Long Term Test: No Longer Suprising Skoda (Part 1)

Continuing a habit of testing cars which other motoring journals have already tested ad-nauseum, here’s a LTT of my Skoda Octavia Estate 2.0L Diesel SE-L

octavia-estate-gateway2lease
Brochure-photo of the Octavia Estate – wrong colour, but it does have the chrome window-surround and roof bars (Source: Gateway2Lease)

We have had our Octavia since the middle of July 2017.  In that time, it has travelled over 37,000 miles and proved to be a very capable and worthy steed.  it’s painted in vibrant metallic Rio Red (in the sunshine it looks a bit like Heinz Tomato Soup – other tomato soups are available), with a very fine, tough, finish.

The Octavia arrived as part of my rejig of our car portfolio (pretentious, moi?) where a Mazda3 Fastback (also subjected to numerous LTT articles here) and Xsara Picasso (ditto) were replaced by the Skoda and a FIAT 500 (which I have, again, written about here). A C6 still lurks on the driveway.  By and large, the Skoda is driven by me to get me to work and back, as well as to take us on annual holidays to Devon and also to a campsite on the Isle of Wight (no, that’s not a euphemism for a visit to one of Her Majesty’s Prisons).

Our Octavia is an early example of the facelifted version still on sale, but will soon be replaced by a whole new generation model. This facelift features the rather unconvincingly revised front fascia, with the slanting four-lamp treatment. It looks a fair bit like the schnoz on the previous generation E-Class with the pontoon rear-wheel-arches, but is also reminds me of the adjustable sloping windscreen on Concorde, which slipped downwards when the nose-cone was lowered. Either way, it’s a bit awkward (if distinctive), and undoes a lot of the nice work done on the pre-facelifted model.

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Otherwise, I have grown to like the looks of the Octavia in Estate form. The facelift benefited from extra millimetres between the rear wheels, helping the car to have a nicely planted stance. The proportions are very well balanced. The panel surfacing is taught, straight-lined and simple, well short of fussiness which, I think, upsets the look of, say, the current Insignia ST. The strong and confident treatment of the front wing and wheel-arches is admirable too.

Our car came with the benefit of satin-chrome effect roof-bars and side window surrounds, which really lift it in an unexpected manner – the latter manage to be a single piece around the rear section of the car, which is a rare quality these days. The ride height is quite elevated, which means that the simple but attractive 17” alloy wheels look a little lost. Viewed as a whole, the Octavia is no Superb, but it’s much better than the Rapid or new Scala in my opinion.

Inside, one finds the Octavia’s ace card: space. And comfort. Assisted by deep windows, if anything the interior feels even more spacious than it is.  Moreover, the four main seats are well-shaped and padded, with a central arm-rest for those in the rear. My teenagers, who never managed to sleep in the back of the Picasso, regularly manage to do so on longer trips in the Skoda. The seats are trimmed in a combo of alcantara for the main panels and leatherette over the side bolsters – this means they breathe but also prevent one from slipping around.

octaviaestaterearinterior autotrader
Spacious and comfy – if a bit cold and grey (Source: Autotrader)

The boot is large, becomes even larger if you lower the false floor, and massive with the seats down. The latter can be released from inside the boot, or from latches on the top of the rear seats. There are four sturdy fold-down hooks for shopping bags. The roll-top luggage cover can be stored in a designated area on the boot floor and the boot lamp can be detached and used as a rechargeable torch, which is one of those nice ‘Simply Clever’ touches which Skoda wants to be one of its USPs.

The really impressive bit about all this is the combo of a large boot and generous rear space – the likes of the Pug 308 and Ceed can do the former only at the expense of the latter. No surprise then that the Octavia is one of taxi-cabbers’ top choices.

It’s not the most inviting of interiors, though. The door-cards are hard and, I think, covered in the leatherette (let’s call is vinyl, shall we?) – not what one would expect on this above-median trim level (disappointingly, it’s the same on the posh Laurent and Clement trim too). It probably does not help that the interior colour theme is charcoal. Dark, zebrano-wood-effect-plastic trim-strips across the tops of the doors do a little to lift the atmosphere (surprisingly, they look better than I have made them sound), but it’s no Granada Ghia inside.

The dash is deep and a little domineering, simply designed and, somehow, a bit old-fashioned. The quality of plastics is good overall, with nice, slightly squidgy stuff up top and along the top of the door casings. Things get a bit harder and cheaper at the bottom, meaning that the deep glove-box lid has irritating scuff-marks on it.

