Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI 150 SE
List price £20,825
Target Price £18,647
Price as tested £21,765
Play word association with Skoda and you’ll probably come up with ‘no-nonsense’, ‘roomy’ and ‘cheap’. While those descriptions are perfectly accurate, a year with our Octavia has proved that VW’s budget brand offers a lot more. Our favourite version is the 1.2-litre petrol but because I do a lot of long journeys, I was keen to try a diesel. The 2.0-litre model caught my eye, seeing as it is both powerful (148bhp) and economical (52.5mpg, according to our True MPG tests).
SE trim offers the best blend of equipment and price, so that’s what I went for. It offers dual-zone climate control, a touch-screen control system, digital radio and rear parking sensors. I also added the Winter pack, which brings heated front seats and a heated windscreen for £430, plus the Amundsen sat-nav for £550. Add £495 for the Race Blue metallic paint and the car’s total price was nearly £22,000. The Octavia impressed me from day one, the main reason being the sheer space it offered. There was enough room for four tall adults to be comfortable – and even five were pretty happy for short journeys – while the huge boot swallowed whatever we threw at it.
In fact, despite the Octavia not being particularly practical in some respects – the rear seats didn’t fold flat, for example, so when they were down there was a large step in the boot floor – the sheer space it offered made it feel so. I could get my bike in the back with both wheels still on, so the fact that it couldn’t lie flat wasn’t much of an issue.
There were occasional problems with the car in other respects, however. An interior rattle required three dealer visits to rectify (it turned out to be the height-adjustment lever on the passenger seat knocking against the plastic surround), and the touch-screen infotainment system would sometimes freeze. We never did get to the bottom of that last one but it’s the sort of thing that would most likely be sorted with a software update at the car’s first service. Talking of which, the Octavia was on a so-called variable service plan, so the onboard computer calculated when the engine needed some TLC. After 17,000 miles, it was still displaying nearly 2000 miles before a dealer visit was required.
The diesel engine was good in other ways, too. It was smooth and refined, and had plenty of low-rev punch, meaning you rarely needed to explore the outer reaches of the rev counter. It was also impressively economical. Our test average was 51.4mpg but it regularly managed close to 60mpg on long, gentle runs. In fact, during a cycling holiday in Belgium (where the Octavia excelled as transport for two people, while carrying luggage for four) it did 62.6mpg.
Despite having all the equipment I needed, my SE-spec Octavia didn’t have all the kit I wanted. I missed having cruise control (especially in a car so suited to long motorway trips), ditto a central armrest between the front seats. I’d have liked audio controls on the steering wheel to be standard as well. Funnily enough, almost everyone who drove the car commented on the same things.
They also mentioned its ride quality. It’s not that the Octavia is uncomfortable; it’s just that we’d expect something that’s not in the least bit sporty, and which has comparatively modest wheels and high-profile tyres, to feel more settled.
The ride was better at higher speeds but even so, a couple of testers said the Octavia’s relative lack of comfort would stop them buying one. Still, at least the tidy handling and confidence-inspiring steering earned praise, as did the decent high-speed refinement.
Then there were the small things that just made life with the Octavia that bit better, such as good visibility and a rear wiper that cleared so much of the (large) rear window. My favourite feature was the brilliant heated windscreen, while heated seats that were effective without being overpowering were another major plus. The digital radio reception was also strong.
The Octavia wasn’t a car that I had any great emotional attachment to, but I respected and appreciated it in equal measure. Yes, it’s big and a comparative bargain but for me it was its abilities as an all-rounder that I remember most.