- The Car: Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI SE
- Run by: John Bradshaw, chief photographer
- Why it's here: To see if the Octavia offers all the practicality, comfort and efficiency you could want
- Needs to: Cope with all of my photography gear, provide smooth transport on long journeys, return reasonable fuel economy and be an effortless commuter car
Price £19,530 Price as tested £20,700 Miles covered 6300 Official Economy 54.3mpg Test economy 47.0mpg Options fitted Amundsen touchscreen satellite navigation system with WiFi (£800), Special paint (£195), Temporary steel spare wheel (£100), Textile floor mats (£75)
The theory goes that if you want to carry lots of people and gear regularly, then you’ll need a 'multi-purpose vehicle' (MPV). However, after spending the last few months behind the wheel of a Renault Scénic, I’m not so sure that’s the case.
You see, an MPV by its very nature should offer the ultimate combination of interior space, comfort and functionality, and judged on those specific requirements, our big Renault falls way short of the class's best. By allowing for some shades of SUV to creep into the design, the Scénic received a significant 40mm increase in ground clearance over the previous generation car, as well as a more muscular profile and a shift to huge 20in wheels.
Unsurprisingly, those purely aesthetic enhancements did nothing to improve functionality. For example, the high floor forces rear occupants into an awkward position with their knees higher than their hips, and this, combined with limited leg room (even with the seats slid all the way forwards) and a sloping roofline, means it doesn’t take long for passengers to start complaining on longer journeys.
And despite Renault claiming a class-leading seats-up boot capacity, it’s important to keep in mind that this figure was achieved without the tyre inflation kit and removable boot floor. With them in place, the available space is greatly diminished, with a sloping internal roof and a huge boot lip also making loading and unloading heavy shopping a chore.
So why am I banging on about the failings of my old long-termer you might ask? Well, you see, despite the fact that my new Skoda Octavia SE hatchback occupies a completely different area of the market to the Scénic, I think it might actually be the better MPV. Yes, really - bear with me.
In the four weeks since receiving the Octavia, I’ve found it to be a far superior multi-purpose vehicle. Let’s take the boot for example. Despite the Octavia having a lower roofline than the Scénic, it actually offers a more usable capacity thanks to its terrific hatchback design. With a low boot floor, you can stack multiple bags on top of each other without having to remove the parcel shelf, and with an unusually wide opening, everything is easily accessible.
Up front, things are equally impressive. The seats are wonderfully supportive and offer a wide range of adjustment, and this, combined with a steering wheel that adjusts for rake and reach, makes it easy to find the perfect driving position. That said, there’s no doubt that the best seat in the house is in the rear. Even with the front seat pushed back, tall passengers are able to lounge in absolute comfort, with large footwells and a generous amount of head and elbow room allowing them to stretch out.
In terms of driving, the Octavia continues to impress. We’ve always had a soft spot for the 1.4-litre petrol engine, because it strikes a balance between the frugal but slower 1.0-litre petrol and the more torquey but less refined 1.6-litre diesel further up the range. With 148bhp acceleration is brisk with 0-62mph dealt with in just 8.6sec, and if you find yourself on a German autobahn, it will even get to a top speed of 140mph.
And yet, even more impressive than the motor’s raw performance is its frugality. With most of my driving spent commuting in urban traffic - with some long distance jaunts occasionally thrown into the mix - I was somewhat worried about switching to petrol power. As it turns out, I had no reason to be anxious. Over the past month I have managed a remarkable 47mpg. Granted, that is some way short of Skoda’s claimed 54.3mpg, but rather remarkably, it almost matches my diesel Scénic – not bad for a highly-strung turbocharged petrol engine.
So, what don’t I like? Well, I suppose the interior is a bit bland and the 16in skateboard wheels make the car look rather bargain basement. The optional Corrida Red paint (£195) also does little to liven up a distinctly restrained package, with the flat non-metallic hue masking the body's occasional sharp line.
Aesthetics aside, however, it looks like the Skoda is going to be a practical and dependable member of our long-term test fleet, and with Car of The Year season on the horizon, the Octavia will most certainly be put through its paces. Frequent trips to shooting locations in South Wales should test its long distance credentials, and judging from previous years, a day won’t go by where it’s not filled to the brim with road testers and camera gear. I for one can’t wait to spend some more time behind the wheel.
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