In this middle section of our long term look at the Octavia Estate, we review how the mid-range Skoda drives.
Driving the Octavia is a bit of an unexpected bonus – it’s a much sweeter drive than I expected. The steering is direct, well-weighted and helped by a well sized, shaped (it’s actually round!) and covered steering-wheel. When I say ‘well weighted’, actually, that depends on which driver setting you choose – in this case it’s ‘normal’ as ‘sport’ is just heavy and gloopy.
One can also adjust throttle response between ‘economy’ (ultra-woolly), ‘normal’ and ‘sport’. Because I find the engine unresponsive at the best of times (see below), I leave it in ‘sport’ and use my heel and toes to do the regulation. To be honest, though, the whole concept is a bit of a gimmick on a car like this and I’d prefer there to be a sensible set of standard settings.
The gear-change is very good; smooth, well defined, not too long of throw and, again, well weighted. I’d say it’s uninvolving, but that’s because I have been spoilt by the lovely, well oiled, mechanical feel of the Mazda3’s gear-box. The clutch is smooth but quite heavy – I did not realise how heavy until I jumped in a Fabia service car with one of those thrummy triples and thought that the cable must have snapped, so light was it in comparison with that on the Octavia.
Of course, that might have something to do with the engine being a diesel. I chose diesel because of the mileage and type of driving I tend to do. We rarely use the Octavia around town; that’s what the petrol 500 is for. It’s a Euro 6 compliant diesel and so is as clean as such a device can be. I have had a few comments about being some kind of neo-child killer, but, I still think studies are inconclusive and am not, at this point, losing any sleep at night over it.
Most of the miles now under the Skoda’s metaphorical belt have been covering the tarmac of the M1, A43 and B4525 to Banbury and back from my home. This mix of mainly motorway and dual carriageway has helped the Octavia achieve excellent fuel consumption figures, averaging well over 60 MPG – on dry days it can be better than 70.
That particular treadmill is gone now thanks to a new job in a similarly obscure home for a financial services company, Wellingborough (with apologies to the good citizens of Wellingborough for any unintended slight from that comment).
Anyhow, as a diesel engine, economy aside, I’d say it’s passable but no better than that. My benchmark is my ex-Mazda3, and the VW Group unit suffers in comparison. It’s noisier, emitting a classic diesel deep grumble and even rattle at times. Power delivery is quite non-linear, with poor response and apparently little torque at very low revs.
I am quite used to it, but my wife regularly stalls the car from rest – which results in a heart-stopping bang as well as the to-be-expected sudden power-loss, like something really bad has happened under the bonnet. As the revs rise a bit, there is a short surge of torque and then it all gets noisy and breathless again. The Mazda, benefitting from a sequential twin-turbo set up, provided none of the above, and at times did a decent impression of a 2-litre turbo petrol up until about 5,500 rpm.
Given the lack of sophistication in the chassis set-up (struts and a torsion beam), the ride is a decent compromise. It was instantly notable how much more pliant it is than the Mazda, and is much better controlled than the Picasso. Roll is well contained, even when testing the high adhesion levels, and understeer is pretty well contained.
The torsion beam rear gives itself away by skipping the rear sideways when traversing a bump around corners. It also gets out of shape over poor surfaces at high speeds. This came to the fore when travelling up the motorway section of the A12 around Colchester, which must rate as one of the worst surfaces stretch of high-speed road in the UK – I’d say it’s borderline unsafe. The rear of the car pitched and wallowed as it failed to keep in synch the series of high-frequency divots and ridges. Admittedly, that was a fairly extreme situation, but I’ve never had the same problem in the IRS equipped Mazda3 and C6.
Noise levels are OK; better overall than the Mazda, especially with respect to the level of road noise which permeates the cabin, although I think it could be better. The drone of that engine subsides somewhat at cruising speed and wind noise is OK, with the usual buffeting around the top of the A-pillar and over the large door-mirrors.
Next time around, we’ll look at how the Skoda has been day-to-day in terms of reliability and servicing, and will draw together some conclusions.