When, as a company car user, you’re bound to spend a good chunk of the working day driving a car, then practicality matters. I’ll concede that the excitement many felt 30-odd years ago about built-in cupholders was rather excessive, but finding neat little touches and gadgets that improve the use of a car is still a small pleasure.
Take the fold-out plastic hooks in the side of the Octavia’s bootspace, for example. No, they’re not exclusive to Skoda, but they prove that thought has been given to users’ preferences to not have to clamber into the boot to reach the wine bottle that’s rolled right to the front. And the plastic ice scraper slotted inside the filler cap – no need to use that old Nectar card because you left the de-icer at home.
How about the umbrella hidden inside the driver’s door, ready for when you arrive at that appointment in a downpour? All these simple things help the travelling executive arrive smart and unflustered. Skoda calls them 'Simply Clever' and that's exactly what they are.
The ignorant may still sneer at the Skoda brand, but it aims to be the most valued fleet car manufacturer in the UK. It’s taking lots of small steps to get there.
Longer trips highlight key attributes
Now we’re emerging out of lockdown I’m spending a bit more time in the Octavia. Even crossing the Cambridgeshire border felt slightly novel after three months of pandemic-enforced confinement, during which a visit to a regional vaccination centre seemed as valid an excuse for a drive out as any.
Those longer jaunts revealed that the 150PS 1.5-litre petrol engine is a reasonably gutsy, capable unit and efficient too, thanks to its active cylinder technology which switches seamlessly between four- and two-cylinders when under minimal strain. The last 300 miles have been covered at an average of 39mpg, which is pretty acceptable for family trips. I hope that would rise considerably once a few long distance motorway cruises are notched up.
This Octavia’s ride is rather refined too, taking much of the anguish out of East Anglia’s potholes. And, during the depths of winter, its optional winter pack, which bundles heated front seats and steering wheel for optimum comfort and heated windscreen and washer nozzles for drive-away convenience, has been much
Space is not an issue
Some of the crucial factors for fleet managers considering the Octavia Estate include total operating costs, driver comforts and its ability to haul whatever its company car users need in their daily business lives.
Regarding the latter, I can report that it easily fits the brief. Skoda is well known for practicality and, with the rear seats up, the 640-litre boot space (40 litres more than Octavia hatchback) beats rivals such as the Mazda6 Tourer (522 litres).
During lockdown there hasn’t been huge opportunity to stretch its legs. However a journey to the local refuse/recycling centre, accompanied by teenage children to help unload, showed our Octavia’s comfort levels aren’t diminished even when four-up and with a full boot. The low height of the boot lip makes loading and unloading a doddle.
On rare occasions when users need even more capacity – moving desks and chairs back to the office, for example – the rear seats drop down to almost treble the load space. At 1,700 litres maximum, it’ll happily swallow a couple of filing cabinets.
Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI SE Technology Estate joins our fleet
The new Skoda Octavia range launched last autumn with more on-board tech, more soft-touch materials and more of the practicality that fleets demand.
It also now includes a plug-in hybrid variant in the range, however given the price premium for the PHEV (list price £31,745 in estate guise) currently many fleets are likely to opt for efficient petrol-engined models, such as the 1.5-litre 150PS one we now have on long term test or its even more frugal but less powerful 1.0-litre sibling.
With a £23,390 P11D value and a 28% BIK rate this well-equipped 1.5-litre workhorse will cost an typical 20% taxpaying fleet car driver an acceptable £1,310 annual tax. To me, little more than £100 per month is small sacrifice for a car loaded with all the essentials that’ll keep occupants safe and comfortable.
Highlights of the SE Technology derivative’s kit list include a 10in touchscreen controlling the sat-nav, climate control and infotainment, front and rear parking sensors with manoeuvre assist, an electronic parking brake with hill start assist, and cruise control with a speed limiter function – vital for business drivers who’ve already accrued a few points on their licence.
Yet standout touches are the umbrella hidden inside the driver’s door and an ice scraper mounted inside the fuel filler flap – Skoda is well known for such clever little touches that make owners’ lives easier.
And I particularly like the 10.25in ‘virtual cockpit’ in front of the driver. This really boosts this Octavia’s ‘techy’ persona and ensures drivers can personalise their dashboard view quickly and intuitively through the steering wheel controls to see navigation, performance and efficiency data and even connectivity options as they desire. Used well, it helps to reduce the instances they’ll glance at the main 10in centre screen, so ensuring their focus remains on the drive, not the gadgetry.
The next report will share more on that, plus a quick comparison with the PHEV alternative I’ve driven for a couple of days.