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Skoda Octavia II 2004 Road Test

Tue, 29 Jun 2004

Despite the huge fan club I never got on with the old Skoda Octavia. It always seemed to me to be a Passat body on a Golf floorpan overhanging both ends far too much.

Strange, because the Toledo is only half an inch shorter on the same wheelbase, but somehow contrives to look right to my eyes rather than wrong. So Spain always beat Czechoslovakia 2 to 1.

No aesthetic problems with the new Octavia. Despite being two and a half inches longer than the old one, it carries its length off much better. It’s a handsome, individual looking car with a distinctive front grille, and an air of quality.

We tried two versions, both diesels, first the 105PS 1.9 TDI PD, then the 140 PS 2.0 TDI 16v 6-speed.

The quality of the cabin impresses as much as the exterior. It’s solid, nicely put together using decent quality fabrics and plastics. Seat and steering wheel are adjustable in every plane apart from sideways. And there are plenty of cubbies and grippy holes to put things.

Instead of being merely amiable, the 105 can lift its skirts and is a quick cruiser. There’s still plenty to come at 80 – 90 and no problem hitting 120. I’m emphasising this here so you won’t think the 105 involves any significant sacrifice for much less money than the 140. It’s easily as quick as most people are ever likely to want it to be. Like the Golf V TDI 105 PD, fifth gear gives you about 30mph per 1,000 rpm.

It not only reaches the speeds, it also handles them with excellent road feel and stability in fast cornering. This counters a slight criticism that the ride is on the firm side of soft. It doesn’t crash and bang over pot-holes and ripples, but it doesn’t completely absorb them either. And a downer of the 1.9 TDI is that so far it remains Euro III, so is subject to an 18% rather than 15% BIK tax base for company car drivers.

So, on to its more powerful big brother, the TDI PD 140 16v 6-speed. I had the same problem with this as I did with the SEAT Altea. At low speeds on tight roads in second gear it feels almost too powerful. You get no power then too much of it all once, like a catapult. Obviously an owner would get used to this and adapt to it. But on first acquaintance it really wasn’t very pleasant. Where the car comes into its own is that, like the Golf V TDI PD 140, it’s a stunning main road high-speed cruiser.

Top gear gives about 33.5mph per 1,000 rpm, so at 100 the engine is only turning a happy and quiet 3,000 rpm. This means it’s very relaxed, yet at the same time, between 85 and 95 you feel you’re bang on optimum power, and if that isn’t enough for you, you can block-change from 6th to 4th and whack past anything as if it isn’t there. So it’s a very safe overtaker too.

Which to choose between the 105 and the 140 depends on how much you have to spend and what sort of discount you can get. But on list price the 105 starts at £12,780 and the 140 at £15,300. I’d find it hard to justify spending an extra £2,500 of my money to buy the 140.

There is obviously a lot more to the Octavia range than these two diesels. The launch range includes a 75bhp 1.4 16v at a low £10,750. There will be automatic TDI PD 105s, a TDI PD 140 DSG and 1.6 and 2.0 litre FSIs with 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual, 5-speed Tiptronic or 6-speed DSG transmissions. The fire breathing petrol turbo will not come until next year, probably with 190 – 225 bhp.

I have to mention a few minor faults on these early production cars and, of course, the benefit of road-testing by outsiders such as the gentlemen of the press means that these can be spotted, noted and put right before cars get through to customers.

The rain-sensitive wipers are so sensitive they react to the blood of a splattered fly. The individual front climate controls did not work properly on one of the cars, giving the driver nice cool air while roasting the passenger. It could be overcome with the fan on full, but definitely needed attention. The nearside rear door seal of the 140 developed a whistle while crossing the North Yorkshire Moors. And the sprung grab-handles can trap the ends of small fingers in their hinges when you pull them down.

Should you go for one? Well obviously if a larger body, much bigger boot and lower price have more appeal to you than the status to be derived from buying a Golf, then definitely. While the boot size, handling and general performance also make the new Octavia worth considering against cars the next size up, like the Mondeo, Vectra, Primera and Laguna. More importantly, Skoda has finally thrown off the old mantle of joke cars. The new Octavia is a proper, well-built car, in the same class as a Golf. It’s a car to be proud of, if that wasn’t already Toyota’s line.

(Many previous model Octavias, including the estates, the four wheel drives and the vRS carry over until next year at significantly reduced prices.)

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