It has now transformed the Octavia, using the same platform as the Volkswagen Golf and Touran, the Audi A3 and the SEAT Altea, from a capable budget lower-medium hatchback to a car that can compete with the very best of the volume players.
The Octavia will go on sale in the UK on July 19 and unlike Skodas of the past, comes with some of the latest technology available from its VW Group parent either from launch or within a few months.
Automatic transmissions will be six-speed Tiptronic units, while diesels will be offered with hi-tech DSG transmissions, combining the smoothness of an automatic with the fuel consumption benefits of a manual.
Fuel-saving FSI direct injection technology will be offered in 1.6-litre and, in February 2005, 2.0-litre versions, while the diesels (105bhp 1.9 TDI and 140bhp 2.0 TDI) will be Euro IV compliant, eliminating the 3% supplement on benefit-in-kind tax.
This will be good news for Octavia drivers as Skoda expects most of them to use their cars for business – and with more than 50mpg offered from both versions, it is easy to see why Skoda thinks about 70% of Octavias sold in the UK will be diesels.
A spokeswoman said: 'The new Octavia will provide Skoda with a great opportunity to gain sales in the fleet and small business markets, as we are providing an upper-medium car at a lower-medium car price. Prudent volumes mean that we expect residual values to be as good as, or better than, the current Octavia, which is at segment average.
'Skoda's business sales have grown from 1,273 units in 1998 to more than 10,000 in 2003, which is a phenomenal growth of 680%. In 2003, while the fleet market was down 2.1%, Skoda business sales increased by 8.2%.'
UK prices and specifications are yet to be finalised, but it is likely that an Octavia 1.4 Classic will be priced at between £10,500 and £11,000, giving it a list price advantage over the entry level versions of the new Astra - although the Vauxhall has a more powerful 16-valve engine.
Three trim levels will be offered in the UK, with Classic as the entry point, Ambiente as a medium specification model and Elegance at the top of the range.
Air conditioning will be standard on Ambiente models, along with four electric windows, a CD autochanger, remote central locking and an alarm. Elegance models add auto-dimming rear-view and door mirrors, climate control, cruise control and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.
An estate version will make its public debut in September's Paris Motor Show before going in sale in the first quarter of 2005.
However, the current Octavia will continue 1.9 TDi in entry level trim, mainly to serve demand from the many taxi companies that use the car. Skoda believes that taxi firms would be prepared to pay a lower price for the existing model for a while longer rather than stump up the extra cash for a new one.
The high-performance Octavia vRS will also continue until it is replaced during 2005.
Skoda, rather modestly, believes its will sell as many new Octavias in a full year as it does with the current model, but with a broader range and a higher level of technology, the company's executives might replace their quiet confidence with pleasant surprise.
Behind the wheel
OVERALL, the styling of the new Octavia seems an evolution of the old model, albeit with a neater and more dynamic front end and more elaborate rear light clusters.
In profile, the Octavia appears to straddle the border between lower-medium and upper-medium sectors, perhaps only lacking the width of upper-medium rivals which ensure three people can sit more comfortably in the rear, while its 560-litre luggage compartment is better than many larger cars.
Skoda had made great leaps forward in the perceived quality of the interior in the Octavia. There are soft-touch materials on the top of the dashboard and the door trims and the glove compartment has a damped action when opening.
Only the grab handles spring back sharply, betraying the company's 'value' heritage, but apart from that the Octavia feels every bit as well finished as the new Volkswagen Golf.
Our first experience of the new Octavia was in a high-specification 1.6 FSI, with optional leather trim, electrically adjustable front seats and satellite navigation.
The 115bhp FSI engine was refined and pulled smoothly and strongly across a broad power band. Offering fuel economy comparable with the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol engine – although the sophisticated FSI engines like to run on sulphur-free fuel for the best performance – this version is a gem, offering a good balance of performance, fuel economy and low carbon dioxide emissions.
It also proved thoroughly pleasant to drive, with a supple ride and neat handling. Although the electro-mechanical power steering was a little devoid of feedback, it was precise and the tyres offered plenty of grip when tackling faster bends where the Octavia also demonstrated a reluctance to upset the occupants by leaning.
A spell in a mid-spec 2.0 TDI showed the diesel Octavia's high-performance credentials, with a 0-62mph time comfortably under 10 seconds and a six-speed manual transmission as standard. This is will be the fastest version of the new Octavia until the 150bhp 2.0 FSI arrives in February 2005.
Performance is effortless with maximum torque of 236lb-ft available from 1,750-2,500rpm, while official fuel consumption figures show 50mpg could be achieved without too much effort.
The 105bhp 1.9 TDI, however, will be more than adequate for most needs and will be available with a DSG transmission, offering the smooth gearshifts of an automatic with less severe fuel consumption. The standard five-speed model we tried was responsive with a reassuring mid-range performance, and should achieve more than 50mpg.
SKODA no longer needs to point to a price advantage over mainstream rivals as a basis for choosing its cars. The all-round competence of the Octavia is impressive, and it can easily be judged alongside the best in its class, with quality to match.
|Model||1.4||1.6||1.6 FSI||1.9 TDI||2.0 TDI|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||75/5,000||102/5,000||115/6,000||105/4,000||140/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||93/3,800||109/3,800||114/4,000||184/1,900||236/1,750|
|Max speed (mph):||106||118 (auto: 114)||123||119 (DSG: 117)||129|
|0-62mph (secs):||15.5||12.3 (15.9)||11.2||11.8 (12.2)||9.6|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||40.4||38.2 (34.4)||40.4||53.3 (47.1)||47.9||CO2 emissions (g/km):||166||178 (197)||159||143 (162)||168|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||55/12.1|
|On sale:||July 19|
|Service interval (miles):||Variable|
|Prices (estimated):||£10,800 - £7,000|