For Skoda, the Octavia is no ordinary car. Over a decade ago, this was the car that introduced the Czech carmaker and with it, the Volkswagen group to India. It was a runaway success then, and showed that India had an appetite for proper European cars. Its successor Laura did not enjoy the same success, but many blame that on its nomenclature, which lends itself to slanging in north India. Finding itself at a crossroads in India, Skoda has given the Octavia a dusting and introduced its third generation, after a 3-year hiatus. It is strictly not a new car, but Skoda has a lot riding on it. Will it deliver?
Looks: mature, evolved
The Octavia was never flamboyant, and things have not changed much. It has evolved a bit, so while the headlamps and signature Skoda grille stay more or less the same, there is an aggression about it, borne from the sharp lines and larger size. Four creases on the bonnet give a muscular effect, and the strong shoulder along the sides, a feel of solidity. What disappoints is the rear which, except for the larger overhang, is not very different from with the smaller and cheaper Rapid.
Interiors: best boot in class
European cars are known for high quality interiors. The Octavia has a simple dashboard in dual-tone black and beige set off by a touch-screen media interface in the middle (in the top-end variants). The effect is not as jaw-dropping as the Elantra (which perhaps goes a little overboard) but is highly functional. The seats are supportive and the steering wheel chunky. Rear leg room has gone up manifold, and seating three adults at the rear is no longer a problem. The boot, at nearly 600 litres, is head and shoulders above rivals. Bring the notchback boot lid and split rear seats into play, and the space goes up even further: good to fit all your camping and hiking gear.
Performance: petrol growls louder
The Indian market has a pronounced diesel bias, and Skoda does have a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine, but the company has given a bonus by way of a pair of high-revving fun-to-drive petrol siblings: 1.4-litre manual-transmission only, and a 1.8-litre 7-speed dual-clutch automatic only. The diesel versions are offered in manual as well as automatic transmissions.
The pick of the lot is the 1.8-litre petrol version, which is the most rev-happy and has the best acceleration — a proper driver’s car that urges you to floor the pedal. The diesel engine offers more grunt than the Elantra or the Cruze, but the turbo lag is telling on short winding roads or start-stop traffic situations.
Ride and handling are impeccable, and it is stable curves with minimal body roll. The low 155 mm ground clearance does not make itself felt.
Gripes? Paddle shifts on the automatic transmission could have made the drive more fun.
Without doubt, if you are the driver, the Octavia is the car to have in this segment. It offers punch, looks good and is not stingy on features. Even if you have a chauffeur, the generous room at the rear will keep you happy. However, there is a catch: the new Octavia is no longer as affordable as way back in 2001. It has a starting price of Rs. 14 lakh now, going up to Rs. 20 lakh — significantly more than an Elantra or Cruze, which also sport hefty discounts. The performance and technology do compensate the premium, but we wish we could say the same about Skoda’s after-sales service.
Next week: Nissan Terrano