It’s been a long time since we’ve driven a car
Instead there have been plenty of overweight,
gargantuan monsters that take up most of the road and drink and emit like the
term ‘global warming’ hadn’t been invented; cars that have exterior dimensions
that would suggest far more interior space than actually exists; and cars
stuffed so full of stupid gadgets that basics like ride and handling have been
But the Octavia RS wagon is a completely different
breed of machine. Nought to 100 km/h in a claimed 7.3 seconds – yet a combined
fuel economy in the government test of 7.9 litres/100km, a figure we often
bettered. A turbo 2-litre engine under the bonnet but the driving
characteristics – instant throttle response and excellent bottom-end grunt – of
a naturally aspirated 3 litre V6.
And a well-tuned one at that.
Load space that makes the area available for
luggage in many four-wheel drive wagons look as silly as it really is. Six
airbags, standard electronic stability control and tyre pressure monitoring.
And all at a price that is more than reasonable –
excluding the major question mark over resale value (Volkswagen-owned Skoda is a
brand effectively new to Australia), the AUD$39,490 looks positively cheap.
The Octavia is one of the two models that have
accompanied Skoda’s born-again introduction to Australia. Launched with a range
of engines and trim levels, the top-line Octavia RS uses a 147kW, direct
injected, turbo and intercooled petrol engine. And it’s not just any ol’ turbo
engine. Pinched from the Golf GTi, it feels even better in the Octavia with an
incredible amount of torque available from just off-idle. This is one car that
you can short-change at 2000 rpm every gear – and yet still get along quite
adequately. Country road hills that in almost all cars we’ve driven require a
down-change can be steamed up in the Octavia RS, sixth gear being held and
But when you want to go hard, take the engine to
the 6500 rpm redline and it sings easily all the way. Even idle quality is
superb, and the engine management mapping is so good that you can release the
clutch in third gear and trickle along with your foot off the throttle,
pulling away without a sign of a stutter or jerk when you apply more accelerator
The six-speed manual is quite short geared. This
and the immense torque output allows the gears to be picked almost at will – you
can change first-third-sixth, first-third-fifth-sixth, or down-change from sixth
to second for a roundabout. Basically, whatever you want to do, the
engine/gearbox combination will allow you to do it. This makes the Octavia’s
driveline a combination for almost anyone and any occasion – driving most
economically, keeping revs low and using the torque to waft you along; or
alternatively, revving the engine hard. Or anything in between.
Throttle response is excellent: in fact, combine
that with the available torque and lowish gearing and initially we found that
when cornering on the throttle, foot movements were insufficiently smooth. But
learning what the car can do takes only a little time, and then the response is
simply a delight. The standard Electronic Stability Control is superbly
calibrated and allows the driver to drift the car a little into understeer or
throttle-lift oversteer; the natural handling tendency is a hint of understeer
which makes the RS very easy to drive fast. Grip levels from the 225/40
Continental Sport Contact II tyres on 18 x 7.5 wheels are high and the damping
and springing firm. In flip-flop S-bends the car’s body is settled and the ride
is very seldom uncomfortable. However, the lowered suspension of the RS can
sometimes be caught short for travel on Australian roads and there is pronounced
tyre roar on coarse surfaces.
Brakes – they have red-painted calipers but are
otherwise apparently standard Octavia – are fine, with a light and progressive
The steering is altered a little over other
Octavias and is well-weighted and direct, although not nervous. However it does
retain some of that characteristic apparent in nearly all Audi/VW (and now
Skoda) products: a lack of intuitive feel of what the tyres are doing on the
Equipment inside is a mix that reflects Skoda’s
priorities – a lower price than other products in the Volkswagen family but
still retaining what is important. We think tyre pressure monitoring is an
excellent safety device; the fitment of six airbags is also praiseworthy. (The
Skoda Octavia has scored four stars in European crash testing but those cars
don’t have the standard curtain airbags of the Australian-delivered models.) The
seats have manual controls but the steering is height and reach adjustable. The
climate control system has dual temp zones and – unusually for a non-Australian
car in this price range – has rear vent outlets on the back of the centre
console. The air-conditioning is good.
