Let’s get one thing clear – I’m no fan of the Skoda Octavia TSI. I will say some complimentary things in the next 1,300-or-so words, but without even a hint of exaggeration, I can tell you that I wouldn’t keep one of these if it was given to me for free.
No chance, whatsoever.
Our Octavia was hire car, so any fans of the car who might find this review offensive have an ‘out’ there. As a hire car, it was a much more attractive proposition than the Mitsubishi Lancer and there was no way I was getting into a smaller car, which would have been the hideous Hyundai i30 or Getz.
I assume this Octavia was a base model (I gave up on checking options at the Skoda Australia website after about 2 minutes). For a base car, it certainly did come quite well equipped – which was definitely one of the good points.
Actually, the good points will dominate this review, even though I don’t like the car. So lets get to them first.
The Octavia feels like it’s built with a whole bunch of metal. It’s a very solid lump. One of the ways they keep the price down is to have an old fashioned metal rod to prop up the hood when you want to look at the engine. Remove that old fashioned hood support and you can feel the solidity of the construction simply in the weight of the hood. Ladies beware, the weight comes as a shock, even to big burly Australian men.
As is the reputation of vehicles within the Volkswagen group, the materials used on the Octavia are impressive. VW have done a good smoke and mirrors trick here, with pleasant unexpected details and touchpoints that feel like a good car should. Check the name on the headlamp, for instance….
It’s indicative of the attention to detail present on the Octavia and there’s no doubt that details like this make a buyer feel good.
The dashboard isn’t any more special than that of a Toyota, but again the touchpoints in the interior are well done. The steering wheel isn’t leather, but feels much better than most plastic composites. The dashboard is trimmed with a pattered panel that looks great, even if it feels just adequate (and the inconsistent meeting points from the center console to the gearshift were noted).
The dashboard on our car featured a nice color screen, which is intergrated with the climate control system as well as the audio system. This is, again, one example of Skoda packing in a lot of bang for the buck. The climate control is true climate control, with dual zone dial-your-temp control available.
The same trim on the dash is used on the doors, too. Again, the touchpoints like window switches and door pulls feel good and solid. The rest of the door panel, not so much.
The seats on this particular car were cloth, but they looked OK and felt OK, too. Perhaps a bit scratchy on the back, but nothing I’d worry about. Rear seat legroom seems comparative for the class, but wasn’t commodious.
Moving just a little further back…..
Whilst the car looks like a sedan, it’s actually a hatchback, though as it retains a sedan silhouette, it goes without the spaciousness of a true hatchback. It merely benefits from a very big mouth.
Whilst we’re here, let me say a little more about the hatch.
It was a decent size, albeit smaller than what I think a hatch should be. More importantly, however, it was perfectly serviced by the single-piece hatch door. Skoda also make a “twin-door” hatch on their larger models, which has a two-stage opening that works like a regular sedan trunk when opened half way, as well as offering a full hatchback opening.
My brother-in-law was impressed by the full size spare tyre under the floor.
Would this car benefit from the twin-door? I don’t see how. Whilst intellectually clever, I personally don’t see the need for the added cost, construction or complication of a twin-door. To me, it just seems unnecessary.
So there are a lot of good points working in favour of the Skoda. It’s solidly built, comes well equipped and much of the equipment even feels good to the touch. For just less than $30,000 this seems like some good buying.
Which leads us to the bad bits, I guess.
Have you noticed what I haven’t spoken about yet? Yes, the driving itself.
This car had the 1.4 litre turbocharged engine, making 90kW or 120hp. That engine was matched to a 7-speed DSG gearbox (the modern 7-speed being another indicator of Skoda’s bang-for-the-buck). This combination gives you both good and bad results. Unfortunately, the bad far outweighed the good as far as I was concerned.
The good part is very good fuel economy for a car that will carry as much as the Octavia can carry.
The bad part is the rest. Every other bit of driving.
This was the first time I’d spent any substantial time behind the wheel of a car equipped with a DSG gearbox. I’m told that all DSG gearboxes are pretty much the same. They don’t keep the good ones for the Golfs/Audis/Whatevers and ship the ones that fail quality control off to Skoda, for example. I was also led to believe that DSG gearboxes were super-smooth and super quick with the gear changes.
Well, here’s what I found with ‘our’ Octavia.
The drive was incredibly jerky until you got up to speed. With 7 cogs to get through, the first few must be incredibly short. We were in third gear by the time we got to a mere 30km/h and each of the two changes we went through to get there was preceded by a significant lurching on the car’s part as it quickly got to the top of the gear’s range.
It made for very uncomfortable driving when travelling at a normal pace. The only way to escape the jerkiness was to take off as if you were in a drag race. Push the car and the gear changes actually became less noticeable.
Oh, and in case you think that maybe we just got a bad one…… the girl at the Europcar desk warned us about “the Skodas” as she gave us the keys. She said the takeoff would take a little getting used to – and she wasn’t wrong.
And speaking, as we were, of gearchanges – aren’t DSG gearboxes supposed to be imperceptibly quick-changing in manual mode?
I pushed the stick over to manual mode and I will swear on my father’s grave that to my own mind, there was nothing to indicate that the shift on this Octavia’s DSG was any quicker than any other ‘manu-matic’ I’ve driven. Absolutely nothing at all. Just like the manual-mode Saabs I’ve driven, it was a case of moving the shifter a second or so before you actually wanted it to shift.
The 1.4T engine is kind-of impressive. It’s impressive that such a small engine can move such a big lump of a car. I don’t know how it’d go fully loaded but I was impressed to find out that it was so small. On the other hand, it really didn’t do anything notable apart from being reasonably frugal.
The future of motoring seems to be smaller displacement in bigger cars and that’s a good thing, but I hope they can be more exciting and engaging than this.
The car seemed to handle corners predictably but to be honest, I took the chance to enjoy the winding roads for the scenery rather than for the driving. The car didn’t inspire one to daring driving in any way whatsoever. And to be fair to the people at Skoda, I don’t think they ever intended it to.
These cars are currently selling for between $29,000 and $52,000 here in Australia (approx). The lower end of that range is for new-in-stock 2010 and 2011 models and at that money, it’s a heck of a lot more attractive than paying for a top-spec Hyundai i30. For just a tad more than the $29K base price, though, you can get a new-in-stock 2010 Ford Focus RS5 Turbo. I know what I’d rather have at that money.
At the top end, that $52K price is getting into lower-strata Saab 9-3 territory and whilst I’m sure the $50K Skoda is very well equipped (RS wagon, 2.0T engine, leather, etc) I’m not convinced, based on my experience with this model, that it’d have the scope for improvement to make an impression on me, personally.
As mentioned, the Octavia I drove this weekend is something that I wouldn’t keep if it was given to me as a gift. So annoying is the gearshift and engine combination, I’d be forced to sell it for a song. The rest of the car, whilst objectively admirable, was never close to inspiring.
It’s a lot for the money, but it’s still not much (which probably explains why we’re paying our house off first and not buying something I wouldn’t be happy with).