The Octavia estate will reach showrooms in February and will build on the many strengths of the new Octavia hatchback and the latest range of Volkswagen Group technology.
Two high-economy oil-burning motors are being lined up to underpin moves aimed at persuading more fleet decision-makers to include the Czech brand on choice lists. Skoda Auto UK director Chris Craft said: ‘Three-quarters of this new range will have the 1.9-litre and 2.0-litre diesel engines that appeal to user-choosers and I expect them to help us rapidly develop our share of business car sales.’
To coincide with the expansion, the company will step up its fleet operation field sales force team from five to eight and open a dedicated fleet back-up unit at its Milton Keynes headquarters.
Craft told Fleet News: ‘Our product line-up is getting better all the time, but our biggest job continues to be making ourselves better known.Companies are hardly likely to have a policy about Skoda if we are not able to talk to them – and people can’t choose our cars if they’re not on the choice lists.’
Speaking at the international launch of the estate range in the Czech Republic, he claimed experience with the new Octavia hatchback already proved diesel would take a central role in growing fleet registrations from 27% to more than 35% of the company’s total sales.
Craft said: ‘When we introduced the hatchback in the summer, we planned to sell around 2,800 examples by the end of the year, but the response to the 105bhp and 140bhp turbodiesel versions has been so strong that we are on course to achieve 3,500 registrations. As a result, I’m confident we will exceed our target of 4,500 sales of the estate in 2005.
‘We will sell around 35,000 units this year and our current share of the fleet market is 0.8%. I’m serious about taking a bigger slice because we have high-quality products at sensible prices and the lowest wholelife costs in the medium sector.
‘We have done well to get to where we are but I believe we can do better. These new cars give us the opportunity to exploit our potential.’
Based on the same platform as the hatchback, the estate boasts a class-leading load capacity of 580 litres with its seats in position, but the volume potential rises to 1,620 litres with the rear seats folded.
Initially available with a 1.6-litre petrol engine developing two levels of power, the new range will be bolstered in the spring by a 2.0-litre FSI unit producing 150bhp. Like other Skodas, the estate uses Classic, Ambiente and Elegance trim levels and its prices are pitched to make it an aggressive competitor in both the lower and upper medium sectors.
A Tiptronic automatic or the VW Group’s sophisticated DSG transmission is offered as an option to five or six-speed manual gearboxes across the range and fans of the latter – the only sequential unit yet developed to provide flawless upward or downward shifts, irrespective of conditions – will be interested to note that Skoda’s price for DSG will be £1,020, significantly less than the premium charged by other group brands.
Featuring a rear pillar that slopes more steeply than on the previous model, the new estate has the elegance of a ‘lifestyle’ Tourer. But the more attractive roofline still manages to envelop greater interior space.
Irrespective of trim level, all examples have roof rails, handy shopping bag hooks and a nicely-engineered luggage cover that winds itself back at a touch to give better access to the huge load area. Safety equipment includes anti-lock braking with traction control and brake assist, power door mirrors, adjustable headlights and electro-mechanical power steering.
Standard-fit convenience features include pollen filter air re-circulation, height and reach-adjust steering, an immobiliser, CD radio and a power outlet in the boot. Ambiente versions have air conditioning, higher grade in-car entertainment, remote locking, lumbar support front seats, split-fold rear seats, tinted glass, a trip computer and a cooled glovebox. Elegance trim adds alloy wheels, foglamps, a cooled centre console, cruise control, dual-zone air conditioning and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
Behind the wheel
It might have revised suspension settings to cope with life as practical transport, but you’d never guess it from the way Skoda’s new workhorse model behaves on the road. Over a variety of surfaces around Prague that make UK roads seem well-maintained, the front strut and rear multi-link suspension soaked up the bumps and potholes while still providing a smooth ride.
All versions have neat handling and feel well put together. Thanks to extra attention to acoustics, the car remains quiet – quieter than many saloons, in fact – during high speed cruising.
More compact, better looking and more upmarket than its predecessor, the new estate is more practical and the retracting luggage cover is a neat touch in a thoughtfully-designed interior.
Needing only a light tap at its leading edge to roll out of the way when the tailgate is open, this unique feature makes loading easier and will prove a boon with business users and shoppers.
With a view to the car’s potential for load carrying, Skoda UK has opted not to offer the domestic market’s 1.4-litre petrol engine – a sensible move, as the MPI version of the 1.6-litre motor had to be worked hard over the hilly part of our test route.
Even though it proved to be adequate, the more potent FSI version was the better all-rounder, although the best of the engines available was undoubtedly the 2.0-litre TDI.
With ample power for any situation, this version was snappy off the mark, brisk in overtaking and super-relaxed at motorway cruising.
As in other VW Group products, the car feels even more refined when mated with the direct shift gearbox, the clever double-clutch unit that allows smooth ratio shifts even under hard acceleration.
With a huge amount of load space and flexible interior packaging, the Octavia estate is a serious alternative to the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. Its distinctive design and air of quality worthy of a premium product also make it a potential competitor to the larger estates from Ford and Vauxhall. It will be unrivalled in the lower and upper-medium sectors when the six-speed 4x4 version arrives in the spring with a choice of 105bhp 1.9-litre turbodiesel or 150bhp 2.0-litre FSI petrol engines.
|1.6||1.6 FSI||1.9 TDI||2.0 TDI|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||102/5,600||115/6,000||105/4,000||140/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||109/3,800||114/4,000||184/1,900||236/1,750|
|Max speed (mph):||117||123||119||129|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||38.2||40.4||53.3||49.6|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||178||168||143||154|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||55/12.1|