The diesel Octavia saloon model from Skoda gets the same 1,968cc four-cylinder engine that’s carried over from the Laura, albeit with some minor tweaks to improve its torque spread and driveability. You get the same gruff character, and at high revs, the drone doesn’t let you forget that there’s a diesel under the hood. However, adopt a slightly relaxed pace and the drone quietens down to an unobtrusive hum, while the six-speed, twin-clutch automatic gearbox (a manual will also be available for the diesel) shifts up smoothly and almost imperceptibly. There’s no lack of grunt either – the 32.6kgm of torque coming in early in the powerband and propelling you forward with a nicely linear pull. This updated engine has a wider powerband than the one in the Jetta too – where the VW’s torque curve falls off at 2,500rpm, the Octavia’s hangs on for another 500rpm more. There is a hint of lag at low revs, but otherwise, it’s a very tractable engine and the clever gearbox negates the need to use the tip-tronic function most of the time. The DQ250 gearbox shares identical gear ratios with the Jetta, and yet the Skoda Octavia is over half a second quicker to 100kph than its cousin. Its 141bhp helps it hit 100kph in 9.3sec, which is 0.7sec better than the VW’s. Performance is strong all the way up to 170kph too, after which power starts tailing off. Also in its favouris the punchy mid-range and a tall sixth gear, which makes the diesel Octavia a great long-legged cruiser. But for those looking for pure driving thrills, it has to be the 1.8-litre TSI. This third-generation EA888 motor now develops more power than before – 177bhp to be exact – and that makes for a really special engine. As before, the TSI is unbelievably smooth and refined right through its rev range and there’s a deliciously engaging snarl when you really wring it out. It’s not the most responsive engine at low revs, but serious shove comes in at around 2,500rpm and simply doesn’t let up until 6,500rpm, where the gearbox snatches up the next ratio. Speaking of which, enthusiasts might bemoan the fact that Skoda isn’t offering a manual version with this engine this time around – the TSI is available only with a seven-speed DSG similar to the one in the Superb. The good news is that this ’box is as impressive as the engine and it’s evident that Skoda has programmed it to provide maximum thrills. Stick it in manual mode and it will downshift on demand, accompanied by a blip from the throttle. In fact, with the 1.8 TSI, you will feel the need to use the tip-tronic mode more often, especially when you are pottering around. Unlike the six-speed in the diesel, this seven-speed gearbox isn’t as eager to downshift quickly in the normal mode (in the interests of fuel economy, we presume) when you tap the throttle. This prompts you to move the superbly finished stubby lever across the gate into manual mode to command it to jump down a gear or two. That said, the Octavia 1.8 TSI DSG is quicker than the manual Laura TSI, but not by as wide a margin as expected. The Octavia gets to 100kph in 8.01sec, which is just 0.2sec quicker than the car it replaces. It’s because the DSG gearbox has a protection mode that won’t allow a proper smoking-tyre launch. But this little niggle doesn’t prevent the 1.8 TSI from being the most exciting four-cylinder petrol motor in the country today.
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Issue: 176 | April 2014
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