Long Term Test: No Longer Surprising Skoda (Part 3)

In the final part of our ownership experience review of the Skoda Octavia Estate, we discuss service intervals, sloths and dodgy DRLs.

Skoda Estelle (5) honest john
They don’t make them like this any more. The glorious Estelle (did the lady with the bag forget the handbrake?). (Source: Honest John)

Living with the Skoda Octavia is a pretty pain-free affair.  As mentioned previously, it’s very parsimonious with respect to fuel consumption, it’s comfortable and spacious to sit in and drive, it rides well enough (with a decent level of pliancy), and it’s reasonably quiet.

The Skoda has also been pretty reliable – but not flawless.

I’ll start with the niggles. The Tyre Pressure Monitor Sensors (TPMS) are irritatingly sensitive, and I feel like I have had an ongoing battle with them.  The near-side rear, in particular, goes off every other journey, and yet every time I check it, it’s only within 1 or maximum 2 PSI of where it should be. I have had the Skoda service centre have a look at it on many occasions and they can never find a fault – in fact they always seem to suggest that the pressure was way out of line, even though I had checked before that it wasn’t.

The LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) on the near-side of the car also developed a fault in that they were permanently dimmed. This required three trips to the service centre to solve – one to diagnose, two to have a whole new headlamp fitted as the DRL is sealed within the same unit (thank goodness it was still under warranty!), and three to have the headlamp re-set as, when I drove home from collecting the car I noticed the new headlamp unit was very poorly aligned. I’ll come back to the service experience in a minute.

octavia-estate-skoe-19 - car leasing
The near-side of my car was the source of various unrelated niggles (Source: Car Leasing)

Thus far, nothing else has gone wrong. The paintwork seems very tough and neither chips or scratches easily (much better than the Mazda). The washer fluid reservoir seems to drain very quickly, but I suspect that’s because it sprays the headlamps at the same time as it washes the windscreen.

Tyre wear is very good – slow and even. I have had some bad luck with tyres, though. A nail ruined one in the first few weeks of owning the car.  Then a bulge emerged in a front tyre after about 18,000 miles and so I felt I had to replace both front tyres rather than risk have them being uneven across the front of the car. C’est la vie … as was the damage to the rear bumper in a motorway service station car-park caused by a distracted Volvo Estate driver (they were very nice and apologetic about it, though).

I found the service support for the Skoda oddly annoying. Although we bought the car from Progress Skoda in Letchworth, I always used Listers in Banbury because it was conveniently close to the office. On the surface, this was great. It has a nice clean and pleasant reception area, the receptionists were polite, always offered a hot drink, a lift/ service car (at a modest cost), etc. One also gets a (pointless) video clip of a service engineer shining a torch on the underside of the car telling one it’s all in good shape (even though one of the tyres wasn’t on one occasion).

Profile_-_Flash - Disney-wiki FANDOM
Nigel, Lister-Skoda’s Service Receptionist (Source: Disney-wiki FANDOM)

One can tell, though, that they are going through the motions of the ‘seven steps to customer service heaven’, or whatever, that either Listers or VW Group has indoctrinated into them. The guy I mainly seemed to deal with was sloth-like in the slow, deliberate and distracted way he went through these motions – throw him the curved-ball of a question and he’d either be flummoxed or have to start his spiel all over again.

This wouldn’t grate so much if the actual work requests were done properly. I mentioned above the new headlamp which left their workshop badly aligned – that’s just sloppy. They also forgot to put new mats in the car even though they had told me that I would find them in the boot.

And then there is the muddle of service intervals. There is a service indicator which pops up a message on the small screen between the main dials on the IP. As expected, it told me I needed an oil-change at about 12,000 miles. When my sloth-like friend noticed that the car was barely 6 months old at this first service, he suggested that the indicator could be reset to a 20,000 per interval cadence.

This struck me as odd (why not set it at that in the first place?), but I went along with it. Imagine my surprise when, about 5 months and 10,000 miles later, the indicator popped up to say the car was due an inspection. I called the service centre to query it, to be told that this was separate service required by Skoda and is standard on all VW Group cars irrespective of the oil change. What’s the point of that, and, moreover, why did sloth-guy not explain the whole picture in the first place?