HVAC controls feel nice and are relatively straightforward with rotary knobs for heat control and buttons to control direction, circulation, automatic temperature control and heated rear window. Stalks for indicators and wipers, etc. are quite chunky and have a nice positive, quality action to them. Of course, everything is VW parts-bin – having had a Golf for a day, I can tell you there’s very little between them (I have written about that too!).

octaviainteriorfront Skodaapprovedcars
More grey … rather overbearing dash is lit up by classy looking touch screen (Source: Skoda Approved)

Equipment is sensibly specified in SE-L trim. The 8” touchscreen looks lovely and also helps to brighten the mood. It works OK, sometimes needing two or three prods to get its attention, but the resolution is high and the graphics nice. Usability is rubbish compared to the remote-rotary controller on the Mazda3, though. The sound system is good enough, but the sat-nav does not take UK postcodes, which is very irritating – my 06-plate Subaru could handle them, why can’t a 17-plate VW Group product ferhevvenssake?! It’s also rubbish at picking the best routes.

The headlamps are LEDs and wonderfully effective with bright, white light and crisp definition. The ‘auto-dipping’ main-beam function is not sensitive enough, though, and complicates the matter of switching from full to main beam, meaning that I have far too regularly blinded oncoming drivers. I’m not sure when I am going to be able to trust this kind of technology enough to allow it to replace my own instincts and judgement.

Next time, we look at how the Octavia Estate drives.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

29 thoughts on “Long Term Test: No Longer Suprising Skoda (Part 1)”

    1. Dave, yes it does. It is something on which I meant to comment, but forgot. That’s because it’s not the nicest of handbrakes; the action is not smooth and progressive, but still preferable to an electric one.

    2. That’s good to hear. After three years, I still have consciously to think “pull off, push on” every time I operate the dashboard mounted handbrake control on my Boxster. That may say more about my diminishing mental capacity than the unintuitiveness of the control, but it’s still mildly annoying.

      The Nissan Rogue (a US market Quasqai sized crossover) I rented recently had a foot operated parking brake that was simple and intuitive to operate, and perfect for an automatic gearbox car. I don’t know why they’re not favoured in Europe.

    3. Foot operated parking brakes were fitted to Citroën’s DS and XM, and I think also Mercedes used them at times. As you say, good for automatic cars, but trying to drive off at a slope with a manual XM could become a tricky operation.

      “Pull off, push on” really sounds very unintuitive. The Citroën GS has a large handle in the middle of the dashboard acting as parking brake, but it works the other way round – which seems to be the only sensible one.

    4. VWs and Audis have handbrakes that are pulled to close but disengage automatically as soon as the ABS sensors detect a movement of the car. This even works at uphill starts. The annoying thing is that these electric handbrakes disengage only when the driver has closed his seatbelt and has his foot on the brake.

  1. I second the sentiment in the comment “a bit cold and grey”. Anybody have a comment on this? I find this default very irritating. I think I have a 760 brochure which disclosed 6 different ‘colours’. I mean real ‘colours’, even green (I wonder where it is now. I’ll have a look). I think we have recycling requirements to thank for this, it being easier to recycle dashboards if they are (mostly) the one colour.

    1. The choice of interior colours seems to be very limited indeed today. Same for outside, by the way. It seems that people fear a low residual value if the opt for ‘gaudy’ options (i.e. everything that’s not black or dark grey). If you look for a ‘premium’ car, you might even be lucky and have a light coloured interior option – i.e. something beige(ish). But colour? What an indulgence!

    2. One can have a light beige coloured trim on the Octavia, but I can’t remember what that does to the colour of the dashboard? I have driven one trimmed like this (service courtesy car – more of which in Part 3) and it was quite nice, but showed up the dirt, and there was still something a bit cold-hearted about the interior.

      If you want variation in you interiors, take a look at Citroen. They do some quite interesting combos on the C4 Cactus, C3 and, I think, C5 Aircross – including purple, brown and a light stone grey.

      One of my favourite coloured interiors is Alezan, which is a kind of chestnut brown hue which was available and very nice too on the C6.

      I also had a Honda Integra (written about somewhere in the archives of this site) which was very blue – seats, dashboard, door trims … and a bit tacky, unfortunately.

    3. Alezan is the option I have in the C6. Very nice indeed! Colour descriptions vary from ‘brownish’ or ‘cognac’ to ‘orangey’. The only criticism on this is the wood colour which was unchanged from the black interior and look a bit too cold in relation to the leather.
      Blue is a great interior colour, by the way, but also very critical for colour differences between the components (plastics, cloth or leather) and yes it might look tacky if not done well.

    4. Makes perfect sense. If the upper part is light coloured, there will be nasty reflections in the windscreen.

    5. Dave, so it is, thanks. Odd how that left so little impression on me. It’s quite nice, actually.

  2. That facelift really was a shocker. There are so many dissonant lines clashing:

    The worst culprit is, I think, the one I’ve marked in red. Because the bottom edge of the outer headlamp unit, although still sloping downwards towards the centre of the car, is much at a much shallower angle than the rest, it actually appears to be sloping upwards and looks very odd indeed. It is an optical illusion, of course, but did nobody at Skoda notice before signing off on the facelift?

    I think they were trying to achieve a more angular and aggressive look, but there are many better ways they might have gone. Here’s a bit of photoshopping for one possibility:

    It needs refining and is possibly a bit too Kia-ish, but you get the idea.

