THERE’S a polarisation developing in the new car market – budget and premium brands are on the up while those in the centre ground are starting to look more and more shaky. Buyers either want value or a prestigious badge.
As the budget brand in the Volkswagen Group’s portfolio, Skoda finds itself in a very strong position to capitalise on the situation and a steady year-on-year increase in sales and market share reinforces this.
Continued successes in the JD Power drivers’ survey with high levels of owner satisfaction with the cars, the dealers and the level of reliability have also raised Skoda’s profile.
Now here’s something for Skoda’s German and Spanish cousins to ponder. Since the original JD Power survey here in the UK, the Octavia has never been out of a top-five ranking and Skoda as a manufacturer never lower than third place.
So our long-term Octavia has got a lot to live up to over the next few months.
At £11,990 (£12,305 with optional diamond silver metallic paint of our test car), our Classic specification 1.6 FSI is, in the words of perma-tanned TV antiques expert David Dickinson, ‘as cheap as chips’.
Stretching the point, maybe, but the Classic is very good value and well equipped considering its lowly position in the Octavia range – only the Classic 1.4 16V 75bhp, at £10,990 comes any cheaper – and sits below the Ambiente, Sport, Elegance, the luxuriously appointed Laurin & Klement and high-performance vRS.
Dispel any thought that Classic ownership means stripped-out austerity. Granted, alloy wheels are missing from the specification, but automatic air-con, four airbags, ABS, traction control, remote central locking, electric front windows, electrically adjusted and heated door mirrors, radio/single CD with four speakers and height and reach-adjustable steering wheel are there.
The Classic has all the same high-quality interior materials and build quality of its more opulent brethren except for – bizarrely – cheap-looking black plastic door release levers and gearlever knob insert in place of the chrome-plated items found in the Ambiente and above.
Passenger space is excellent. I’m a six-footer but headroom is good and I can sit comfortably behind myself with knee room to spare. Just as impressive is the 560-litre boot capacity, though access through the large tailgate is spoilt by having to lift luggage over the Octavia’s high boot lip.
As with the previous-model Octavia, this one shares much with the Audi A3, SEAT Leon and Volkswagen Golf, including the new lean-burning 1.6 direct-injection FSI 115bhp engine.
CO2 emissions are reduced over the now discontinued 1.6 MPI-engined Octavia (down from 178 to 168g/km), official fuel consumption improves from 38.2mpg to 40.4mpg and BIK tax liability falls from 22% to 20%.
The Octavia’s new FSI engine produces its maximum torque of 114lb-ft at a rather high 4,000rpm, which is when the engine’s variable valve timing shifts from economy to power mode. And with a weight penalty of some 200kg over less spacious rivals such as the Focus, Megane, Astra or Golf, it’s well worth exploiting that upper power band if through-the-gears performance isn’t to be compromised.
If you do, the Octavia is a surprisingly sporty drive but then the company’s slogan used to be ‘Surprising Skoda’.
Price: £11,990 (£12,305 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 168
Company car tax bill (2006) 22% tax-payer: £43 per month
Insurance group: 7
Combined mpg: 40.4
Test mpg: 37.4
CAP Monitor RV: £3,800/32%
Contract hire rate: £263
Expenditure to date: Nil
Equipment and options
Total options: £315
Price (OTR): £11,990
Price as tested: £12,305
THE Octavia offers an ‘extra bit of car’ – a B-segment car at A-segment prices.
It satisfies owners with its quality, reliability, proven technology and favourable purchase price and operating costs. The 1.6 FSI direct injection engine offers excellent fuel economy while not compromising on power. Spec-wise, the Classic offers a high level of equipment not seen in competitors like Focus and Astra, such as air conditioning and electrically controlled and heated door mirrors.
With an insurance rating of just 7 and low running costs, the Octavia 1.6 has been a real success in the fleet market for us.
Martin Burke, head of business sales, Skoda Auto UK