Is a MK1 Skoda Octavia a good first car?

Is an old skoda estate a unknown gem of a first car that you haven't thought of?

40w ago
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When you think of your first car, chances are it was some sort of hatchback. Whether it be a Vauxhall Viva or a Mark 2 Fiesta. They are the stereotypical first car of choice for many new drivers. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that they are the cheapest to insure. Averaging between £100-150 a month fully comp usually (for a new driver with 0 years no claims that is). This combined with the fact they are cheap to buy, cheap to run and easy to drive just makes them the ideal first car for a 17 year old fresh out the door.

However, let's say you wanted to do things slightly differently. Lets say you didn't want to go a hatchback or something ''normal'' for a first car and fancied something slightly different. Would a diesel Skoda be the answer to that question?

Well, to answer that question that's exactly what I did. This is my MK1 Skoda Octavia. My first car.

If you're a skoda enthusiast I already know this has angered you. I know this isn't technically a Mark 1 Octavia and that there was in fact an Octavia in the 50s. However, i'm counting it as a MK1 of the post-VW buyout so you can put your keyboards down now. Cheers lads.

There are several differences between this and your stereotypical first car. To thoroughly go through these points, I shall for the most part dedicate a section of this article to each component to make it simple to follow. How's that for a plan? (Please note, I have tried to remain as unbiased as possible in this review. But, a little bit may have slipped through the cracks so please do bare this in mind)

Safety

Lets get the important one out the way first... Safety.

Now, I am more or less 100% confident this wouldn't score well in a Euro NCAP crash test these days. While it did get a highly respectable 4 stars back in the day, the regulations have never been tighter and simply not having electronic safety gubbins is enough to get you 0 stars (just look at the Fiat Punto's retest for that, a perfectly safe car in terms of crumple zones got a flatout fail for lack of electronic safety features...madness)

Anyway, I decided to conduct my own research when it comes to safety. I got chatting with a few ambulance crews (whose identities will remain anonymous at their discretion) and they all said that they have seen 2 maybe 3 fatalities in total when answering RTA calls to these cars (one surviving accident involving a HGV!). So I am going to safely conclude that while it lacks the safety features of a modern car, the actual safety structure is definitely not bad at all and will keep you safe in a accident.

Size/Practicality

The first noticeable difference between the MK1 Octavia and your stereotypical first car is it's size. This car is 15 feet long (rounded up abit for the sake of not being a nerd fest). Which when you compare it to the size of a Ford Fiesta (12.5 feet) it's a fair bit longer than your standard car.

This has its advantages and it's disadvantages. The biggest advantage being you can haul around alot more stuff in the back of the MK1 Octavia than your typical Ford Fiesta. Which is always handy, especially if you move alot of stuff around or just like the bigger boot space ''just in case''. You'll definitely have plenty of room for whatever you plan to get up to!

However, it's biggest and most obvious downside is that it makes it more difficult to move around in tight spaces. With that being said however, if you account for the extra length the all round visibility is excellent with very minimal blindspots. So I must admit, I have very little trouble moving it around in tight spots. With that being said, if you aren't a very confident driver then chances are this might be a bit too much for you to handle to start with. This combined with the fact it's going to be more metal to clean once a week might just discourage people from this.

Another annoying little niggle with these cars is the lack of useable cupholders. My particular one only has 1 cup holder for 5 passengers and it's absolute rubbish. So it's worth bearing that in mind. (Although, with a bit of ingenuity and a lot of patience you can swap in VW Bora/Golf/Lupo dashboard mounted cup holder into it which solves the problem essentially.)

Insurance

Naturally, insurance on this is higher than that of your standard hatchback. However, if you choose a non-turbo diesel version like mine. Insurance is only £20-30 more than your standard Corsa or Fiesta because these cars have the stereotype of being driven by old people. Meaning that no normal youth would want to go near anything with a Skoda badge. Do not however choose a petrol or TURBO diesel variant or your insurance will go sky high. Especially on VRS and Laurin & Klement models.

Economy

If you cover alot of miles (say 1k+ miles a month) then you will definitely benefit from the awesome fuel economy potential of these old PD diesel engines. If you're using your car to get to and from work, covering less than 1000 miles a month then it's probably not worthwhile.

I on average get between 50-65 MPG without even attempting to drive economically. With that being said, i'm not exactly flying around being the next Colin McRae either. These engines are quite easily capable of over 70 to the gallon, which when compared to the average 50 MPG (while hypermiling) your standard 1.2 Fiesta or Corsa can do it's definitely a big difference. You'll certainly find yourself at the pumps less often and an extra 40 quid or so in your pocket every month that's for sure.

Running Costs

Naturally, with this being a bigger car running costs are slightly more than that of a normal hatchback. These PD engines are notoriously difficult to work on and can be quite expensive to repair if something blows up. Luckily however, these old PD engines are as reliable as they come. With several examples of these cars reaching 200k miles and beyond (just look on Ebay, Auto Trader or Gumtree to see what i mean) so you shouldn't need to worry about wrenching on it too often if you've bought a good one.

