Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
You might imagine the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine would struggle to haul around a car as big as the Octavia, but it’s easily up to the job; it's more than capable around town with plenty of pull on the motorway. It’s so good, in fact, that, if you rarely carry lots of passengers or luggage, you could live without the costlier, higher-powered engines.
However, when you're travelling with the car loaded up, the punchier 148bhp 1.5 TSI 150 petrol feels more at ease. In normal use, it’ll crack the 0-60mph dash in as little as 8.4sec (tested by us) – a pretty sprightly performance and far quicker than the similarly priced Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost 125 can manage. It’s also surprisingly capable from low revs, which means you won’t have to change down through the gears too much when overtaking, for example. All in all, we reckon it’s the pick of the range. A quick-changing dual-clutch automatic gearbox is available with all engines, depending on your trim selection.
Performance from the 1.6-litre diesel isn't too bad, but the 148bhp 2.0 TDI 150 is the diesel we'd recommend. It's strong and flexible, especially from low revs. If you want more power still, the sporty vRS offers a choice of 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engines that are both effortlessly quick.
Suspension and ride comfort
For the most part, the Octavia is comfortable. That’s particularly the case at higher speeds, so it's an easy-going long-distance cruiser. However, it fidgets over rippled or undulating surfaces around town, and a harsh pothole or expansion joint can send a noticeable thump through the interior. Generally the Octavia is never truly uncomfortable, but it’s not as accomplished as rivals such as the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf.
You can add Dynamic Chassis Control as an option, but not on 1.0 petrol and 1.6 diesel models. In comfort mode, it helps to settle the car over edgier bumps, although you'll still feel the impact of bigger imperfections. So, while the system does deliver an improvement, its impact isn't big enough to justify the extra cost. We’d also save money by avoiding the larger alloy wheels; the bigger they are, the more brittle the ride becomes.
The sporty vRS models ride more harshly than other models as a result of their stiffer suspension and bigger wheels, and can be quite crashy and jarring over certain surfaces.
The Octavia's handling is neat and tidy, but doesn't have the sporty feel of a Ford Focus or Seat Leon. The steering is a little too light, and while this makes manoeuvring in town easy, it leaves you sawing at the wheel when on the open road, and doesn’t provide a great sense of connection to the front wheels.
With the exception of the 1.0 model, all versions beyond entry-level S trim have variable driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport or Custom. They influence the accelerator, gearshift responses (with the auto box), the weight of the steering and the power of the climate control. However, we find the Octavia’s steering and accelerative reactions feel more natural when in Normal mode – that light steering suddenly becomes unnecessarily heavy when you put it into Sport.
The vRS versions offer good body control, but they don’t turn in to corners as keenly as some rivals, such as the Golf GTI and Hyundai i30N). Though quick, anybody yearning for real hot hatch excitement should look elsewhere.
Noise and vibration
The Octavia’s four-cylinder petrol engines sound a little wheezy when getting up to speed, but are smooth and quiet once at a cruise. The 1.0 three-cylinder petrol, meanwhile, makes a sporty, rasping noise when revved. The diesels, on the other hand, are a little noisy compared with the same engines are in the Golf. You’ll feel more vibrations through the pedals, too, although this mostly applies to the 1.6 rather than the 2.0.
There’s also more suspension noise (noticeable inside as a deep, resonant boom in the background over town roads) than in most cars in the class – this is one of the Octavia’s most annoying traits. There’s some wind noise on the motorway, too, but road noise is reasonably well suppressed. The brakes, manual gearchange and clutch are slick, aiding smooth driving. The dual-clutch auto 'boxes are smooth through the gears, but a bit abrupt at parking speeds.