Skoda created nothing short of a sensation when it launched the Octavia in India back in 2000. The Mark I Octavia came to India at a time when the only real luxury car present was a Mercedes E-class, and its combination of size, build quality, price and incredible fuel economy meant customers made a beeline for it. And Skoda hasn’t looked back since.
Today, 12 years down the road, the company has five distinct model lines on sale here, and though not all of them are resounding successes, the Rapid, Superb and to some extent the Laura have sold in sufficiently large numbers. Look closely at the success these cars have enjoyed and an interesting trend emerges. Both give you an incredible amount of space and size for the money and Skoda now, logically, wants to apply this simple but very effective formula for success to the new Octavia.
Built on VW’s new MQB variable platform that allows for almost infinite variations in length, wheelbase and width, the new Octavia is 90mm longer and 45mm wider than the Laura. The wheelbase now stands at 2686mm, and that is just shy of the one used for the VW Passat.
As a result, the new Octavia is likely to set the benchmark for interior space. Climb into the car and the feeling of spaciousness is what appeals to you first. And this is especially true of the rear seat, which feels almost as spacious as that of a Mercedes E-class. The seat back is perfectly angled, support for your lower and upper back is really good, and legroom is huge. The seat squab is a bit short, which may detract from thigh support to some extent though. Skoda has, however, softened the seat cushioning considerably; the seats are much more comfortable and not extra hard as on the Laura.
The fit and finish on the inside has also been stepped up. Seams are almost invisible, the quality of plastics is improved for the most part, and the neat and simple design of the dash is quite appealing.
Skoda’s new design language is clearly visible on the new Octavia. Sharper, cleaner and more technical, the SK371 (its internal codename) has also been designed to have a long shelf life. The detailing is fatigue free, the bold, confident lines on the bonnet give the snout a chiselled look, and the kick up towards the end of the rear door gives the car a new identity. And this is an Octavia, so it gets a hatch at the rear and an incredible 590 litres of boot space. LED tail-lights, drawn out in the shape of a ‘C’ of course, complete the look, which without a shadow of doubt looks as clean-cut and fresh as anything from Audi.
The new Octavia is also full of new and interesting safety systems. There’s a lane assistant that warns you if you stray out of your lane, an automatic braking system that helps you avoid multiple collisions, a fatigue detection system and up to nine airbags. There’s adaptive cruise control, an intelligent light assistant that switches automatically between low and high beams, and traffic sign recognition as well.
The Octavia III is also around 85kg lighter than the old model thanks to the use of higher-strength steels, and this impacts both performance and economy. Lower-powered Octavia models will get a lower-spec beam axle rear suspension, which, though not as dynamically adept as an independent setup, also happens to save another 16kg of weight.
The new Octavia is expected to hit Indian shores by the middle of this year. Though the car has a much larger footprint, prices are expected to be even more competitive than they are now (the Laura currently starts at Rs 12.9 lakh for the 1.8 TSI). The EA888 1.8 TSI engine will be upgraded and will now make around 175bhp in India. There will also be a new automatic version that is sure to attract a whole new set of customers. The base petrol, however, will be a 140bhp version of the 1.4 TSI, the engine seen on the VW Jetta, and is likely to be even more affordable. As earlier, there will also be two diesel versions. Both will use the same 2.0-litre TDI engine, but power outputs could be upped to 120 and 150bhp, respectively. Other engine options for the future include a 105bhp 1.6 diesel and possibly a 200-plus-bhp petrol vRS version, which could hit a top speed of 250kph. A diesel vRS is also likely to make it to Indian shores later.
Skoda is keen to kick start sales of the new Octavia in India and it is pretty bullish on the prospects of the new car. And that’s despite the fact that the segment it competes in is shrinking. However, after getting up close and personal with the car, we have to say it looks like Skoda is onto yet another potential winner. The car appears to be just what Indian car buyers want.