Update 5: 11 September 2014
That’s (almost) blown it
Latest MPG: 52.1
Lesson learnt: trust the tyre pressure monitoring sensors. I’d noticed it the night before when I moved the Skoda to get the bins in. Check your rear left tyre!, it read. Ho ho, I thought, as I got out and did the age-old F1-level engineering check of, um, looking at it. Nothing wrong there; the tyre pressure sensor’s throwing a wobbler.
Maybe it’s experience of period Renault Laguna II test cars’ fibs that has stuck with me.
Whatever, I left it, but vowed to check it properly before I set off for work the next day. Which I duly did… to discover less than 20psi in the tyre. It should be 36psi. Oops; must be a slow puncture. And as there’s no spare in the boot, only goo and a compressor, I decided an early am visit to Kwit-Fit was in order.
Sure enough, it was punctured; a tiny nail had been swallowed at some point. Impressively, they were able to repair it, and did so while I waited with free coffee and Wi-Fi; half an hour later, I was on the road down to the office. The chap had even reset the TPMS warning sensor; given how it had taken me a fair few jabs of the infotainment simply to find it the previous night, I was most appreciative of this.
Good work, Kwik-Fit (and £25 certainly beats the £125-ish replacement cost of a Continental SportContact 2 tyre).
The lesson is to trust the TPMS system. It works by warning you when there’s a variation from the pre-set pressure, which the driver can themselves set once they’ve topped up all the tyres. It monitors all four tyres individually – hence being able to direct me to the tyre at fault – and, frankly, worked a treat. It saved me a flat tyre on the motorways where I spend 95% of my driving life, and ensured the lack of a spare wheel wasn’t an issue.
It’s not Skoda-specific tech, either. By law, all new models of car sold in the EU now come with TPMS as standard, so it can save you a lot of hassle (and money) too. Yet another example of modern new car tech doing the job nicely: those old Laguna IIs are now but a distant memory…
Want to know more about how TPMS works? Thanks to Kwik-Fit, here’s an explainer.
Update 4: 27 August 2014
Driving a Skoda to ride a Skoda
Latest MPG: 52.2
Skoda is the official car supplier to RideLondon, Boris’ 100-mile Olympics legacy epic. Being a Skoda driver meant I had interest; being a fledgling cycle fan redoubled it. Add them together and what do you get? Me getting up at 3.45am one rainy Sunday morning to ride my Skoda-branded bike 100 miles.
Madness, I know. Getting up and out and to the start line was one of the more emotional experiences I’ve had, helped only in part by being joined by 24,000 other people feeling exactly the same. Throw in the risk of Hurricane Bertha and I fully understood why Laurin and Klement had switched from making bikes to building Skoda cars all those years ago.
Bit it was sunny as I set off and in the first few miles through London town, my Skoda Road bike was doing me proud. I did it last year and it was hell, because of an ill-fitting bike; not this time, with top quality Shimano components and a generally premium feel making me feel more than a little Wiggins-esque.
Then Bertha came. Then we got drenched, and rode through two inches of standing water in places, and were all in tears of pain through the force of the rain hitting our faces. It was a storm and no mistake. It passed, though, leaving every rider to literally steam as they crossed the Pall Mall finish line. Exhilaration? Absolutely.
But my goodness, was I glad to be back in the car. Those bolstered seats came into their own because, in what’s looking to be a total stroke of genius, I’d added the heating option. DSG ensured tired legs could be at least half-rested and the massive door bins readily took my 1500ml rehydration tonic (well, a bottle of fizzy water), with space for all the cereal bars behind. And the bike? Despite mum and two children in the car, it was itself getting a well earned rest lying on our stuff in the boot.
So, which gets it, Skoda car or Skoda bike? At the moment, I’m still saying car. Ask me in a few weeks when I’ve finally recovered and get back out on the bike again…
Update 3: 3 August 2014
From Rolls-Royce to Skoda: what’s it like?
Latest MPG: 53.2
Swanning about in a Rolls-Royce Wraith was awfully nice, particularly once I’d got used to the elegant-attitude suspension and relaxed demeanour it encourages. What, though, did the Octavia vRS feel like straight after it? Not a comparison many (any?) Rolls-Royce customers will be making, which is why I was intrigued.
Right away, you step lower into an Octavia vRS. Through normal doors, of course, which makes things easier, but also onto a low-positioned, firm-bolstered bucket that contrasted with the lofty armchairs of the Wraith. Previously I’d felt them a teeny bit high: not now.
The moody black-themed GTI-style interior was a real-world comeback after the Rolls-Royce indulgence, but it was odd hearing an engine again after three days of ‘is it on?’ refinement. Even more odd was feeling the jiggle of the road beneath me, sensing bumps (they exist again!), feeling poised rather than gliding along on a magic carpet. The vRS, in short, really did feel like a GTI.
But boy, did the steering take some getting used to. As it did in the Rolls-Royce, which has a relatively slow and light steering rack. In complete contrast, the Octavia’s is firmer and significantly faster; what’s more, it still has some ‘sneeze’ around the straight ahead before speeding up quickly, which demands further acclimatisation.
