2004 Skoda Octavia

2004 Skoda Octavia - www.robson.m3rlin.org

The Škoda Octavia is a large family car produced by Czech automaker Škoda Auto since 1996, its name revived from a model originally produced between 1959 and 1971. The current Octavia is available in five-door liftback and estate body styles. A common misconception is that the Octavia is a saloon due to its long boot. However in some markets (such as China) the Octavia is configured as a saloon.

The 1998 Octavia was responsible for kick-starting Skoda’s turnaround in the UK. When you look at sales today – 1.5% of the UK market, and rising – history will look upon it fondly. Based on the VW Golf platform (Skoda’s owned by the German giant), it was perceived as a bigger car than rivals such as the Ford Focus and Peugeot 307, thanks to a healthy rear overhang which yielded an enormous boot. Rear passengers often questioned this perception though. But, so able was it, and so well-priced, it’s since sold 60,000 units in the UK, and helped transform Skoda from the butt of jokes to one of the car buying public’s most well-respected makes. This all-new car, based on the latest Golf platform, aims to push things further, up to 15,000 per year, as the brand continues to gain respect.

2004 Skoda Octavia - www.robson.m3rlin.org

As before, the Octavia’s a family hatchback which straddles the lower ‘large family’ sector; it’s positioned between Focus and Mondeo. Yet with prices which undercut even the Focus. See why it sells so well? It’s perhaps moving out of the ultimate budget car bunch it’s previously been lumped with, but prices haven’t risen too steeply. Just enough to reflect the far greater quality over a Hyundai Elantra, or higher desirability than a Daewoo Nubira or Mitsubishi Carisma. Mainstream rivals are that bit more, unless you’re looking at Citroen’s Xsara. To be honest, we wouldn’t even bother.

Skoda buyers are sensible people who rate value for money highly. They’re also, increasingly, often professionals who like the brand’s ‘underground’ image and lack of pretension. The previous sporty vRS Octavia was hugely respected by those in the know, and often brought by people also considering VWs, MGs and Alfa Romeos. There’s a certain ‘cool’ to be seen in a Skoda, particularly as the only people who’ll sneer and laugh at you will be nincompoops.

2004 Skoda Octavia - www.robson.m3rlin.org

Using the new Golf platform, that’s also seen in the Audi A3 and Seat Altea, is a huge step for Skoda. It’s a base incorporating plenty of technology, but key is the multi-link independent rear suspension. This allows far finer tuning, and also secures the wheels more accurately under all conditions – both aiding handling, which is safe, secure and viceless. It feels more stable, like a much bigger car, and ride quality is superb, seeming to become more impressive as road conditions worsen. Steering is now lighter when parking and more accurate at speed, while the 1.9-litre TDI engine is punchy and less intrusive than before. It’s very torquey too, making for relaxing ‘go’ at most revs. Drivers of the old car will be pleased by the better gearchange, lower-set seats which are firmer and more supportive, plus a better stereo.

2004 Skoda Octavia - www.robson.m3rlin.org

Visually, it’s little-changed over the old car from the side and rear, and seems over-familiar. Only the nose is more radical, but even this draws heavily from before. The TDI engine also sounds familiar, for while it’s significantly quieter than the old TDI 90 engine, some rivals are more refined still. It’s a rather clattery noise, lacking the silkiness of the best. Brakes carry over the old car’s grabby pedal, while the degree of free travel before they bite is still there too. Space in the rear is better but still not vast, and the old car’s gargantuan space beneath the seats for feet has been lost. Steering is lacking in driver-pleasing feel too, but few will bother as it’s much more accurate. Same goes for the handling, which trades ride comfort for ultimate B-road thrills – it’s not that sort of car, but then neither is a Ford Focus, and that handles delightfully.

The interior of the new Octavia is a real class act, probably better-built than the new VW Golf. Coupled with a pleasing, grown-up and elegant design, it’s a big step forward which is extremely pleasing. What’s more, it’s useable too; all the (many) cubby holes are useful (some are air conditioned), the stubby gearlever and thick steering wheel feel good, the climate control systems are intuitive, only the stereo is confusing but even this is compensated for by good sound. ‘Classic’ models lack the chrome-effect detailing of posher variants though, which makes them look cheap. This car’s 1.9-litre TDI engine is extremely efficient (over 53mpg), if not yet Euro IV compatible (business users will grumble) and it’s well-stocked as standard, so expensive options don’t need to be fitted. Naturally, it’s on the ball for safety, with front and side airbags plus ABS standard. And service intervals are flexible, judged by the car’s computer and likely to mean stretched services for gentle drivers. More savings, on top of those residuals which are predicted to be healthy.

The Octavia is a very sensible car which should sell as well as Skoda predicts. It takes all the best parts of the new Golf – chassis, engines, general refinement – and adds extra space, equipment and, controversially, even better quality and ride comfort. For less money. As a rational purchase it makes so much sense, we’re sure we’d choose it over a Golf. The gripes we have, which include too-familiar, unadventerous styling and a lack of driver involvement, are not really all that important given the above bonuses. We’d buy it, bank the cash we’d save and be very happy indeed.

Scribbled on February 25th 2009 in Skoda, Skoda Octavia
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