Opinion: OK, Laura – make sure the new Skoda Octavia is good

New Skoda Octavia design sketch

Skoda’s new ‘Laura’ digital assistant has mastered six languages, is comfortable with natural voice and doesn’t mind being interrupted. OK, Laura, I have one request: please make sure the new Skoda Octavia is up to scratch.

The design sketches look positive, although talk of a ‘coupe-like roofline’ could rob the Octavia of its enviable USP: practicality.

Whether in hatchback or estate form, thanks to its cavernous boot, the Skoda Octavia has always delivered. Why buy a Golf when you can buy a Golf-based hatchback with a 590-litre boot? That’s more than the BMW 3 Series Touring, Audi A4 Avant or Volvo V60.

Opt for the Octavia estate and you have access to 610 litres with the rear seats up and 1,740 litres with them folded away.

All creatures great and small

Skoda Octavia paramedic

Little wonder the wagon has become de rigueur for those who put common sense above fashion. Paramedics, rural vets, the St John Ambulance, police forces and fire and rescue services are just some of the groups and organisations that have come to rely on the Octavia.

Only last week, we had to call the vet to deal with an animal emergency at home. He arrived at 1am, in a previous-generation Octavia estate plastered in mud and loaded to the rafters with veterinary equipment. The car just gets on with it – no fuss, no glamour, no bother.

That’s the Octavia way. Even the performance vRS has understated and under-the-radar appeal. Before the arrival of my first child, when it was time to ditch the Vauxhall VX220 in favour of something with more seats, I chose a nearly-new Mk1 Octavia vRS. My son was driven home from the hospital in it – I’ve never driven with more care and attention.

It was a terrific car, with the 1.8-litre turbocharged engine providing plenty of poke, plus boot able to cope with all the paraphernalia that comes with parenthood. I can’t remember why I sold it, but it was almost certainly for something less practical and less sensible.

The Octavia is one of those rare cars I’m happy to recommend to friends and family. It’s a dangerous game – giving advice is a risky business. What if your recommendation leads to an expensive mistake? You’d be better off giving a tip for the 2:45 at Kempton Park.

But I know of two people who have taken a gamble on an Octavia on the ‘strength’ of my opinion. Fortunately, they’ve lived happily ever after.

All things wise and wonderful

Skoda Octavia Scout

Savvy motorists know a good thing when they see it, which is why the Octavia Scout seems to attract a premium on the used car market. There’s something ‘old money’ about the Scout: a soft-road wagon for those who are confident in their own skin. The thinking person’s Audi Allroad. The less ostentatious Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain. The only rural wagon you’ll ever need.

Check this out: a 2019 Skoda Octavia Scout for £24,000. That’s nearly £10,000 less than the price of a Karoq Scout. The Octavia is more practical, better to drive and will look better parked outside the farm shop. There’s no contest.

I guess there’s a wider point to this post, and it concerns the diminishing appeal of the Skoda brand. Granted, it’s a personal opinion, but I believe it’s worth sharing.

Like all volume brands, Skoda has thrown its might behind a range of SUVs. The Kodiaq was followed by the Karoq, with the Kamiq the latest crossover to hit showrooms. All worthy, all a match for their immediate rivals, all bang on trend.

But there’s a danger that Skoda is losing sight of what made the brand so appealing to free-thinkers and those not swayed by fashion or trends. The SUVs are great and are what the market demands, but Skoda needs to maintain a gap between it and the Volkswagen mothership. Some clear space to leave room for individuality.

It’s this space that gave us the Felicia Fun, the Fabia vRS diesel, the Roomster and the Yeti. Much as I adore the Superb, especially in 272hp 2.0-litre petrol guise, I miss the cars that made Skoda feel like Volkswagen’s quirky Czech mate.

Let’s hope the new Octavia continues to major on practicality, with a keen price and an acknowledgment of what has made the first three generations so successful. The alternative is more people migrating to Skoda SUVs, and that’s a future we can all do without. 

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