When walking up to the Avis counter, the only thing I knew about the rental car my company had organised for me was “sub compact special, manual”, which was vague to say the least, but having spoken to my colleagues beforehand, the chances of it being a VW group product are almost inevitable, with station wagons not being exempt. My colleague was given a Seat Leon SW earlier in the year, and is something I’d be perfectly happy with,(I love Seat). Then I was handed the keys...”Skoda Octavia Estate 1.4 White”, and as you can imagine, my heart rate remained the same, if not slowed a bit.
"Does it have to be this one?"-I thought to myself..
The slightly older Octavias are particularly handsome vehicles in my eyes, specifically the VRS models. Unfortunately I was given the uglier and more awkward looking front end of the facelifted design, with the rather sad split headlights. Being winter, and in Germany, it had winter tyres with some rather basic 15’’ alloys, not exactly hiding the enormity of the wagon’s body. The gloss white certainly gave it a taxi look, so much so that waiting for a friend outside a train station in Hannover, a stranger came up to my window asking if I could start the meter.
The interior is where the Octavia started winning me over. The perforated leather on the steering wheel was a nice touch I wish was more common on Volkswagens, as it’s so much better than the smooth/plain leather that becomes shiny within the first few 1000kms of use. The overall fit and finish is exactly what I’d come to expect from a modern VW Group product, solid and tactile. An interesting design feature I found pretty trendy was the slim ambient lighting strips on each of the door panels, customisable in intensity and colour. The menus between the clusters and on the main infotainment screen matched the colour of the ambient light strips, with some neutral footwell lighting too. Neat.
RIDE QUALITY & FUEL CONSUMPTION
Driving from Hannover airport to Wolfsburg, which was +- 100kms of mostly highways, I drove cautiously while still getting used to the car (and driving on the other side of it), managing to average 5.6L/100km. Not bad considering it’s a turbocharged 150ps 1.4 petrol motor, with the kerb weight being approx. 1200kgs (if my online sources are correct). I assume this is largely due to the fact it switches to 2-cylinder mode quite often under easy throttle use. The same efficiency wasn’t found in town driving though, with my short commute to work and in and around town often being in the region of 10-12l/100km. The ride, for the most part, is insanely smooth. It absolutely devours highway miles, where 130Km/h feels more like 80, with virtually zero noise from the engine bay, tyres and general road noise. Even when pushing it on the delimited Autobahn zones, it hit 210km/h with relative ease and comfort. Only downside of Autobahn zones being the fuel consumption, heading toward the 10L/100km region when maintaining high speeds. While the Octavia Combi feels like it was made for long distance cruising, town driving feels more like skinny jeans after a hefty Christmas lunch...uneasy. While the engine is still warming up, low revs feel unnaturally jerky, making a dangerous situation for pedestrians in parking lots. When driving hard around town, there is plenty power, but traction control can never be completely turned off, making awkward mid-corner interruptions, and rather brutual shudders. Not to mention the soft, supple ride allowing the car to tilt forwards and backwards under heavy acceleration and braking. Even if it isn’t a particularly heavy car, it certainly feels like it. In conclusion then, take the Octavia Combi on highways, not trackdays.
Autobahn driving. Not bad for a wagon
GADGETS & TECHY STUFF
One thing that can be said about the particular Octavia I had was that it was loaded with gadgets. Panoramic sunroof, lane assist, radar guided cruise control, heated seats, navigation, adaptive headlights with washers, voice control, rear view camera, park assist...and the list goes on. Lane Assist was quite a nice feature for foreign roads, gently keeping you in place and accident free. The speakers weren’t half bad, with tweeters in the A-pillars being nice and crisp, and general mids sounding decent at normal volumes. The door panels suffered from quite a bit a rattle when any form of bass comes through, and gives the car a tinny and cheap feeling. Because of the door rattles, it really isn’t a setup you’d want to play more than 50% of its capability, and would really benefit from a small subwoofer under the seats or in the boot whilst cutting out the bass from the door speakers.
As a first Skoda experience, I have to say I am impressed if not a bit underwhelmed. The Octavia could benefit from having more character and charm, and not just be a discounted Golf Variant (which I assume it is). As refined and smooth as it was, given the choice I'd much rather have a Seat Leon SW or Golf Variant, especially in terms of exterior appeal and brand value. Maybe I'm just used to my minature 100hp, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it felt awkward, in it's size, styling and in slow driving, and that's probably an appropriate word to sum it up...."Awkward". Sure, returning to my 10 year old Fiat will undoubtedly feel as refined and soundproofed as a shopping trolley down a gravel road, but I can't say the Octavia ever gave the same amount of thrills. Needless to say, I dropped of the combi at the airport on my way home, not having formed any emotional connection to it.