Other equipment includes a 6-stack dashboard CD
radio (with MP3 and aux-input functionality), auto wipers, rear parking sensors,
heated sports seats and a part-leather interior.
However the centre-of-dash LCD darkens
considerably when viewed through polarising glasses and the headlights are poor
for Australian country conditions, with an abrupt low beam cut-off and
insufficient high beam penetration.
The Octavia RS wagon has been well designed as a
load carrier. The rear hatch opens high to show a space behind the rear seat
that is surprisingly large and is appropriately shaped to take big boxes. There
are a couple of lidded hidden storage compartments and the rear seat back
split-folds – the rear seat squabs can also be tumbled forwards to provide a
flatter (though still stepped) rear floor. Six tie-down hooks and a luggage net
are provided. A smaller-sized 205/55 spare wheel is located under the floor.
The front seats have very long runners: with these
positioned at the rearwards position, back seat knee room can suffer. However,
even with the seats forward a little, most front seat passengers will easily
have enough legroom. There are plenty of storage spaces around the cabin with
very large front door pockets and a lidded bin under the front passenger seat.
This underseat bin and the rear-of-console bin are two of the few indicators of
cost-cutting – their lids are insubstantial and would be more appropriate on a
$15,000 car. The front wheel arches intrude into the passenger area – this
squeezes the driving pedals together and offsets the front passenger’s footroom.
Build quality looked excellent with good paint,
consistent (although fairly wide) panel margins, superbly shutting doors and a
quality feel to the controls.
We found it exceedingly difficult to find major
criticisms of the RS. Perhaps some won’t like the bold grille (but we think the
styling as a whole has a cohesive elegance missing from many recent models - the
body design is a few years old and looks better for it!) but in terms of
practicality, ride & handling, performance, fuel economy and price, the RS
wagon has it made. It’s the perfect car for someone (perhaps now with a partner
and child) moving on from an Impreza WRX, others who want the practicality of a
medium sized wagon without losing anything in performance or handling, or even
an older and more conservative person who simply wants the available performance
for rapid and safe open-road overtaking without sacrificing anything in fuel
Truly a car for a lot of different people...
Sloda Octavia RS was made available for this review by Skoda Australia.
Octavia Elegance 2.0 FSI
So if we thought the Octavia RS an outstanding
car, how did the Octavia Elegance 2.0 FSI fare?
In short - not nearly as well.
The Elegance 2.0 sells for $35,290 and uses a
6-speed auto transmission and 110kW direct injection petrol engine. The engine
is okay - though certainly nothing special - but the trans is pretty awful. It
has manual and Sports modes, but when left alone it holds gears inappropriately,
can downchange with a terrible jerk, and as it's bolted to a relatively
torqueless engine, sometimes feels like it's going through ten gears, not
The match between the engine, trans and cruise
control is diabolically bad. With the cruise set to 100 km/h on an undulating
country road, actual speed varied by up to 15 km/h - the system accelerating
hard, over-shooting, backing off, under-shooting, accelerating hard.
But perhaps the biggest problem we had with the
test car was the way it had been optioned. Over standard it had a sunroof
($1730), navigation ($2890), front and rear parking sensors ($990), electric
driver seat with three memories ($1370), leather with front heated seats ($2830) - that's nearly ten grand of extras, taking the as-tested cost of the car to
around $46,000. And there is absolutely no way that the car was a forty-six
Also confusing the issue was the fitting of
(optional at even more dollars) sports suspension. While acceptable on the sporty RS, on the Elegance
the ride quality and tyre noise didn't match the luxury equipment. So with the
tyre noise, firm ride, poorly mapped trans and cruise control, this was a car
that never felt cohesive.
But what about the model without options? Body
packaging remains good (the boot space under the open hatch is exemplary) and -
even in non-optioned form - equipment level is high. However, the engine (that
incidentally requires 95 octane fuel) is uninspiring and the trans and cruise
control need immediate recalibration.