Posts

Czech mates: 60 years of the Skoda Octavia

If you have never driven an Octavia, chances are you’ve travelled in one. Probably late at night, slightly inebriated and post-kebab. The multi-million-selling Skoda is one of Britain’s most popular taxis, and for good reason: it’s affordable, reliable and practical. As we’ll see, it can be exciting too.

The Octavia was first launched 60 years ago, so to mark this milestone we drove all four generations back-to-back. Turns out quite a lot has changed…

Skoda Octavia Combi (1964)

The Octavia took its name from the Latin word for ‘eight’, being the eighth post-war car built at Skoda’s Mlada Boleslav factory in the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia at the time).

Its 1.1-litre four-cylinder engine sends 40hp to the rear wheels, giving a top speed of 70mph and 30.5mpg economy. Double wishbone suspension was considered innovative in an era of leaf springs, and the Octavia earned positive reviews from motoring magazines. The 50hp Touring Sport version later claimed three class victories in the Monte Carlo Rally (1961-1963).

The Octavia Combi estate – seen here – followed in 1961, with three doors and a horizontally-split tailgate (they’d probably call it a ‘shooting brake’ in 2019). It has five seats and a 690-litre boot, swelling to 1,050 litres with the rear backrests folded.

A total of 51,086 Combis were made by the time production ceased in 1971, versus 309,020 Octavia saloons.

On loan from the Skoda Museum, this flawless 1964 Combi arrived with its own – justifiably proud – chaperone. Nonetheless, I seemed more nervous than he did. Its chrome grille and tail fins are clearly influenced by American cars of the 1950s, while its two-tone interior oozes retro cool.

A huge, thin-rimmed steering wheel is flanked by a column shifter: push away and up/down for first and second gears, then pull towards you for third and fourth.

On today’s roads, the ‘family-sized’ Skoda is dwarfed by bloated SUVs. Its engine is thrummy and willing, at least until 40mph or so. Beyond that, acceleration is best described as ‘glacial’.

Stick-thin roof pillars mean excellent visibility, but the drum brakes are heart-stoppingly feeble. Seatbelts or crumple zones? No chance. Truth be told, I’m relieved to return the Combi safely to its keeper.

Skoda Octavia Mk1 (2002)

Trapped in the Eastern Bloc, Skoda struggled throughout the 1970s and 80s with a succession of outdated, rear-engined cars that sold primarily on price. The Octavia name wouldn’t return for another 25 years, then was revived under Volkswagen ownership.

An injection of Volkswagen cash from 1991 transformed the brand, starting with the 1995 Felicia, then the all-conquering Octavia a year later.

The Octavia shared its underpinnings with the Mk4 Volkswagen Golf, but was roomier and cheaper. Understandably, that sounded like a win-win for many buyers. Available as a five-door hatchback or estate, nearly 1.5 million were eventually built.

Its no-nonsense design, the work of Dirk van Braeckel, defined Skoda styling for generations to come. Indeed, you can see its influence in the current Octavia.

Fittingly, the 2002 Octavia on Skoda’s heritage fleet has covered a meaty 136,000 miles. An ex-taxi? Quite possibly, although it wears those miles impressively well. Its 110hp 1.9-litre diesel engine is good for 119mph and a thrifty 54.0mpg.

Inside, the cabin is functional and solidly built (Germanic, even). ‘Infotainment’ comes via a cassette player, but it feels positively futuristic after the classic Combi.

It’s effortless to drive, too. The bulbous, airbagged wheel is light, the five-speed gearbox is Teflon-slick and the gruff diesel pulls strongly from low revs.

It feels somewhat detached, but that’s perhaps the point. After a nine-hour night shift of pub pick-ups and airport aggro, I suspect I’d be thankful for such easygoing affability.

Skoda Octavia vRS Mk1 (2004)

The Mk1 Octavia also did performance, not simply private-hire. The first vRS debuted in 2001, providing a springboard for Skoda’s return to top-tier rallying.

It was the fastest production Skoda ever when launched, reaching 62mph in 6.7 seconds and 144mph flat-out.

While the WRC version boasted 300hp and four-wheel drive, the road-going vRS shared its fundamentals with the Golf GTI. That meant a 180hp 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, driving the front wheels via a five-speed manual ’box.

Subtle spoilers, spidery 17-inch alloys and green/red/grey vRS badges gave Skoda’s hot hatch a suitably sporty makeover. Nonetheless, it’s pretty tame (and tasteful) by modern standards.