It felt even more odd than normal, then. It’s taking me a while to truly dial into the hyper-active rack of the Octavia anyway, and this didn’t help. Back to square one of thinking how much input to put into corners as I take them, rather than naturally steering through them. I admit, I’m hyper-attentive to it, as it’s my ‘own’ car and I’m thus seeking to be as keyed into it as possible. But surely steering should be a bit more intuitive?
This apart though, was I disappointed to be back in the Skoda after a weekend in the Rolls-Royce? Not at all. The vRS is a cool car in its own right, and certainly a more than able one. The Rolls-Royce of, um, hot green estates.
Update 2: 2 July 2014
To Goodwood! Again, and again, and again
Latest MPG: 48.1
The Goodwood Festival of Speed gets bigger and bigger. So, armed with a media pass and a brief to cover as much as I could, it was down the A34 to Lord March’s gaff: Moving Motor Show on Thursday, FoS on Friday to Saturday. And, before that, a Ford EcoBoost 140 event. And, before that, the media reveal of Jaguar’s incredible Project 7 production car. This is why the mileage has leapt up so…
All good for getting to know the Octavia. Learning that DSG is showing its age in the hesitancy it sometimes shows. That the long-travel accelerator hides the engine’s true potency. That the ‘sneeze’ slow-geared patch straight-ahead hides the steering’s sharpness (and requires calibration when making up time on Goodwood’s backmost roads). That the climate control system is absolutely faultless in terms of understated perfect-temperature-always manipulation (no random full-blast fan intrusion here).
I was heartened when I returned to it after the Moving Motor Show; as I was making a pre-drive tweet, someone trudging past commented on what a good looking car it is. The colour undoubtedly helps here – glad I cleaned it before I left too, as dirt clothes its true vivid vibrancy. Those wheels are a pain to clean though: perhaps I should have gone for the 19-inch anthracite rims?
Perhaps not, judging by the ride quality, which although fine at speed, does pick up irritations: Daisy was right. I put this down to the shallow profile of the tyres – they’re 40-section – as the suspension itself isn’t actually overly stiff. My old Audi A4 S line felt stiffer. Must be careful with the sponge when cleaning the wheels too: the tyres are so shallow, it’s easy to drag it along the ground and pick up grit (the amount of sponges this obsessive car cleaner has thrown away because of that doesn’t bear repeating).
That failed light warning symbol continues to light up. Happens each time I drive through a tunnel, a dark patch of trees or a thunderstorm (sharp work, auto lights). Need to get it checked out at a dealer but simply not had time up to now (or, indeed, been at either home or the office to book it in). Still for the to-do list; this is one gremlin that hasn’t cured itself.
Update 1: 16 June 2014
Holiday fun in the big green Skoda
Latest MPG: 49.6
I had to wait a while for my Skoda Octavia vRS long-termer so, to make up for it, I’ve been pressing it into action with relish. The magic 1,000 miles ‘run-in’ came and went, and it’s now over 2,000, courtesy of a well timed family holiday for which it was delivered just in time.
It’s the perfect holiday car, this vRS Estate, and not just because it’s absolutely massive inside. Although that helps. Normally, with two children, we have to pack carefully, thinking about where everything goes like a 3D game of Tetris. Not here. Fling everything in and you’ve still space to spare: it was a novelty, being able to close the boot first time and see out the rear window on the motorway as we travelled down.
Well, I say close the boot first time. It’s usually second or third time, actually: one grumble about the Octavia Estate is that you have to slam the lid to close it cleanly. One of the selling points about my old Kia cee’d SW was the fact the boot would close simply by letting it drop past the tip point of the gas struts. Handprints all around the Skoda bootlid badge attest to the difference here.
It makes us very mindful of what we may need while on the move – slamming the boot and rousing a sleeping George Aucock does not go down too well…
Driving the entire length of the M5: it’s holiday time
The drive down to Devon was an absolute breeze. We did it in less than three hours, feeling as fresh as a daisy at the other end – the Recaro-style front buckets really are great, and 184hp backed up by 280lb ft of torque is ever-appealing.
Quiet times when children were snoozing (standard DAB was turned off) saw me make a mental tick list of the bits I was enjoying: the shapely steering wheel, clever iPhone holder, Golf GTI-style black rooflining, oil temperature readout, very effective and discreet climate control. Everything you need to ease the miles.
My daughter Daisy did make one observation as we explored – it’s a bit stiff and bumpy, on occasion, over grittier Devon roads (she’s learning fast). Only the worst are comment-worthy, mind (the wavy, broken and blistered sort). That shows the focus of the suspension: just as Porsches and Ferraris patter with intent, so does the Skoda. It does the same on motorway expansion joints, occasionally, although generally it’s of the firm but fine sort.
Early economy is looking good, with an average of 57mpg regularly showing on the trip computer after a 100-mile run to work. Throughout the holiday break, more mixed driving saw 47-48mpg; the aim is to not dip below 45mpg, and see what it takes to break 60mpg…
But there is one minor reliability quibble: each time the auto Xenon headlights come on, so too does a fault alert in the trip computer. And a yellow fault alert light then remains on until you park up and turn off. The headlight seems fine to me, so a trip to the dealer may be in order. I’ll report back on that soon.