Skoda Octavia 1.0 TSI 115 S
List price £16,660
Target Price £15,131
New entry-level Octavia uses a downsized petrol engine to improve efficiency.
Vauxhall Astra 1.0 Ecoflex 105 Design
List price £16,145
Target Price £15,376
Vauxhall’s three-cylinder petrol model is also its cheapest and cleanest petrol Astra.
There was a time when the humble three-cylinder engine was the preserve of the city car, but things have changed as car manufacturers strive to improve fuel efficiency and drive down CO2 emissions. As the Skoda Octavia and Vauxhall Astra we’re testing here demonstrate, even family cars are losing cylinders.
Skoda has dropped the Octavia’s old entry-level 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine in favour of a new 1.0 turbocharged petrol, while Vauxhall introduced its latest Astra model last year with a 1.0-litre turbo petrol kicking off the range. We’re testing both cars in their cheapest trim levels to see just how generous each car maker has been with space, pace and equipment.
What are they like to drive?
Unsurprisingly, neither the Octavia nor the Astra feels outright fast on the road, but both are capable of hauling a family and their luggage. Even so, the Octavia scores points for its slightly more eager performance courtesy of its more powerful engine. It helps it leave the Astra behind in a sprint from standstill and when accelerating from low revs in the higher gears.
That said, neither car needs to be worked particularly hard to build speed quickly, and neither sends much vibration back through the controls nor sounds antisocial even when they are pushed hard. Both the Octavia and Astra have relatively slick manual gearboxes and positive clutch pedals that make town driving pleasant, too.
The way the cars handle differs, however. The Astra feels lighter on its feet and changes direction more eagerly, but its overly light, quick steering makes the car feel nervous and doesn’t inspire confidence. The Skoda, meanwhile, has heavier but far more feelsome steering that makes it feel more relaxed when turning in to a corner and also more composed as you thread from one bend to the next.
On its standard 16in alloy wheels, the Astra is the more fidgety car over scarred urban roads and it transmits the vibrations from broken road surfaces into the interior too readily. The Octavia, on its own standard wheels of the same size, isn’t perfect. Its rear suspension kicks up quite a bit of noise over potholes and ruts, although it manages to keep occupants slightly better isolated from bumps at the same time.
However, at a steady motorway cruise both three-cylinder engines settle impressively and road noise is well contained. Only the Astra’s greater wind noise, whipped up by its door mirrors, makes it marginally noisier at the legal limit.
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