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The Honest John Road Test  

Skoda Octavia Estate 2013 Road Test

Whether it's new or used, hatch or estate, the Skoda Octavia is a perennial favourite among readers of this site.

We saw a flurry of interest for the hatchback at the start of the year and now the popular carry-all estate is starting to appear in showrooms.

The Octavia estate first appeared in 2006, with the second generation model and quickly picked up a following with big families looking for something large enough to cope with the demands of buggies and bags, while the cavernous load area and fold-flat seats meant many professionals could run an Octavia estate instead of a small van.

And Skoda isn't done here, the wraps come off the sporty vRS versions at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed, while a jacked-up Scout model will be added to the range by the end of the year.

But for now the focus is on this new smart-looking estate, which is a refinement of the formula that has served it so well for the past seven years. Like the Octavia hatchback, it's much sharply-styled than before, with more of a Volkswagen or Audi look to it and distinctive C-shaped rear lights.

First up, though, is that load area, which for this type of car it's really impressive. There's 1740 litres of space with the seats down, 610 litres with the seats up and plenty of cubbyholes throughout the car. This time round Skoda has turned the practicality up a notch and thought about those small touches that make a difference to everyday life. That means that the sill sits lower for easier access, there's a foldable front passenger seat to allow loading of long items (up to 2920mm in length), an underfloor boot compartment and a one-touch seat-fold lever in the boot that eliminates the need for clambering over the seats to fold them down. Talking of seats, there's plenty of space in the back for two fully grown adults and getting in and out of the car is easy thanks to big doors and the car sitting lower to the ground than before.

Inside, the car's dash is identical to the Octavia hatchback, which is very good news. It's stylish with an upmarket look and feel and represents a real step-change to the cabin of the old car. Of particular note are the materials that have been used. Whereas in the old car it felt very workmanlike, there's more of a flair to the new Octavia, with a more interesting mix of colours and textures and a new steering wheel. There's better refinement on the move, too, thanks to better insulation from wind, road and engine noise.

The much-improved refinement comes as no surprise as it's something we've seen from all Volkswagen Group cars that have been spun-off the new MQB platform, including the new Audi A3 and SEAT Leon. That new platform also translates into a better driving experience, and area where the old Octavia felt a bit stodgy. It may not as pleasing to drive as the Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3 or SEAT Leon, but it is geared more towards comfort, which means a good ride and the ability to munch up motorway miles without any fuss. As many Octavia Estates are pressed into mega-mile motorway work, that added comfort and refinement will be very welcome indeed.

Oc C_028

Twisty backroads aren't really Octavia's thing. While the steering is reasonably well weighted and there's good body control in bends, it always feels as though the car is much happier to be travelling at a more stately pace. It's telling that Octavia misses out on the XDS system, that you'll find on Golf and Leon (this allows the wheels to turn at different speeds and can slightly brake an inside wheel in a corner while sending more power to the outside wheel), but we so expect it to put in an appearance on the VRS.

There are no surprises with the engine line-up – all have featured in a wide range of cars throughout the Volkswagen Group, including the Octavia hatchback. The entry-level 1.2 TSI comes in at 105ps and 175Nm of torque. Whereas this engine is fine for the hatch, it's touch-and-go whether it's too small for the estate. On the motorway and at cruising speeds, it isn't too much of an issue, but when it comes to hillier terrain, it can really be left wanting and regular gearchanges are needed. A full load in the back will only make matters worse.

A better bet is the 1.4 TSI with 140PS, which is available in higher specs. It gets a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and offers a far peppier drive.

Most buyers will opt for one of the two diesels. The 105 1.6-litre TDI grabs the headlines for being 99g/km as a manual and therefore exempt from road tax. With 250Nm of torque available from just 1500rpm, it pulls sweetly and has plenty in reserve for overtaking – much more so that the 1.2-litre TSI petrol with the same power output. It is rather on the noisy side, though, especially at start-up and we'd be surprised if you could get close to the Combined consumption figure of 74.3 mpg that's being quoted.

The 2.0-litre TDI with 150PS is perceptibly more quiet and refined and at 1600kg offers the best towing weight of any Octavia Estate. Both the 1.6-litre diesel and 2.0-litre can be specified with four-wheel drive, which combined with winter tyres make them a good choice if you live in a more remote area.

When it comes to suspension set-ups, petrol-engined cars with more than 140PS and TDI models with more than 150PS get a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension rather than the torsion beam on lower powered cars. This means better handling in corners and a firmer ride but it's still supple.

Octavia stopped being 'cheap' some time ago now, but that doesn't mean that it isn't good value for money. Prices start at £16,790 for the 1.2-litre S and kick-on to £22,390 for the 2.0 TDI 150PS DSG 4x4. Prices have crept up, but the payoff is a much higher quality product and a greater level of standard equipment. Top models have up to £5300 worth of equipment than before. 

Standard on all cars are alloy wheels, Bluetooth, DAB radio, a leather steering wheel, daytime running lights, hill hold, a touchscreen stereo system plus a USB port for connecting iPods. On the safety side there's ESC on all models and seven airbags.

It's on sale from 21 June 2013 and won't be short of buyers looking for a practical fuss-free estate that's been improved in almost every respect. 

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