Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
You might imagine the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine would struggle to haul around a big estate car, but it’s surprisingly peppy around town or on the motorway. However, with lots of passengers or luggage on board you’d better served by the 1.4 TSI 150 petrol. It’s smooth and quick, while still being affordable to run, making it our pick for the best petrol in the range.
Performance from the 1.6-litre diesel is adequate, but the most recommendable diesel option is the 148bhp 2.0 TDI 150, which is both strong and flexible. The sporty vRS models come with a choice of 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engines that are effortlessly quick.
A smooth and efficient dual-clutch automatic gearbox is available on all engines.
A so-called Scout version, with a chunky body kit, a 30mm raised ride height and four-wheel drive, is also available with the 2.0-litre diesel engine in two power outputs (the higher one reserved for the DSG automatic gearbox). The 148bhp version feels brisk enough so unless you need an auto ‘box, we’d stick to that. A high towing capacity of 2000kg on both Scout models could make it appealing to those who tow regularly, but who don’t want an SUV. It’s impressively capable off-road, with hill descent control and underbody protection as standard.
Suspension and ride comfort
For the most part, the Skoda Octavia is comfortable. That’s particularly the case at higher speeds, making it an easy-going, long-distance cruiser. However, around town it fidgets over rippled or undulating surfaces, and a harsh pothole or expansion joint can send a noticeable thump through the cabin. It’s never outright uncomfortable, but it’s not as accomplished as rivals such as the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer or VW Golf Estate.
Skoda does offer adaptive suspension as an option on the Octavia (although not on the 1.0 petrol and 1.6 diesel models), which helps settle the car over edgier bumps. Yet still the impact of sizeable imperfections will breech the interior, so while the system does deliver an improvement, it’s not by enough to justify its extra cost.
The sporty vRS models are harsher than the standard models as a result of their stiffer suspension and bigger alloys. This makes them quite crashy and jarring over rougher surfaces.
Scout models are marginally more comfortable than all the others thanks to their 30mm higher ride height helping to smooth out initial bump absorption; the ride comfort is especially impressive over difficult off-road surfaces.
As a family car, the Octavia Estate ticks all the important boxes. It’s stable, precise, and confidence inspiring, even when being driven quickly. The light steering also helps to make town manoeuvres and parking easy.
All but entry-level S and 1.0-litre petrol models have variable driving modes graded Eco, Normal and Sport. They affect the throttle response and steering weight, the responsiveness of the automatic gearbox, if one is fitted, and the climate control. It’s not something that makes a vast difference to your life: Sport mode just makes the steering heavier, which in turn makes it feel less wieldy rather than more sporty. Leave it in Normal and the Octavia is at its most satisfying and a relaxing car to drive.
Four-wheel drive is available on the 2.0 TDI engines and standard on the Scout model. It’s an on-demand system, so doesn’t use fuel unnecessarily, but we’d only recommend it if you regularly tackle poor conditions or treacherous tracks. For most people the front-wheel drive models will be more than grippy enough.
Scouts may sit a bit higher, but they don’t roll a great deal more than the standard estate. At the other end of the spectrum, the Octavia vRS models’ stiffer suspension delivers better body control, but they don’t scythe into corners as keenly as some rivals, including the Ford Focus ST Estate and Seat Leon Cupra ST.
Noise and vibration
The Octavia’s petrol engines are smooth and quiet, but the diesels are a little noisy compared with the same engines in the VW Golf. That’s particularly true of the 1.6 TDI 115 diesel; it has only five gears, and the lack of a sixth gear to drop the revs on the motorway leads to a lot of excess engine noise. The 2.0 TDI 150, is better, though.
All models suffer from more suspension noise – noticeable in the cabin as a distant, resonant boom over town roads – than most other cars in the class. There’s some wind noise on the motorway, but road noise is well suppressed. Meanwhile, the gearchange is slick and accurate, as are the brakes and clutch, which all helps to facilitate smooth driving.