I know this is small beer, first-world problem stuff, but I’d rather the fundamentals were right and bin all the service-procedure-by-numbers nonsense stuff, thanks.

skoda-octavia-instrument-cluster autocar
That middle screen also displays service interval warnings and messages (Source: Autocar)

So, overall, how to summarise my views of almost 30 months with a Skoda Octavia Estate? Probably the best way I can describe it is that I would (and do) unhesitatingly recommend one to anyone who’s interested (and even some who aren’t). If you are in the market for a medium (or even large) sized estate, I still think this is the one to buy.

I have had experience of Peugeot’s 308 SW, a Golf Estate, and a Focus too and none of them has the great balance of a large boot and spacious interior. I’ll say it again, fuel consumption is fantastic, the seats and ride quality are comfortable, build quality is good and, in almost every respect, fit and finish are at least as good as the Golf.

Skodas are far from being the bargains they used to be, but it still represents very good value. You pay slightly less than the equivalent Golf, but you get a car which is half a size larger. You also get the ‘Simply Clever’ brand embellishers like the brolly under the front passenger seat, the ice-scraper/ tyre depth measurer in the fuel flap, and the robust bag-hooks in the boot.

Don’t pay for more than the SE-L trim though; the Laurin & Klement version just has a load of relatively useless extra toys stuck on and ain’t worth it. Some people still can’t get beyond the image of the badge, but then there are others who prefer it to that of the still ‘yuppy’ tinged VW.

I would like a bit more warmth of character to the car. It does seem like a car built to a set of brand requirements, perspiration over inspiration, and all that. But that’s the car enthusiast talking; my wife loves it and says how much she likes it every time we go on a longer journey, and she is right to do so. It’s a very fine car, absolutely fit for purpose, and that should not really be a surprise to anyone anymore.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

10 thoughts on “Long Term Test: No Longer Surprising Skoda (Part 3)”

  1. Are you sure you didn’t inadvertently use an Alfa dealer for service where non-quality like the one you experienced is standard?

    Otherwise the Octavia seems to be what I thought it was: a tool – something useful designed to do a job.

  2. Thanks for the review. I have no experience with Skoda dealers, but some with VW and Audi, even though I have never owned either. Not sure about the situation elsewhere, but here in the Netherlands they’re usually part of the same group. The lack of service and inability to deal with issues of these dealers are legendary over here. I don’t own a VAG product, but based on my experience it’s highly unlikely I would go to them for service.

    Happy to hear your car has been reliable. By the end of last month one of the consumer organizations here has released the reliability figures of cars. Skoda comes up third from bottom, with only Seat and Citroën performing worse. I seem to remember that in the UK Skoda was doing rather well in these statistics. Also there are plenty of high-mileage Skodas around.

    The instruments seem a bit hard to read with the white font on the grey black background. How is this in practice? I wonder how much information you get on the screen between the tach and speedometer. Does it tell you shift in a higher gear and does it have the compass function? I occasionally drive a VW which displays those functions all the time and it looks like you can’t switch it off. First world issues, but I think it’s rather annoying.

    1. Hi, I haven’t noticed that I have a problem with the legibility or clarity of the instruments. I am not keen on the way that the numbers follow the line of the curve rather then sit on the horizontal, but that’s been a Skoda-under-VW thing from the off, from memory.

      There is a little indicator in the top right hand corner to remind one to shift up or down to optimise fuel economy, and then if you ignore it, a large written ‘warning’ pops up on the main part of that same screen.

      There is a compass function, but it is selectable rather than mandatory – I tend to have that screen displaying instantaneous fuel consumption and my wife prefers to have it displaying a digitally numerical speedometer. One can’t turn the screen off completely (well, not that i have discovered, yet).

      One small feature I forgot to mention is the soft ambient lighting which is always on, sited just behind the rear view mirror. I guess this will be a standard VW Group feature, but I rather like it. It’s so soft that you don’t notice it until you glance down to look for something, say in the drinks holder, and you notice that its visible rather than in darkness.

      Another one is the way in which there is an indicator repeater built into the wing-mirror facing the interior occupants, which acts as an almost subliminal confirmation to the brain both that you are indicating and of the direction which you are indicating.

      I drove the car into work this morning through a lot of rain and standing water: it was delightfully stable and planted. There’s a lot of suspension travel and the body is quite raised over the 17″ alloys, providing a lot of ground clearance, which I think helps in conditions like this.