  3. Ah, I’m using my laptop and those images didn’t post the way I wanted them to. I’ll have another go:

  4. Daniel,

    that was a really good decoding on what they actually did with that facelift. It has a certain appeal nevertheless (especially on a vRS in red), but your ‘proposal’ is far more cohesive, and
    has a very strong identity. It would be therefore much more suited to a Cupra/Seat, IMHO.

    I am afraid, as well, that the upper management would not endorse such a ‘potent identity’ on their Czech brand.

    But it really does look good and opens up the imagination
    of what Skoda could’ve really look like by now…

    1. Agree on both counts – that’s a very strong and arresting front end you have designed there, Daniel.

    2. Thanks both for your kind words. I must admit to studying Mr Herriott’s design analysis technique carefully and have learnt a little from the maestro in this regard. I like playing around with designs to see if they can be improved, but I’m handicapped by the limitations of MS Paint, as can easily be seen. I really need some better (Windows compatible) software, if anyone can recommend a suitable package.

      S.V., I should also have thanked you for an excellent (and properly long-term) test report on the Octavia. One really has to run a car for a couple of years to get a proper perspective on its strengths and weaknesses. These days, Autocar seems to think that a few months running around a finely fettled press office example is all that’s necessary for a thorough evaluation. Not so.

      Finally, S.V., I believe your name is Steven (Stephen?) but didn’t want to be presumptuous!

    3. Hi Daniel, Steven I am, but I prefer a little anonymity.

      Thanks for the kind comments about the test, there are two more parts to come – we all may be a bit dulled by the experience by then.

    1. Very well – no signs of wear at all, in spite of all sorts of food and drink and dog hair and mud and stuff being spilt and ground into it.

  5. From one fellow Škoda-ist to another, what an enjoyable read this along with the comments has been. I fully appreciate the Concorde analogy; I’d owned my Mark 3 for all of five minutes before the dealer calls were had recommending the all new look. Which Daniel has succinctly put the kybosh onLooking forward to the how it drives section too.
    As an aside, have you seen the latest sketch from ŠKODA concerning the next Octavia? Pleases me, so far

    1. Here it is, for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. It’s supposedly from the configurator, so should be an accurate rendering:

      I like the deeper 3D grille, but am a little less sure about the waistline “overbite”, which seems to be a new Skoda design cue.

    2. Looks pretty good. I don’t like the way the headlamps widen outwards towards the outside, it disrupts the horizontal axis and is at odds with the other elements around it. The Superb does it better.

      I don’t mind the overbite and it’s a general VW Group feature. It’s not overdone here in my view.

  6. Judging by that last rendering, gone is the Octavia identity.
    We will be offered a slightly downsized Superb instead (look carefully, it’s far more superb than just the clamshell bonnet).

    It is worrying, more than somewhat, that Skoda (famous, until recently, for one of the most diverse model palettes, styling wise… Yeti, FABia, Roomster, Rapid SB… ) now tends to adopt
    a SSDS palette type (Single Styling Different Sizing),
    following MB and Audi (and even, to an extent, BMW).
    These trends are, apparently, spreading faster than stink.

    Grab a Mk3/3.5 while you can, I say.

    1. I tend to agree with your broader point, but I still see a lot of Octavia in this rendering and would say that it kind of sits half-way between the current Octavia and Superb.

  7. I find the skoda described in the article one of the most beautiful skoda on the market although I must say that I preferred the ante facelift version. for that category of price / space would most likely have been my choice.
    the rear license plate holder with the two inclined lines is in my opinion a stroke of genius as the “tiger nose” front.
    I like much better than the Leon and I must say that the Seat has a design that is not very recognizable, I do not understand why VW with so many brands available does not give the seat the curved line while to vw skoda and audi the straight line. a waste to have the seat brand and not differentiate it from others

    1. Marco, I think many of us would agree with your views about the lack of reasonable differentiation between Seat and the rest of the VW Group portfolio.

      I am pleased you like the Octavia Estate too – as I said, its looks have grown on me considerably. For me it’s the proportions, particular along the side elevation, which stand out – picked out by the satin-chrome window surrounds and roof bars, it gives the car an air of quality.

  8. And here’s the new Octavia for real:

    Skoda seems to have rowed back on the skinny headlamps somewhat, the production items being deeper, particularly at the inboard edge where they meet the grille, when compared to the black and white image above. The wing to bumper panel gap is different too: it’s now horizontal and meets the lower outboard corner of the headlamp, a neater solution. It makes me wonder if the black and white image wasn’t from the configurator after all, but an earlier representation, for patent purposes perhaps?

    One unsettling detail common to both images is the way the light catches the sharp horizontal bodyside crease either side of the leading edge of the front door. What’s going on there? Is there an abrupt change of profile below the crease on either side of the shut line? If it looks like that in natural daylight, that will be a real annoyance.

    Overall, I’m not sure the design of the new Octavia is any improvement over the pre-facelift current model.

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