn't have to settle for a poverty model just because I wanted to shift myself.
The Octavia is a compromise car. It may not be what I wanted (Renault Clio RS) or what my wife wanted (Mazda CX-5), but we both feel we've won.