Skoda Octavia Estate 1.8 TSI SE Plus
* New petrol engine tested * Price 18,220; on sale now * MPG 40.9; CO2 158g/km...
What is it? A new engine and trim for Skoda's small family car, tested here in estate form.
The 1.8 TSI 152 is a lower-powered version of the existing 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine. It's available only in SE Plus trim, which blends a decent kit list with a lowish price.
What's it like to drive? Good, if starting to feel a little old. First the good things. Despite having 8bhp less than the 1.8 TSI 160 engine, performance is still strong. That's because it has the same 184lb ft of torque, available from just 1500rpm. True, the gearing is long for low noise and good economy when cruising, but you rarely have to rev the engine hard to make decent progress. The engine remains smooth and quiet when you do, though.
The rest isn't quite so good. Light steering and evenly weighted controls help make the Octavia easy to drive, and its handling is decently composed. Pity the ride isn't smoother and more relaxing on our battered roads, despite the modest 16-inch wheels that come as standard. The Octavia has always been championed as having a supple ride, but rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf (which uses an updated version of the Octavia's underpinnings) are now better.
It's hardly quiet, either. Wind noise isn't a major problem, but there's too much road noise, especially on coarse surfaces. Motorway journeys will have you reaching for the stereo's volume before too long.
What's it like inside? Another mixed bag. There's masses of space in the cabin and boot, so you can't help but be impressed by the amount of car you get for your money.
You get some desirable kit, too, including a touch-screen sat-nav system, rear parking sensors and Bluetooth. The thing is, the plastics are more robust than classy, and while the major controls are well placed and simple to use, there's little joy to be had from sitting behind the wheel.
Should I buy one? If you're after a spacious and brisk compact estate, by all means.
However, the cheaper versions make most sense. We'd still go the 1.4-litre petrol model; it's hardly slow, and costs less to buy and run.
There's also no getting away from the fact that the Octavia is beginning to feel its age. You can't argue with the value it offers, but newer rivals are leaving it behind in key areas.
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Volkswagen Golf Estate
What Car? says