The Skoda Octavia’s 2014 Wheels Car of the Year campaign was torpedoed early by judges who were surprised at how mean Skoda was with the entry-level Ambition’s fit-out. Among other things it sat on 16-inch steel wheels with plastic hubcaps, lacked cruise control, and even lost the armrest that sits in between the driver and front-seat passenger. It’s of no surprise, then, that few bought it, and little surprise that Skoda has used this facelift to reset its entry-level model and add genuine showroom appeal. And set a safety benchmark, to boot.
- The Octavia is cutting-edge motoring. It shares the same DNA as the Volkswagen Golf (VW owns Skoda) and it will sit under the all-new Skoda Kodiaq (a seven-seat SUV due next year) and Audi A2 (a compact luxury SUV).
- The facelifted Skoda Octavia Ambition now looks pretty good in the driveway. Handsome to start with, it now sits in 17-inch alloy wheels that add to the aura of ownership.
- It gets active cruise control. It’s just like normal cruise control, but even the entry-level Octavia throws radio waves out the front of the car that measure its distance to the car in front. The car in front slows, and your Octavia slows with it, keeping a set distance behind while you just cover the brake pedal. It will even pull the car up from highway speeds to a complete stop if needed.
- It can save you from a low-speed crash. Because it has active cruise control, the Octavia also has a guardian angel called autonomous emergency braking. Those same radio waves that work the cruise control also watch out for the car in front in heavy traffic, even if you’re not using cruise control. If you’re distracted, and about to run into the boot of the car in front, the Octavia can automatically jump on the brakes and prevent a crash. If there is a crash, it will be a little one, not a biggie.
- The price is $22,990. Okay, that’s $500 dearer than the model it replaces, but when you consider it now has more expensive alloy wheels, a colour touchscreen display high on the dash, a reversing camera, reversing sensors and a centre armrest between the front seats, it’s good value.
- Engine. The 110TSI – Skoda’s way of describing the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine – is a perky thing, works well in the city, and isn’t scared of loping along the freeway, either. It’s economical, too, officially using only 5.2L/100km.
- Boot space. The Octavia is a liftback. It looks like a normal sedan, but the back of it is a hatch that lifts the rear window as well as the bootlid. Crack it open and the space it yields will swallow more school bags than you can put kids on seats. Fold down the rear seats, and you can have wagon-like real estate down back.
- Spending $22,990 on an Octavia Ambition means it comes with a six-speed manual gearbox. Spend $2300 more, and you can have a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission instead. While fine at cruising speeds and great when you need an extra bit of zip from the engine, at low speeds the auto can lurch and jerk a bit, which takes some getting used to.
- It uses a torsion beam rear suspension. Despite updates, this suspension system is a throwback to another era, and used today because it’s cheap and saves a lot of space and weight. However, other models in the Octavia line-up use a more expensive and arguably better multi-link suspension rear end.
- It’s still a bit noisy inside. One of the main criticisms of the car this replaces is that the road roar generated when the Octavia’s tyres roll over coarse chip surfaces – of which there are many in Australia – is pretty loud. That said, it appears that the noise level carried to the cabin is better, but it’s still there.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?
Yes, but check the bank balance first. One of our favourites, the Mazda 6, is about $7000 more expensive than the Skoda. However, we really like the way it drives, and the top-class interior. The Hyundai Sonata is priced the closest to the Octavia, just $6000 wide, but while it looks nice, it can’t compete on fit and finish, fuel economy, or safety tech. The Ford Mondeo is around $8000 more expensive and is hard to match if you’re more interested in how a car drives, but is let down by its interior.