Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDI 4x4 Estate - SKODA OCTAVIA Car Review
Added: 29 Apr 2005
"MORE car for your money" is the mantra that has powered Czech car maker Skoda to success.
But whereas that once meant back-to-basics eastern European models whose rock-bottom prices were almost an apology for their lack of sophistication, today's Skodas are elegant, well-equipped and increasingly eye-catching.
The extraordinary story of the company started a century ago by two men from the poorest of backgrounds has all the ingredients of a Hollywood epic.
Indeed, the roller-coaster ride through two world wars, occupation of the country by the Nazis and long decades of communist control makes it easy to forget some of the company's extraordinary early achievements.
From the light, open-air two-seater voiturette of 1895, Skoda went on to produce motor ploughs and buses, elegant limousines and roadsters.
Enemy occupation, fires, bombs and Communist rule failed to destroy the manufacturer, but there was no disguising the primitive character of the cars exported to Britain during the Seventies and early Eighties, until the Velvet Revolution of 1989 paved the way for a new era under the control of the German Volkswagen Group.
If Skoda jokes had started to sound passé by the late 1990s, it was to take another few years to lay the ghosts of the past and establish the brand as a major player in its own right.
But with Czech designers now empowered to develop new concepts - like the exciting Roomster and Yeti prototypes - Skoda now looks poised to move on to bigger and better things, its confidence boosted by VW investment, technology and build quality.
If there's one car that's symbolised the company's rebirth, it's the award-winning Octavia, a big seller since 1996 and now emerging in facelifted form as both a front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive estate.
Deliberately bigger than the average "lower-medium" car, the Octavia has always claimed to offer an "extra bit of car" for no additional money.
Now that the firm's trophy cabinet is filled with an impressive collection of awards, the value-for-money message no longer involves any compromises in terms of the driving experience.
Skodas now score well in customer satisfaction surveys and a rapid surge in fleet sales has reflected a parallel growth in acceptance of the brand.
Much of that stems from endowing the car with top-notch VW engines and insisting on German standards of build quality.
But the Czechs are anxious to point out this is not just a poor man's Volkswagen, but a model with a distinctive character of its own.
Octavia prices start at just over £10,000 and rise to almost £20,000 for a flagship estate, but if these no longer sound bargain basement deals, they still represent great value when lined up against key rivals.
The estate has a clean and elegant exterior, dignified enough to look the part in the company car park but not so anonymous that it has no individuality.
The cabin is comfortable and cleanly laid out, with glimpses of chrome, simple controls and a touch-friendly feel to surfaces and instruments that's a far cry from the hard plastics and basic components of old.
VW chassis and engine technology ensures that performance lives up to expectations too, so that despite the size of the estate's luggage area, it doesn't drive like an old-fashioned load lugger, but much more like a spirited saloon.
The two-litre petrol FSI is a unit which inspires confidence, for example, delivering a top speed of 132mph and powering the car to 62mph in under ten seconds, despite boasting combined fuel economy of 37mpg, thanks in part to the slick six-speed gearbox.
Prices start at just over £16,000, but rise to £18,000-plus if you opt for the full leather trim, metallic paint and audio upgrade.
For under £17,000 you can also opt for a 1.9 turbodiesel in Elegance trim with a very impressive direct shift gearbox.
Standard spec in this model extends to luxuries like dual-zone climate control, leather trimmed wheel and gearknob, rear acoustic parking sensors and an air-conditioned compartment with adjustable armrest between the front seats.
But the six-speed DSG gearbox is a real delight, effortlessly harnessing the 105bhp on tap to offer quick, jolt-free acceleration and providing the option of the driver taking manual control of gear changes too.
And those looking for all-wheel drive stability now have a 4x4 model which boasts front-wheel drive characteristics under normal driving conditions but automatically reallocates torque to the rear wheels when required.
You still have the saloon car driving experience, because this is not an estate that has aspirations to be a sports utility vehicle. Nor is it cluttered with the exterior mouldings of "lifestyle" models.
Here, the 105hp turbodiesel delivers a reassuring blend of performance and economy, giving you a 4x4 that's capable of 47mpg or more while still putting in a spirited showing as you slip up through the six gears.
If power is a top priority, you also have a two-litre petrol option offering 150hp on tap for only £600 more.
Funny how times change. These are versatile, sophisticated estates with style and panache, as well as first-class driving characteristics and supple, responsive engines.
A recent survey showed 96 per cent of Octavia owners felt their car matched their expectations - with Skoda owners as a whole also repeatedly confirming they would buy another Skoda and recommend the brand to a friend.
What's clear is that, after a long and often troubled century, the Czech brand is finally coming of age. And if the motor show concept cars are anything to go by, it won't be long before Skoda models become the height of fashion, and the old jokes are forgotten forever.
Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDI PD 4x4 Estate
Mechanical: 105hp, 1,896cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving all four wheels via 6spd manual gearbox
Max speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 13 secs
Combined mpg: 47.1
Insurance group: 8
CO2 emissions: 162g/km
BiK rating: 19%
Warranty: 3yrs/ unlimited mileage, 10yrs anti-rust, 3yrs paint
Keywords: SKODA, OCTAVIA