    2. I have found the instrumentation on a few VAG cars to be very poor for clarity and ergonomics. In particular the use of odd numbered increments for the labelling on the dial mean no clear indication of 30MPH and 50MPH, but there is something generally about the fonts and style that doesn’t sit well with me.

      For such a large company making so many cars I find such ergonomic niggles very frustrating.

      My step father has just bought one of these; I find it exceedingly drab but he is pleased to bits with it. Don’t the lower powered versions have a torsion beam rear setup and the more powerful ones a proper multilink suspension?

    3. David, if you read Part 2 of this three-parter, you will read my comments on the torsion-beam set up on my car. It’s interesting that many manufacturers are doing the same thing these days, with the Focus, A-Class, Golf, among others all going got torsion beams for the lower-powered cars and IRS for the more powerful ones. Mazda has switched to torsion beams completely for the new Mazda3 range, which is disappointing.

    4. Hi Freerk, those gear change indicators seem to be a common feature in Volkswagen group cars. I’ve had them in hired VW Polo and Seat Ibiza models and they are, as you say, rather annoying. They often indicate that you should change to a higher gear than is ideal. If you comply, the engine labours. At the risk of sounding judgemental, should someone who needs this indicator be behind the wheel of a manual transmission car?

    5. There’s probably some EU regulation allowing manufacturers to reduce the official fuel consumption/CO2 emission of a car by some nanograms per kilometre if the car has a gearchange indicator – just like it’S getting one more NCAP asterisk when there’s seat belt warning light.

      VAG cars are full of this annoyingly patronising crap but all this is configurable to an astonishing degree.
      All you need is some software to break into the OBD system via the CAN bus like VCDS or VCDpro. For me that’s an absolute must when owning a current generation VAG car.
      There you can adjust the sensitivity of the tyre pressure monitor (very prone to false alarms), you can configure a lot of what is displayed in the dashboard and you can switch off most of the nannying nonsensical alarms (open the driver’s door with the engine running? Alarm!) and you can make the the hand brake disengage without having to put on your seat belt. When I got my new Audi a month ago I spent a whole weekend switching off all kinds of things.

    6. “All you need is some software to break into the OBD system via the CAN bus like VCDS or VCDpro.”

      Dave, that’s exactly what I was thinking…(not!)

      Sometimes I feel like the world has completely passed me by 😦  

  3. Good morning, S.V. I know exactly what you mean about the car lacking warmth and character. We bought a Mk1 Fabia in 2005, trading in our Mercedes SLK for it*. The Fabia was unfailingly reliable and very practical over the nine years we owned it. The only significant problem was that the catalytic converter came loose and began to rattle when the car was eight years old, necessitating the replacement of the centre section of the exhaust, which cost around £500 as I recall. We were very happy with the Fabia and, being a Mk1, it was a handsome little thing in metallic silver Ambiente (mid-range) trim with optional alloy wheels. However, it felt more like an efficient domestic appliance and lacked personality. We replaced it with a Mini Cooper and even my partner, who has little interest in cars, still appreciates how much more characterful it is. Horses for courses, I guess.

    Your service experience is annoying. One of the advantages of going to a small, independent specialist for service is you get to speak directly to the mechanic who usually knows what he’s talking about, unlike many “Service Advisors” at main dealerships.

    Thanks again for your reports on the Octavia, which have been very interesting.

    *That particular combination can’t have happened too often! It was a zero-cost deal and we just wanted to rid ourselves of the consistently unreliable SLK before it started to rust.

  4. As one who has just experienced the Škoda service world at the dealership, I did like your sloth-like analogy of the guy. My local dealer has one similar who I refer to as a “duck-egg” a local colloquium for someone who should be fine but comes across as one who has little happening upstairs.
    Fortunately I got the other guy who explained everything easily and had some banter with me to soothe the blow. My car needed a cam belt and coolant compressor (a rare failure and naturally not covered by the warranty) and my working day ended with a £800 bill. Modern ways meant I could spread the payments over four months, bringing a little more colour back to my cheeks. But my Octavia is perfect once more and managed to splash through our very recent flooding with aplomb.
    And I’ve been invited to the Kamiq launch next week – I’ll be all Škoda-Ed out!

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