A launch price of just £15,100 (a Ford Focus ST170 was £15,995) made the vRS even more tempting. In terms of performance-per-pound, little else came close.

It’s a cracker on the road, too. The steering is swift and precise, while handling is poised and predictable. There’s more body-roll than some rivals, but a pliant ride more than compensates. It’s been many years since I’ve driven a Mk4 Golf GTI but, from memory, the Skoda seems more fun.

The hot Octavia’s double-whammy of space and pace made it a popular choice with UK police forces. Seeing one of these in your mirrors usually spelled bad news. Skoda later launched an estate version, offering ultimate Q-car kudos.

Perhaps the finest compliment I can pay the vRS is that I’ve been browsing the classifieds for good examples ever since. And yes, they’re still a bargain now.

Skoda Octavia Scout (2008)

Today, Skoda has fully jumped aboard the SUV bandwagon; its line-up stretches from supermini-sized Kamiq to seven-seat Kodiaq. The Octavia Scout was arguably the first step on this (unclassified, boulder-strewn) road – and it remains a standalone model today.

The original Scout joined the Mk2 Octavia range in 2006. It followed the example of the Audi A6 Allroad, first launched in 1999.

In essence, the Scout combines the rugged styling, loftier ground clearance and four-wheel drive of an SUV with the superior dynamics and fuel-efficiency of an estate car.

An extra 40mm beneath the wheelarches and Haldex variable 4WD mean it will tackle gravel tracks or muddy lanes with confidence. But the rear wheels are only engaged when needed, so quoted fuel economy is a car-like 44mpg.

The Mk2 Scout still looks the part, thanks to muscular body cladding and skid plates beneath both bumpers. Inside, snazzy kickplates and a ‘4×4’ logo on the gearknob hint at its added potential.

Buyers could have a 150hp 2.0-litre petrol version, but most opted for the 140hp 2.0 diesel. It produces 140hp and propels the 1,625kg Skoda to 122mph.

On the road, the Scout feels as intuitive and inoffensive as a regular Octavia. Granted, there’s a little more lean when cornering, and perhaps a smidge less precision from the steering. But it’s certainly more engaging than a contemporary SUV. Less ostentatious, too.

Sadly, I didn’t get chance to sample the Scout on rough terrain. Suffice to say, the original press photos – which show it clambering over rocks and dive-bombing through streams – are testament to its prowess.

Skoda Octavia vRS Mk3 (2019)

My fourth and final drive is the current-model Octavia – again in sporty vRS guise. Its 245hp 2.0 TSI engine packs a healthy 65hp more than the original, cutting the 0-62mph dash to 6.6 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph.

A base price of £27,640 still undercuts most rivals, although my test car cost £29,360 after options. These included the Audi-style Virtual Cockpit display (£450) and lane-assist with blind-spot detection (£400). Both were, of course, unheard of back in 2001…

In time-honoured tradition, the Octavia doesn’t shout about its added performance. Despite hip-hugging sports seats, red stitching and a smattering of vRS badges, its interior lacks the wow-factor of a Golf GTI. No complaints about build quality, though.

The eight-inch touchscreen media system is a highlight. It syncs seamlessly with your mobile phone via Apple Carplay or Android Auto. There’s also a choice of driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Custom.

The spiciest Octavia comes in three outputs: 184hp diesel, 230hp petrol and the vRS 245 petrol tested here. The top-dog 245 has a limited-slip differential as standard, but four-wheel drive is only offered on the diesel.

That diff makes a marked difference on the road, tightening turn-in and helping you slingshot out of bends. Switching to Sport sharpens things further without ruining the ride. The gruff growl of its engine sounds slightly synthetic, but there’s something addictive about its elastic mid-range punch.

The Octavia has been on quite a journey. It’s changed beyond all recognition, yet remained true to its roots, providing sensible – and sensibly-priced – transport for the masses. Even the vRS is a remarkably level-headed hot hatch.

So, všechno nejlepší k narozeninám Skoda Octavia (that’s ‘happy birthday’ in Czech). Here’s to another 60 years.

2017 Skoda Octavia 1.0 review: brolly good show

01_Skoda_Octavia_1.0

This is the new 2017 Skoda Octavia. No really, it is. Clearly taking the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach, Skoda has unveiled a selection of enhancements that aren’t quite needle in a haystack territory, but you may need to dig out a magnifying glass to spot them.

