MUMBAI: There are some models that somehow define a brand. For example, think Mercedes and the first car that comes to mind is an E-Class, when someone says BMW it’s 3 series, Porsche elicits 911 and Honda return City. Sedans once ruled the roost and somehow associate in our collective minds…maybe, millennials won’t agree. Ditto is the case with Octavia for Skoda.
The full-sized executive sedan set the ball rolling for the Czech car maker when it entered India two decades ago and it has continued to be a name to reckon with. This despite the fact that it went out of circulation – replaced by the name Laura once and then for the last couple of years as Skoda focussed on building its SUV offering including the made-for-India one (also the shrinking sedan segment didn’t help).
While the new Octavia’s been showcased in Prague in 2019, the global pandemic made sure we get it only now. This is not to be confused with the Octavia in vRS guise on the Skoda Auto India website because that’s based on the previous generation. And yes, a new Octavia RS is also on the cards but first let’s look at this sober version.
With a generation change, the design has altered significantly. The near-winged grille has made way for a more rectangular and bulgier one. There is a flattened wedge at the top, to fit the circular Skoda logo. The verdict was “split” on the previous generation’s dual headlamps. This time it is one sleek unit and it all looks more cohesive.
Look at the profile and you get crisp and long lines running across the new Octavia – like a neatly ironed business suit. Thankfully, it still continues with its coupe-like roof which lazily ends into the rear hatch. Yes, the Octavia was one of the first cars to start the trend of a full-sized five-door notchback and it retains that character trait even in the latest version. Globally, Skoda called this design simply as a hatchback but now it has christened it as a “liftback”. Fancy?
In terms of size, the Octavia has grown longer by a substantial 19mm (now 4689mm), and wider by 15mm to 1829mm. But that’s difficult to judge because it has also gone shorter by around 7mm (now 1469mm). Wheelbase is also down by 8mm and is now 2680mm. Usually, carmakers tend to increase the wheelbase with generation change to accommodate more interior space.
But in case of the Octavia, cabin space at the rear was never an issue even for chauffeur-driven owners (the car is also sold in bigger Asian markets like China) so they still had scope to reduce wheelbase without cramping interior space. Turning circle remains same as the previous car despite it have grown longer. Ground clearance is 137mm – acceptable as none of the speed-breakers during our test run physically met the car’s underbody during our test run.
The slippery silhouette culminates effortlessly into the rear and completes the coupe-like intentions. It continues to hide a massive boot which has now moved upwards by 10-litre to 600! In all this, the new car looks unmistakably like an Octavia and you will most likely end up appreciating it over time if not at the first glance.
If you have been following the Skoda India story you probably are aware about its (and the entire VW Group’s) apprehensions on diesels. So, not surprisingly, the Octavia is only available with a 2.0-litre petrol unit. Which is a shame for diesel-grunt lovers but on the brighter side, this TSI unit has no dearth of shove. Mated with a seven-speed DSG (arguably the best dual-clutch transmission in India that now features shift-by-wire tech), this new engine makes the Octavia an effortless sprinter. With a hefty 190ps available at full tap of the throttle and a heftier 320Nm of torque, the car can pick up speed at every slight whim and fancy of the driver.
A nice engine note – quite noticeable when you downshift with the paddles and keep the accelerator engaged – just adds to the thrill of hurtling towards the horizon on a fast highway. In this spec, the Octavia is rated to return 15.81kpl to someone who can keep his/her enthusiasm in check. Which means most can average 11-12kpl in a real-world mix of Indian city and highway driving.
The new Octavia is a supremely comfortable car to be driven in as well. The suspension is supple and leans more on the softer side than it ever has. Which is something we Indians might appreciate given the state of our roads but someone expecting more finesse out of fast corners and curves could find this a bit unsettling at first simply because you would expect the Octavia to show less of its underbelly as all times.
Quick steering inputs are met with a bit resistance in the form of disjointed roll from the rear half of the car. But this is relative and possibly noticeable if you have had a fair bit of time in an older Octavia. The steering is adequately aided and chatty at all angles. It is light enough for parking speeds and heavy enough at high speeds and that helps with building some confidence pushing the car on the highway.
The Octavia’s interior has gone plusher with this generation change. There are two trims on offer – Style and the fabled Laurin & Klement. The airy cabin is now complemented with loads of tech including connectivity and entertainment features. Plus they have used elegant materials for a near-luxury car experience. The first thing you would notice is the continued use of large seats. The car featured here is the L&K trim and comes with a mix of suede leather/fabric for seats.
The dashboard no longer has a retro feel. It is a tri-level dashboard design dominated by a central 25.4cm infotainment touchscreen and an all-digital instrument cluster. Switches are down to minimum (operating the ac via touchscreen needs a little getting used to) with the ac vents at the bottom. There is a wireless charging phone box too. The traditional gearstick is replaced by a swivel switch – another break from convention – which is supposed to free up more space on the centre console although not sure, for what?
Skoda has left no stone unturned to spec the new Octavia. In this L&K spec you can get a 600-watt Canton sound system, a two-zone climate control system with inbuilt air purifier and gesture-operated LED reading light. All this scores high on the luxury counter but it misses a sun-roof, which could have added to the sense of visual space in the cabin. While a sunroof isn’t functionally relevant in India, Skoda’s argument is that it would have reduced headroom and robbed the car of one of its major USPs. Also, the fact that sunroof isn’t available in this model, even globally.
With the latest iteration, Octavia grows a bit in stature and moves beyond its comfort zone of being a driver’s delight only. Bracing competition, Skoda has packed in features you would expect from a car in this demanding segment. Octavia’s character changes a bit now – it is more rounded, more opulent and almost breathing down the bigger Superb’s tailpipes when it comes to a limo experience. Wonder how purists or Octavia-lovers would react to the softening stance but it would be tough to ignore its value given the amount of quick, stylish and extra-large saloon that would be at your disposal.
Available in two trims – Style and Laurin & Klement
Expected price: Rs 25-30 lakh (ex-showroom)
Specs: 1984cc, 4-cyl, turbo petrol, 190ps, 320Nm, 15.81kpl (claimed), front-wheel-drive, 7DSG (AT), 205/55 R17 tyres, 1430-1459kg, 50-litre fuel tank.
Verdict: Peppier engine/gearbox combination makes it quick-footed. Cabin still quite roomy despite the coupe-like rear roof. Loses a bit of finesse around corners for a subtler everyday ride. Packs in more creature comforts and safety features than before for great value.
— Photos by Harinath Govindan