2013 Skoda Octavia review

* Pre-production versions of new Skoda Octavia driven * Based on same platform as Mk7 VW Golf * On sale spring 2013; priced from 14,000 (est)...

2013 Skoda Octavia review

The Skoda Octavia has always been one of the roomiest cars in its class, but this new model is the biggest yet; its closer in size to a Ford Mondeo than a Focus.

Its based on the same platform that underpins the latest Audi A3, Seat Leon and VW Golf. However, Skoda has given the Octavia a longer wheelbase and rear overhang to help distance it from the cheaper Rapid hatchback, which has just been launched.

To see if the new Octavia is worth waiting for, we joined Skoda engineers in Portugal, where they're testing disguised pre-production cars.

Whats the 2013 Skoda Octavia like to drive?
Two models were available for us to test: a 178bhp 1.8-litre turbo petrol that had a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox, and a 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel with a six-speed DSG box.

Both engines felt smooth and strong. However, while the gearbox in the petrol car tended to hunt around between gears, the box in the diesel was happy to let the engines considerable torque do the work.

A system that lets you adjust the responses of the throttle and steering is likely to be standard no matter which Octavia you choose, but there was a more obvious change in the weighting of the steering in the diesel car.

Steering feels less precise on the petrol model than the diesel

In addition, the diesels steering was precise in both settings, whereas the petrols was a little numb around the straight-ahead position in the 'Sport' setting.

Hopefully, Skoda will be able to remedy this before the Octavia goes into production.

Like its A3, Golf and Leon siblings, the new Octavia combines minimal body lean in corners with a well-controlled ride.

True, youre aware of bumps passing beneath the car, but they rarely thump through to the cabin in the way they do in both the Rapid and the bigger Skoda Superb hatchback.

The one slight note of caution is that weve only driven cars with a sophisticated independent rear suspension set-up; less powerful models will have a simpler system.

Some wind noise can be heard down the sides of the Octavia at motorway speeds, but its never loud enough to get on your nerves.

Whats the 2013 Skoda Octavia like inside?
While the new Octavia closely resembles the cheaper and smaller Rapid hatchback on the outside, there are bigger differences when you get inside.

Interior materials are up with the best in class, and systems are easy to use

Instead of hard plastics, you get materials that are a match for those in the latest VW Golf. The front seats are more supportive than the Rapids, and every model will come with a touch-screen infotainment system.

The Octavia scores just as well for ease of use, because the touch-screen system features clear menus and handy shortcut buttons, while contols for the air-con are also intuitive.

Its just a pity rear visibility isnt as good as it is in the Golf due to the Octavias sloping rear screen and notchback styling.

Potential buyers will be more impressed with the space in the back because there's a vast amount of legroom, and only those well over six feet tall will have issues with headroom.

However, its the boot thats the real highlight; you access it through a wide, high-opening tailgate and theres room for 590 litres of luggage. Thats 130 litres more than the Rapid can swallow and 210 more than the Golf.

Octavia boot is much larger than hatchback rivals like the Golf

There are also some clever touches, including Velcro dividers, a reversible floor (one side is carpeted and the other rubber) and a parcel shelf that stows flush with the rear seats when its not needed.

The one disappointment is the large step in the load floor when you fold the rear seat backs down.

Should I buy one?
Prices and specs haven't been confirmed, but Skoda says the new Octavia will start from around 14,000 - that's about 2500 less than the cheapest version of the new VW Golf.

So, as long as Skoda isnt just planning to offer a headline starting price, and then charge significantly more for the higher-spec models youll probably want, the new Octavia looks like it's definitely worth waiting for.