You can hardly blame Skoda for not wanting to mess with a winning product. The Octavia is the company’s cash cow – what Skoda calls “the heart of the brand.” Over five million Octavias have rolled off the production line since it was launched in 1996, with 430,000 units sold in 2015 alone. To put this into context, that represents around 40% of all Skoda sales.

Big figures, especially in a world increasingly obsessed with crossovers and SUVs. Skoda will want to continue milking this particular cow, as the popular Yeti is now seven years old and the seven-seat Kodiaq won’t arrive in the UK until 2017. So what you can expect from your not-that-new Octavia?

Somebody Snapchat Rihanna: you no longer need a Superb

02_Skoda_Octavia_1.0

Pop tartlet Rihanna has a thing for umbrellas, but until now Skoda could only feed her brolly habit with the luxury Superb. But the big news — especially if you’re Rihanna or happen to live in Britain — is that the Octavia now comes with an umbrella of its own.

It’s thanks to a new compartment sitting below the passenger seat, which opens to reveal a small umbrella. It’s what Skoda calls one of its ‘simply clever’ features and it’s now available across the entire range, with exception being the ageing Yeti. Skoda has yet to reveal the price of said brolly, but how much would you pay?

Perhaps we’ll ask you that question the next time you’re faced with the prospect of a downpour when exiting your generic five-door hatchback.

Wait, so the umbrella is the biggest news?

Not exactly, but it says something about the British psyche that we spent more time discussing the finer merits of the umbrella than we did the new engine. That’s right, the Skoda Octavia now boasts a new entry level engine: a turbocharged 1.0-litre unit, replacing the old 1.2 TSI.

It’s the first time a three-cylinder engine has powered an Octavia and it pits the practical Skoda against the Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost. It’s cleaner, more economical and more powerful than the unit it replaces, but Skoda is charging a mere £145 premium over the equivalent prices of the 1.2 TSI.

The engine itself weighs a mere 78kg, contributing to an overall kerb weight of just 1,225kg for the hatchback. Other important figures include a claimed 62.8mpg; 103g/km CO2; 115hp at 5,500rpm; 148lb ft torque at 2,000rpm-3,500rpm; 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds; plus a 126mph top speed. So now you’re in the know.

Thrum roll: what’s the engine like?

03_Skoda_Octavia_1.0

Unsurprisingly, the familiar three-cylinder thrum is evident from the moment you pull away, with a small amount of vibration transmitted through the pedals and gearstick. In fairness, Skoda has done a good job of insulating the cabin from the joys/pains (delete as applicable) of a three-cylinder engine and it settles down nicely when cruising.

You need to press on to get the best from the engine — at which point it starts to sound a bit harsh — but for steady progress the 1.0-litre unit is more than up to the task of hauling the Octavia. It’s an unlikely marriage, but it works. And with prices starting at £16,660 for the Octavia S with a manual gearbox, it’s also terrific value for money.

By comparison, an entry-level Octavia S 1.6 TDI costs £18,575, meaning the 1.0 TSI saves you the best part of £2,000 and leaves you free from the clouds gathering over diesel engines.

04_Skoda_Octavia_1.0

We should point out that our time behind the wheel was rather limited, but in town the Octavia 1.0 TSI delivered a decent turn of pace and was more than comfortable at motorway speeds. The six-speed gearbox certainly helps, while a seven-speed DSG transmission is also available for a £1,250 premium.

Run DCC: walk this way

Order a new Octavia 1.0 TSI and you won’t be able to take advantage of the new Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC). First seen on the Superb, the system — available as a £850 option on models with 150hp or more — allows drivers to cycle through a number of different driving modes.

Put simply: you can opt for Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport or Individual, depending on your mood or the state of the road. Ideal if you live in Bruges. Or along any British street. The system adjusts the suspension and steering accordingly. Sport mode won’t turn your diesel-powered Octavia hatch into a dynamic legend, but the adjustment is welcomed.

05_Skoda_Octavia_1.0

Octavia vRS owners are likely to find the most benefit, especially if riding on the optional 19-inch rims, as the Comfort setting might make help to create a more rounded car. Even vRS drivers aren’t ‘on it’ all of the time.

Crucially, the DCC is intelligent enough to switch automatically from Comfort to Sport mode, should it detect a hazardous situation. Skoda claims Sport mode provides greater stability, more grip and shorter braking distances. On the face of it, £850 could be money well spent.

06_Skoda_Octavia_1.0

So what else is new?

Skoda’s Climatronic climate control now includes an allergen filter, while cars equipped with the optional rear-view camera will find a washer jet is on hand to keep things clean. Hashtag firstworldproblems.

