More often than not, it is difficult to follow in the footsteps of something great. Be it humans, movies, music albums. And it even applies to certain cars as well. Haven’t we gone on a million times claiming that none of the Maruti 800 versions in the last 20 years have been like the original Japanese import back in the early 90’s? The new Skoda Octavia potentially had the same threat - will it be good enough to match and better the Octavia it succeeds? From what we have experienced with the car, it most certainly will. And then some.
Happily for us, there are a lot of tech bits in there as well. Let us run you through our experience with the new Skoda Octavia.
MQB Platform - the beginning of greatness?
The 2013 Skoda Octavia is the first Skoda car in India to be based on Volkswagen's MQB Platform - Modularer Querbaukasten. The biggest feature of this platform is the standardised position of the engine and the transmission, which will cut down on engineering costs when the platform is tweaked for another car. The MQB platform can work with all possible drivetrains - petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric. Currently, the Octavia is on the MQB platform, which it shares globally with the Audi A3, Seat Leon and the VW Golf variants.
Phone and Audio
Something that is becoming fairly standard in high-end cars is the improved infotainment system. No longer is it just a dumb box that can belt out the tunes. You get stuff like phone pairing with complete voice commands, contacts on the system’s memory, and now, a few aspects of the car’s own running statistics. Which is something not many others offer, to this extent.
The 5.8-inch resistive touchscreen is one of the better ones we have used till date, which includes another vehicle that costs two times this one! Simple horizontal and vertical swipes work very smoothly, which surprised us. The interface has the stacked cards look, which works well. There is the second multi-function display in the dash, and that also follows the same stacked layout. This is unbelievably convenient, because you can switch between modes and access the second layer of info in the list format. Since the direction controls on the steering wheel are the vertical scroll wheels, the entire process is very quick.
In line with what most of such systems offer, the contacts from the phone can be transferred to the car’s on-board memory. This is to enable the voice calling feature for phone calls, with a one click access from the steering wheel controls. Speaking of which, it was again a hit and miss in terms of how quickly and precisely the system could understand the name of the person you want to call.
The audio system has fairly basic settings and controls that you can tweak. The “Media” button, the flick through on the touchscreen or the source change key on the steering - all can be used to switch modes. While the entry level active version gets a card reader and the port for aux sources, the higher trim Ambition and Elegance trims get the USB port as well. However, we don’t mind switching over to a memory card, for the Active version, as we didn't face any issues.
The card designed user interface on either of the two displays is extremely easy to navigate. It just makes visibility easier, and you cannot get lost in the options, options such as Audio, Driving Data, Phone and Settings. The scroll keys on the steering that help with the multi-function display and the existence of a good touchscreen are huge boosts when using the main display.
Gadgets for your Comfort!
Apart from making your phone feel more at home, the new Octavia does a lot more. It actually does a very good job of making the driver and passengers feel comfortable. First up is the dual zone Climatronic feature, which lets the driver and the passenger set their own temperatures, for the air conditioner. The rear passengers also get their own adjustable vents, and get the temperature readings thanks to the Climatronic feature. Would it be asking for too much if we now demanded a 4-way Climatronic?
Tech that aids Driveability
Driveability gets enhanced even further, with what Skoda brands as the Parktronic system. The Active version does not get this feature, but the Ambition trim gets the rear sensors and the display in the infotainment system, while the top end Elegance version also gets the front sensors. The infotainment display is used to show the obstacle status and the sensor readings. Beeps are closer apart, as the obstacle comes closer. We did notice two niggles - 1. There may be a scenario in bright sunlight when the display just won't offer the best visibility and 2. The sensor setup in the Maruti SX4 actually screams “Stop, Stop!” when you are close to hitting an object. That, for us, is just a better guide than measuring the distance between the beeps. For anyone who may not be comfortable with the dimensions of the car, in tight spaces, this is an extremely useful feature.
The top line Octavia also gets the tire pressure monitor system, which, while being a convenience feature most of the time, has a huge safety element to it in case of tire failure or a defect.
It is good to note that Skoda isn’t removing too many features from the entry level version as well. All trims include Anti-Brake Lock (ABS), Electronics Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and fuel supply cut-off in case of a crash.
Smart Headlights & Mirrors
The Active and Ambition versions get the Halogen headlights with manual leveling, while the Elegance trim gets the Bi-Xenon dynamic leveling lamps. The top trip also gets the adaptive system, which changes according to the light pattern on the road surface and driving conditions. Also, there are the retractable headlight washers that are a part of the top trim. Additionally, driving ahead of morons at night is now a tad more comfortable, with the rear view mirrors being anti-reflective in nature.
One aspect of the 'Information' part of the infotainment system is the driving data - fuel consumption, time since start, average speed and the fuel tank range. The consumption is shown as xx Litres/100km, and you can easily divide the 100 by the litres to get the per kilometer consumption.
Yes, for all those of you who may have doubted my driving skills, this is the average I got from the Octavia. This info screen shows the distance covered in that particular journey, the time since the engine was started, the average speed, the tank range remaining and the fuel consumption per 100 km. To get the km/l figure, divide 100 by 5.4 litres.
We've made multiple mentions of the scroll wheel on the steering to access and select between various menus on the multi-function display. This blends in very nicely with the smooth UI, and once within a main option, the second layer of options also looks neater and is easily able to be selected.
The Octavia as a car
We tested the 1.4l TSI version, with the 6-speed manual box. And as a car, it is fantastic to drive. And that is not a surprise, with 140PS and 250nm torque under the hood. The launch, from stationary, is extremely quick. And at times, you do tend to get pushed back into the seat, if you aren’t careful while leaving the clutch! Having said that, with correct gear shifts, I was able to go from 0-60 in about 7 seconds, in a fair amount of traffic. The only little thing that I noticed was that when you need sudden acceleration, and you stomp on the throttle, there is that half a second lag before the powerful engine kicks in and the vehicle surges forward. Just something to keep in mind for the first few kilometers you take to get used to the car.
Speed aside, the overall ride quality is superb. Drive over bumps and potholes, and all you will feel is a soft sway from side to side. But, you will need to be a bit careful about driving over these a too quickly, because the new Octavia isn’t the highest sitting sedan out there.
In terms of driving experience, it seems that everything is just taken care of, and all you need to do is point the car in the right direction and it will just glide you along on your merry way. However, the Octavia can be equally engaging when you are in the mood for some enthusiastic driving. The response happy engine, and the six speed transmission are only to eager to indulge you. And since you are safely cocooned inside a plush, noise-free cabin, the essence of speed may not be the most precise. Again, it's something to watch out for in the initial phase of driving.
The cabin is large, larger than the Octavia it replaces. This means there is more legroom at the back, and the flowing roof line along with the big glass at the back lets a lot more light trickle in. But because of the hump on the floor that runs through the length of the car, and the rear AC vents, the passenger seated in the middle at the back will not be the most comfortable. However, even with the driver seat fully pushed back, the passenger sitting behind me didn’t have her knees touching the backrest of the front seat.
Would I want one?
Well, if I had upwards of Rs 14 lakh to spend on a sedan, this would definitely be one of the options. Apart from the Hyundai Elantra. The new Octavia has a lot going for it - more space in the cabin, build quality oozes finesse, lots of features and tech, flexible response to your driving style and if driven well, can give excellent fuel consumption figures. The only worry, as always with a first generation launch, is that an "update" is not a long distance away. We aren't saying that buying one now would be a bad idea, but some car makers tend to take in customer feedback and tweak the features or options list just a little bit. But, if you really do keep waiting for the updated version, then it'll just be a never-ending cycle.