The Skoda Octavia has always been one of the roomiest cars in its class, but this new model is the biggest yet; it's closer in size to a Ford Mondeo than a Ford Focus.
It's based on the platform that underpins the latest Seat Leon and VW Golf, but the Octavia has a longer wheelbase and an extended rear overhang to help distance it from those two cars.
Prices have risen by around £2000 compared with the outgoing model, but the new Octavia is much better equipped than the car it replaces. Factor in all the extra kit it now comes with as standard and it's actually better value for money than ever.
Initially, they'll be a choice of two turbo petrol engines – a 103bhp 1.2 and a 138bhp 1.4 – and two diesels in the form of a 103bhp 1.6 and a 148bhp 2.0. An ultra-efficient 89g/km Greenline model will join the range later this year, along with a 217bhp vRS hot hatch.
What's the 2013 Skoda Octavia like to drive?
You might imagine that a 1.2-litre petrol engine would struggle to haul around a car this big, but the 1.2 is easily up to the job, pulling strongly from just 1400rpm. You rarely need to work it hard, but even when you do it stays smooth and the standard six-speed manual gearbox has a tall top gear that helps keep the engine remarkably relaxed at motorway speeds.
The 1.4 offers more of that smoothness on the move and is almost silent when stationary. It's more flexible than the 1.2, serving up a punchy 184lb ft of torque from an equally impressive 1500rpm without much engine noise making its way into the cabin. The penalty is fewer miles per gallon and higher CO2 emissions, at 121g/km.
Business buyers will be more interested in the diesels. The frugal 1.6 TDI feels slightly more strained than the 1.4 in getting up to speed, despite having the same torque. As a result, it's noisier in the cabin when pressing on, but mechanical vibration through the wheel and pedals is well suppressed.
It's a better story on the motorway, thanks to the same tall gearing, while the 99g/km CO2 figure will satisfy business users.
We also tried the range-topping 2.0-litre diesel. This engine is a real highlight in the latest VW Golf and Audi A3, but it isn't quite as refined in the new Octavia. You feel some buzz through the pedals when you accelerate and a diesel drone intrudes into the cabin at higher speeds.
Fortunately, you rarely need to push the engine that hard, because there's plenty of muscle low down in the rev range. It's still a remarkably efficient motor, considering how strong it is and CO2 emissions of just 106g/km.
Our UK test route included back roads and motorways and, for the most part, the Octavia rides comfortably. You're aware of bumps and rough surfaces passing beneath the car, and the low speed ride gets a little fidgety, but large bumps are soaked up well.
Refinement is good, too. We tried the 16-inch alloy wheels (standard on lower trims) and larger 17-inch alloys. Both kick up noise, but never enough to annoy. Likewise, some wind noise enters the cabin, but it's far from excessive.
There are three drive modes as standard on SE trim and above; Normal, Sport and Eco. Throttle response and steering weight are changed, but the suspension set-up remains the same.
Whichever mode you choose, the Skoda isn't quite as agile as a Ford Mondeo or a Golf, but the body doesn't wallow around through tight twists and turns, and there's plenty of grip. The steering is accurate and it weights up consistently, and the throttle sharpens nicely when Sport is selected.
What's the 2013 Skoda Octavia like inside?
While the new Octavia closely resembles the cheaper and smaller Rapid on the outside, there are bigger differences when you get inside.
Instead of hard plastics, you get materials that are a match for those in the latest VW Golf and a grade or two above those in either a Ford Mondeo or a Mazda 6.
The front seats are supportive and every model comes with a user-friendly touch-screen infotainment system.
Rear visibility isn't as good as it is in the Golf because of the Octavia's sloping rear screen and notchback styling, but the trade-off is lots of legroom in the back and a 590-litre boot – more than you get in a Mondeo.
There are also some clever touches, including Velcro dividers, a reversible floor (one side is carpeted and the other wipe-clean rubber) and a parcel shelf that stows flush with the rear seats when it's not needed. The one disappointment is that there's a chunky step in the load floor when you fold the rear seatbacks.
The new Octavia is available in three trims – S, SE and Elegance – and even the cheapest of these gives you air-conditioning, alloy wheels, seven airbags, stability control, Bluetooth, DAB radio, six-disc CD changer and USB socket.
Stepping up to SE trim adds rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, front foglights and rear electric windows, while range-topping Elegance cars have sat-nav, larger alloys, leather upholstery, cruise control and automatic lights and wipers.
Should I buy one?
Whichever way you look at it, the new Octavia is superb value for money. It's more expensive than the outgoing model, but gets better standard kit, lower CO2 emissions and, on average, is cheaper to insure.
View either of the diesels as an alternative to a Ford Mondeo, and if you pay tax at 40% you'll get just as much space and comfort while paying around £40 less per month in company car tax.
Alternatively, as a private buy, the 1.2 TSI petrol gives you more space and equipment than the latest VW Golf, yet costs £1300 less to buy. The savings continue with the 1.4 TSI, with the difference between the Octavia and five-door 1.4 Golf being £1255.
With that in mind, we can only heartily recommend the new Octavia. It might not be the most desirable car in the world, but it's quite possibly the most sensible.
What Car? says...
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