A £300 Phonebox option will offer wireless smartphone charging for anyone with a suitably-equipped handset, while iPad mounts can be attached to the front seats’ backrests. This is the Skoda Octavia embracing the modern world.

Not as exciting as an umbrella though, is it? Oh, so that’s just us? Right, moving on…

07_Skoda_Octavia_1.0

The final news of note is the arrival of a so-called Aero package, which, despite its name, won’t allow your Octavia to take flight. Instead, it includes active air flaps, a tailgate spoiler and low rolling resistance tyres to shave a further 1g/km off the CO2 figure.

Verdict

A small but significant difference, which neatly sums up the improvements to the 2017 Skoda Octavia. Just enough to keep the Octavia on the front pages of the motoring press, giving Skoda time to perfect its new seven-seat SUV.

And you can bet your bottom koruna the Kodiaq will feature at least one umbrella. The best industry forecasts: we’ve got it covered, rain or shine.

08_Skoda_Octavia_1.0

For:

  • Price
  • Economy
  • Umbrella

Against:

  • DCC not available on 1.0
  • Three-cylinder won’t appeal to all
  • 1.0 offered only on S and SE trim

2017 Skoda Octavia 1.0 TSI

Price: from £16,660

Engine: 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Power: 115hp

Torque: 148lb ft

0-62mph: 9.9 seconds

Top speed: 126mph

Fuel economy: 62.8mpg

CO2 emissions: 103g/km

Retro Road Test: Skoda Octavia vRS

Skoda Octavia vRS: what is it?

01_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Skoda’s vRS badge has come a long way in nearly 15 years.

Back in 2001, when the first Octavia vRS was launched, the idea of a hot Skoda was far too much for some people to take in. The Skoda brand was still emerging from the dark days of ill-informed jokes, continuing to find its feet under Volkswagen ownership.

With a knowing tap on the inside of its nose, the Skoda Octavia vRS emerged from out of nowhere and practically trumped anything else from the VAG stable. To those in the know, the Skoda Octavia vRS was the performance weapon of choice.

Skoda Octavia vRS: what are its rivals?

02_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

We could argue that the original Skoda Octavia vRS had no direct rivals. With a launch price of £15,100, nothing could touch it. The one notable exception was the slightly cheaper SEAT Leon Cupra, but pound for pound, the cavernous Octavia vRS stood out like a big shiny beacon.

Remember the early press cars were all painted in striking Corrida Red. And we all know red is faster, right?

Other rivals? Well the Octavia vRS trounced the MK4 Golf GTI in just about every department, while the UK’s first Honda Civic Type R was waiting in the wings. The £15,995 Ford Focus ST170 was a palatable prelude to the blistering Ford Focus RS and was arguably the Octavia’s most direct rival.

Skoda Octavia vRS: what engine does it use?

03_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The Skoda Octavia vRS made good use of Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 1.8-litre 20v turbocharged engine, seen in the likes of the Audi TT, Audi A3/S3, Volkswagen Golf, SEAT Leon and standard Skoda Octavia.

In Octavia vRS guise, the engine develops 177hp at 5,550rpm, producing 173lb ft of torque. The 0-60 time was quoted as 7.9 seconds, with a claimed top speed of 144mph. At the time, this was the fastest Skoda ever built.

Skoda Octavia vRS: what’s it like to drive?

04_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Seriously good. Given the mediocrity of the equivalent Golf GTI, you have to ask what wizardry was applied to transform the Octavia vRS into such a performance bargain. You could say the same about the SEAT Leon Cupra, which was also better than the Golf.

The gearing is comically long, with 70mph achievable in second gear. The engine also feels more characterful in the Octavia vRS, urging you to press on.

The steering on this 77,000-mile car seemed lighter and less communicative than it did when new and subjectively, the Octavia vRS lacks the intimacy and immediacy of a more hardcore hot hatch. But considering the size of the Octavia vRS, not to mention the double wardrobe over the rear wheels, masquerading as a 528-litre boot, the Skoda is a huge amount of fun.

Skoda Octavia vRS: reliability and running costs

05_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The Skoda Octavia vRS offers a combined fuel economy of 35.3mpg, although figures in the mid 40s aren’t uncommon on a long run. With CO2 emissions of 192g/km and tax band J, taxing the Octavia vRS will cost £265 per annum.

The availability of parts will not be an issue and there are number of excellent Volkswagen Group specialists who can service the car for less than that of a main dealer.

