If Aldi ever made a car, the Skoda Octavia would be it.
Sitting in its market segment as an outsider, the brand has been slowly working its way into the consciousness of the buying public. Slowly is accurate too. The Mazda 3 outsold Skoda’s entire range by 3000 for the month of June.
Happily, due to the ever-improving products, you feel like you’re ahead of the curve somehow. A bit different. And, like with Aldi, more and more converts are certain.
I am one of those new converts. I purchased a 2017 Octavia RS wagon a few months ago.
Like most buyers, I delved into the option packages with the sort of gusto children use at an ice cream shop. My RS has sprinkles, caramel and the Flake. More on that later though.
The exterior of the car isn't a striking design with blackout features, but the crisp lines with a superb DRL strip add some zing to its road presence. I however, found the Octavia became better to look at as time went on, and the 19-inch wheels shod with Pirelli P Zero tyres offer an abundance of grip and look like they were styled by a kidnapped Lamborghini designer under threat of nasty death.
The overall effect is a sports wagon for discerning adults.
The interior is stark, but utterly functional and a place that grows on you instead of impresses with glitz. The plastics are mostly quality and everything feels very solid, almost Germanic. Most of the electrics and switchgear are lifted from the current Golf, as is the way with anything on VW's MQB box of bits.
This is great news as previous Skodas always lagged a generation behind when it came to their platform. There is definite quality to this switchgear, and it isn't a surprise to find the same parts in any current Audi.
The seats are comfy, if not especially laterally supportive, the steering wheel has a meaty feel and the general ambiance is of a Korean car but with more dignity.
Given Skoda's motto is 'Simply Clever' you'd expect the little removable bin and phone holder thing but you'll use the reversible boot floor and luggage hooks most of all.
The legroom in the backseat is a lesson to airlines and although the seats don’t fold flat, the space in the wagon version is more than cavernous.
The engine is the 162kW, 350Nm 2.0-litre TFSI with the six-speed DSG 'box which, together, perform superbly the majority of the time.
On cold starts the 'box can be a little jerky, and you can catch it out at Give Way signs, but I'd dump that criticism at the foot of the awful stop-start system. The system turns the engine off just before the car stops to try and be smooth. It is hysterically terrible and I wonder how many starter motors Skoda plans to ransom later.
If you are really going for it, the DSG sometimes feels like it could use an extra gear, but this is more an observation rather than a direct criticism.
The engine can easily overpower any tyres on brisk take-off and uncouth axle tramp becomes tiresome but the trade is a phenomenal wave of delicious torque mid-range. The car simply surges forth and it makes highway overtakes an eye-widening pleasure. You won’t win any traffic light ‘events’ but you will get the overtake or the traffic gap gold. Which is more in line with the grown-up nature of the car. It does beg the question; how good would it be with AWD?
Thanks to the IRS on up-spec Octavias, the handling is a testament to the MQB architecture and it's a huge amount of secure, stable, fun. Turn-in is predictable once the lane-assisted spooky steering feel is turned off, and the grip afforded by the Pirelli P Zeros is impressive.
Mid-corner bumps are dealt with superbly and the damping is – to me – bang on. Road roar on coarse roads can intrude given the tyres have the thickness of a rubber band, but it's a small price to pay for the grip.
Now to the trade-offs. Money. This particular cut price VW isn't cut price. While the base RS is sensibly $44,590, becoming silly with the tick boxes adds several thousand rather fast. Still, it's less than an equivalent Golf by a noticeable amount and the options combine to make a very liveable wagon.
The power boot ($500) is rather excellent, as is the large touchscreen with its swipe-scroll feature. However, the voice control and being intuitive are mutually exclusive. Mercifully, Apple CarPlay or Andriod Auto render the in-built entertainment system redundant.
Other new technology includes the forward collision alert, which seems to be able to detect ghosts. This sounds alarming and it is. The first time the car slams its own brakes on is quite an alert.
Radar cruise control impresses as does the panoramic roof which lifts the interior ambiance way beyond its cost ($1900).
This car also has keyless go, lane assist, Canton audio and self-parking ability as part of the $1700 tech pack, with the Comfort Pack adding heated leather seats all round (electric at the front), power folding and dimming mirrors, and a memory key system for $1900.
Metallic paint added $500 and those 19-inch wheels are part of a $1000 ‘Black Package’.
As a market outsider, you’d expect a lot less from the Octavia RS, especially if – like me – you wandered over from the VW dealer with a Golf GTI sales brochure in hand.
The Octavia RS however, with its comfort, extreme space, value and equipment was an easy conversion to make. Especially since those luggage hooks work a treat with Aldi shopping bags.