Here's an example of a Octavia with over 400,000 miles and still in perfect health.

With this being said, my overall experience with the Octavia has been really very cheap indeed. The most expensive repair being a wheel bearing change for about £100. This has been over 1 year with 20,000 miles being covered in that time. My particular example has also covered 166,000 miles as of the time of this article being posted. So all in all, i'd say this is extremely good value for money! Look after it and it'll look after you basically.

Road tax is also slightly more expensive on this naturally, with my particular car being £160 a year to tax. This combined with the increased insurance cost will mean you need to fork out an extra 30 quid or so a month.

While this doesn't count as ''running costs'' you can also pick these old Octavias up for about £1000 for one in decent condition with 100,000 miles. Although the non-turbo diesel models are slightly harder to come across these days. This is roughly on-par with a equivalent hatchback of the same age, so don't expect to allocate much more budget for one of these for initial purchase price.

Performance/What it's like to drive.

I'm going to be straight up front with you. This isn't a race car, nor is it fast in anyway at all. This 1.9 SDI engine only produces 68 bhp. So if you are wanting something fast, you'll want that Corsa on gumtree for 50 quid. If speed/power doesn't matter to you, then here's my opinion on how it handles.

When you get up to speed, you'll honestly not really notice the lack of power that much. Especially on motorways, I have found that it's quite happy cruising along at 70mph and still has some poke to get you out of trouble if you need it. I was quite easily passing trucks, other cars and even an annoying BMW at one point. It's also very quiet for a diesel on the Motorways, with the stereo turned up abit it really is a very nice and comfortable place to be. The only times you may feel the lack of power is getting up to speed and pulling out of junctions, especially if you need to do it in a hurry. Get used to alot of ''i could've gone then'' comments if you have mates in the car with you.

Tha handling leaves a little bit to be desired, it's certainly no go-kart. You do feel the weight in the corners and while there is some body roll, it's really not bad at all however. It does still feel very planted and secure. This car definitely doesn't like to be driven fast and it makes you very aware of that right off the bat. You'll literally notice it in the test drive when you're looking to buy it. With that being said however, this car feels very safe and stable at speed. You don't feel like it's going to fall apart on you or lose the backend on you, which is a very welcome feeling indeed.

The ride comfort however is superb in my opinion, not wallowy or bouncy at all. So long as it's driven the way it wants to be driven, it will be your perfect companion. Try to drive it differently however and you will find it does react to you. Not in a dangerous way at all but it makes sure you know that it doesn't like what you're doing much. So don't annoy it and you'll be just fine!

Another thing you'll quickly notice that you don't... notice, is the length of the car. It feels just like any other car when you're up to speed. You'll only notice the length when you take a glance behind you and realise ''oh my, this car is really rather long''. It's only when you're in town or parking up that you might notice the extra length.

Basically, if you're a parent looking to buy your son/daughter their first car. ANY old non-turbo diesel car is pretty much perfect because it's slow, safe and reliable. If you choose an estate, there's that much more metal around them keeping your precious child safe should the worst happen. But if they aren't very good at driving, the extra length could cause more problems than it solves. It's solely down to individual preference really.

In Conclusion

The answer to my question is yes and no.

If you are looking for a practical car that safe, reliable, slightly different to your average car and you can get over the reputation the Skoda badge has with being an ''old farts car''. Then this is absolutely a car you should consider if you feel you can handle the extra couple of foot on the backend. It's overall pros really do outweigh the cons if you feel it's worth it. It's a smart looking, nice driving car you can use daily without much worry of it blowing up on you (unlike some car brands out there.)

If you aren't a very confident driver or you want something you can do burnouts in maccy's carpark (after lockdown) to impress your mates, then this is 100% NOT the car for you.

You have the facts and opinions, now go buy one before your grandad does!

wills rating of the '01 Skoda octavia

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Comments (4)

  • I have to say It's a well Written article and i Agree on the stupidity of failing a vehicle for not having all the stupid electronic nannies to keep you "safe" I have heard more of people crashing or wrecking cause of the Electronic Nannies due to them kicking in at the wrong moment causing what would normally be a recoverable spin or loss of traction to turn into a non recoverable and catastrophic spin/loss of traction simply cause the computer thought it knew better than the experienced Human behind the wheel

      9 months ago
    • Thanks man! I do find it ridiculous that a car is failed for not having digital nannies these days. Just makes cars look unsafe when they really aren't.

        9 months ago
    • Exactly as i said on Facebook I like the way we do it here in the States where we make note that the vehicle has those systems but the fact of not having or having them doesnt affect the rating the vehicle receives A vehicle that has all those...

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        9 months ago
  • nicely written! where i live we got the 1.9tdi, 1.8 and the vrs. mk1 octavias can be had for cheap which is perfect for first time buyers!

      9 months ago
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