Skoda Octavia vRS: could I drive it every day?

06_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Oh, absolutely. The Skoda Octavia vRS is an easy car to drive, with a simplicity that is lost on so many hot hatches. No driving modes to choose from, no concerns about all-round visibility, just a highly practical and immensely likeable performance hatchback. And if you demand more practicality, there’s also a Skoda Octavia vRS estate.

Back in the day, these cars were the motorway patrol car of choice for many police forces. The combination of supreme pace, space and the unknown quantity of a hot Skoda made for a brilliant unmarked cop car. It helped to springboard the vRS brand into the public domain.

Skoda Octavia vRS: how much should I pay?

07_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Prices start from as little as £1,500, which represents tremendous value for money for such a high performance car. For that money, you’ll get an Octavia vRS with a six-figure mileage and part service history. Prices go as high as £3,000 for a really good example, but it’s worth noting the MK2 Octavia vRS can be secured for upwards of £3,500.

Buy on condition and service history, rather than age. Optional extras were few and far between, but it’s worth searching for cars with parking sensors (that’s a big boot when reversing), cruise control (to take advantage of long-distance credentials) and an electric sunroof.

Skoda Octavia vRS: what should I look out for?

08_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The ever-excellent Briskoda forum offers an extensive Skoda Octavia vRS buying guide and that should be your first port of call if you’re considering a purchase. The belt and water pump should have been replaced every four years or 60,000 miles and you should check for signs of accident damage. This is a performance car, so it may have been used accordingly.

An engine misfire could be caused by a faulty coil pack, while water in the boot may be the result of a broken rear washer pipe. Better to wait for a cherished and much-loved example than to take a chance on a cheap vRS of questionable quality.

Skoda Octavia vRS: should I buy one?

09_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

If you’re looking for a practical, spacious and quick hot hatch with a difference, you must consider the Skoda Octavia vRS. Green brake callipers may not appeal to all, but Skoda deserves huge respect for transforming an everyday hatchback into such a purposeful-looking machine. You even get a smattering of vRS goodies on the inside, such as a vRS branded gearknob, vRS seats with white inserts and silver-rimmed instruments. There’s even an ASR traction control button…

Skoda Octavia vRS: pub fact

10_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

In 2002, Skoda launched the Octavia vRS WRC, built to celebrate 100 years of Skoda in motorsport. Only 100 were sold, of which 25 were right-hand drive cars offered to the UK.

At £20,700, they were more expensive than the standard vRS, but they did offer a host of extra features, including Candy white paint, WRC replica graphics, a numbered plaque, xenon headlights and heated front seats. A future classic in the making?

Skoda Octavia vRS estate 4x4

Skoda Octavia vRS 4×4 set for UK debut

Skoda Octavia vRS estate 4x4

Hot on the heels of the new Skoda Octavia vRS 230 – the most powerful production vRS ever – comes the news that a 4×4 variant is on the way. Could this be the missing cog in the Skoda Octavia line-up?

More details on the UK specification will be released next week, but initial reports suggest the Octavia vRS 4×4 will be powered by the firm’s 2.0-litre TDI engine and offered with the six-speed DSG transmission. With 184hp on tap and the benefit of all-wheel drive, you stand every chance of matching the claimed 7.6 seconds it can take to reach 62mph.

A 141mph max and 280lb ft torque

The Octavia vRS 4×4 has a top speed of 141mph, with torque listed as 280lb ft between 1,750-3,250rpm. Fuel economy is 57.7mpg, with CO2 emissions of 129g/km. Needless to say, there’s currently a cloud hovering above Volkswagen Group diesel emissions…

Speaking about the Octavia vRS 4×4, Werner Eichhorn, Skoda board member for sales and marketing, said: “The Octavia vRS has been very well received, and sales have exceeded our expectations. This 4×4 version will continue to drive the success of the model series.”

Skoda Octavia vRS 4x4

The third-generation Octavia vRS has been on sale since 2013, with more than 58,000 units produced to date. The new 4×4 version will be available in both hatchback and estate variants. It’s the ninth 4×4 in the Skoda range, which includes the Yeti 4×4 and Superb 4×4.

Sadly, Skoda is sticking to its guns and not giving the world a Superb vRS. We can only hope that there’s a change of heart in the Czech Republic.

In the meantime, there’s no word on whether a petrol version of the Octavia vRS 4×4 will be offered. We’ll bring you more news on the UK spec, including prices, next week.