Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDI 2008

I’ve always had a great admiration for Skoda, even when they were making cars that would disintegrate in the rain because they rusted so quickly, Skoda still made money. The engines were bad, there was no fit and finish but still they sold cars and parts. Admittedly the eastern bloc countries bought most of them, but there was many an old Skoda on the road in the UK and Ireland. I’m sure you remember the joke? Why is there a rear window heater in a Skoda? To keep your hands warm when you’re pushing it.

Then over the hill came Volkswagen with bucket loads of money and everything changed. All of a sudden Skoda had an unlimited parts bin and a bigger budget the cars were still unremarkable but still hugely improved, the important fact was reliability was great. No longer did you have to live with the threat of your foot going through the floor when braking. They were still terrible cars to drive, they weren’t even that good looking but they were reliable and cheap. Soon they were seen as a poor mans VW, and that wasn’t a good image for a car manufacturer. Skoda persisted and began to work on design and in 1991 started making the Felicia, which was still based on the old Favorit. It didn’t take long before Skoda got hold of VW’s parts then the Fabia was released soon after the Octavia, behind all this Skoda was winning rally championships. Skoda cars were beginning to sell in bigger numbers. When the millennium came the perception of Skoda brand had gone from the butt of all jokes to serious contender.

So the modern Skoda line up has been born, and so long as you’re not a badge snob there isn’t a really bad car among them. The Octavia I drove is the Elegance model with a manual gearbox, there’s a lot of versions to choose from. DSG box if you want the best auto, the Scout if you want a taller version. There’s a huge list of options too. But back to my one, it can’t be called a pretty car; sure it’s a handsome piece of metal, it even has a presence on the road but it’s a little unremarkable. Inside is just the same, a wash of hard black plastic doesn’t do it any favours. But this is a car for a certain segment of the market, so it’s built to a price. It’s meant to compete in the Passat area but be a lot cheaper; the strange thing is the Octavia is nearly as big as the Passat but it shares all its parts with a Golf. That’s a good thing because it handles like a Golf but it’s a lot bigger. It’s a bit dark in the cabin, that’s down to the dark plastics and fabrics used, but it’s big with plenty of headroom and legroom in the back. The hatchback boot is huge, and has great access.

On the road the engine noise is fine at cruising speed but a little noisy if you push it, the tyre roar was terrible but I put that down to the cheap tyres that had just been put on in the last service. It’s comfortable, there’s enough firmness in the seat and suspension to feel what’s going on without being hard. The whole car feels well put together, because it’s a VW really, all the controls are in the same place. That’s some of the Octavia’s problem; it’s trying to be a cheap Golf. At least Seat tries to look a bit different but in the Octavia you can’t help thinking about it’s Brother.

All that said, the Octavia is a fine car as a piece of transport there’s nothing really exciting about it. The €156 a year that the manual diesel attracts coupled with great fuel economy means it’s cheap to run. The best of the range is the Combi version with the fantastic DSG auto box, which makes the tax jump to €447 a year.

Overall then a functional cheap car that’s a jack of all trades but master of none. Really worth a good look if you’re trading this year. By the way, I have the new Yeti for test this weekend, speaking of which have a great bank holiday.