The new Octavia is a bit of a heart-throb. But could it give Skoda – and VW – a headache?
“Um. Well. We’re not really sure.” So came the answer when we asked someone from Skoda whether the new Octavia is still a rival to the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, just after it was revealed yesterday.
Was the old one, even? That’s a bit of a bone of contention; on size, it sat somewhere in the middle of two established classes, but on price, the Octavia has always gone up against what the industry calls C-segment cars – things like the Focus, Golf, and Vauxhall Astra.
But the Scala, a much more conventionally proportioned C-segment hatchback, has now appeared beneath it in Skoda’s range; meanwhile, the new Octavia has grown where the Golf has shrunk.
The arrival of the Scala has forced the Octavia upmarket
It now measures 4.7 metres in length, to be precise, or as near as dammit. And when the Volkswagen Passat and Audi A4, which are categorised as D-segment cars, measure only fractionally more than that, it’s hard to argue against the Octavia now competing with those two cars, on size at least.
There’s no doubting the appeal of this new Octavia. Initial responses to its styling among critics have been almost unanimously positive. Inside, meanwhile, a new layered dashboard with piano key-style buttons and more upmarket materials are a world away from the slabby, plain feel of the old car’s interior.
This is still very obviously an Octavia, but Skoda’s designers have kicked up the tail, adding rising swage lines along the side profile to give the car a more nose-down stance. The reverse rake to the tail of the car is much more dynamic, and almost BMW-esque, while the gentle sweep of the C-pillar down to the rear panel is much more elegant than the more blocky treatment that came before.
The new car's looks are much sleeker than those of its predecessor
The estate’s cracking, too, with a side profile that looks more taut and less utilitarian, and a much sleeker tail than its predecessor. The new Octavia is not a design revolution, of course, but what’s been done here is very clever, as moves the car on while retaining its identity in a way that, arguably, the styling of the Octavia’s platform-mate, the Mk8 Golf, has not.
It has more room than a Passat…
What’s more, the Octavia’s newfound sexiness has not come at the expense of what is traditionally its biggest selling point: space. In the back seats, there’s still head room and leg room aplenty, and the hatchback now offers 600 litres of boot space beneath the parcel shelf – to put that in context, the Focus gives you just 375, and even the Passat saloon can only boast 584.
The estate, meanwhile, now gives you a whopping 640 litres, and you can tell; standing behind its open boot is not unlike gazing into the maw of Grendel’s cave.
The new Octavia's boot is almost as big as that of the larger Superb
So with all this extra space, is this now a D-segment car through-and-through? “The Superb is our D-segment car,” the response to my earlier question went on. “Everything below that is what it is, and we don’t really sort them into categories.”
To an extent, that’s the way buyers see the market, too; it’s only really industry bods and us journalists who slot cars neatly into segments. But this is where it gets a bit sticky for Skoda, for the amount of space the Octavia offers is now only slightly inferior to the Superb. And with a bump in price – the new car will start from around £19,000, if not slightly more – the Octavia is nudging up against the Superb more intimately than ever before; it’s become a Superb-lite, if you will.
The danger, therefore, is that the Octavia starts to steal some of the Superb’s thunder. If that happens, where does that leave the Superb itself? Of course, there will always be a place for a simply vast estate; less so a big hatchback. But in both case, plenty of buyers will look at what the Octavia offers and see it meeting their needs perfectly well. For them, there’ll be no need to upgrade.
The new Octavia will be more of a Superb-lite than ever before
What’s more, with the Octavia pushing upmarket, there’s one more headache to consider, this time for Skoda’s parent company, Volkswagen. Traditionally, the Golf has been the car one buys if one is prepared to sacrifice a little of the Octavia’s space for semi-premium trimmings and more sophisticated technology.
Now, the Octavia looks set to offer all of this in one very tempting package. And, it should be noted, with an interior that looks and feels remarkably similar to the Golf’s, on first acquaintance.
Of course, the Golf’s place at the top of the bestsellers’ lists is probably not in any danger – but at the same time, it isn’t hard to imagine more buyers than ever before wondering why they should pay more for the Volkswagen.
Could the new Octavia even pose a threat to the Mk8 Golf?
Had you paused for a moment at the Octavia’s launch, and listened carefully to the low sussuration of voices that filled the big spaces of the Czech Republic’s National Gallery, where it was held, you’d have heard the phrase ‘all the car you’d ever need’ popping up time and again.
It’s hard to escape the idea that that is indeed what the new Octavia is. Ever ‘t’were thus, in a way, but now the Octavia has the looks to match its talents – and, on the strength of this first impression at least, an interior that’s an asset, rather than a flaw.
That could give its stablemates, not to mention competitors from Skoda’s sister marques, something to think about.