The Skoda Octavia and the Volkswagen Jetta have been stepping on each other's toes ever since the latter landed on our shores back in 2008. These two have always been portrayed as slightly more expensive, beautifully built, German-engineered saloons and these characteristics are exactly what distance them from the others in this class. They are for people who don’t mind paying a bit more for quality.
Back to stepping on each other's toes, the Jetta has always been slightly more expensive than the corresponding Octavia – it’s Volkswagen's idea of positioning itself as the more premium saloon brand, while Skoda handles the ‘value’ end of the market.
That's not exactly the case now. Pointing to how the Octavia is now moving upmarket (as compared to the Laura) this top-end Octy diesel automatic costs Rs 2,000 more than the Rs 19.43 lakh it costs to get a mechanically similar Jetta Highline. This slightly pricier trend is like that for all engine, gearbox and trim combinations you get in the Octavia. But does that make it the better car, especially since VW recently updated the Jetta with a mild facelift and a few premium features?
To win this battle, the Octavia has to be a clear cut above the Jetta. Is it, or could you spend near-identical money on either one and be just as happy? Continued..
It’s the little things – the attention to detail in particular – that separate these two from their competitors and this is all the more evident in the Octavia’s fresh cabin. You sit on seats that have a beautifully soft first layer of cushioning that settles into a firmer second layer – ideal for when you have to drive long distances or spend hours stuck in traffic. Your senses have plenty to take in as well – the canted up air-con vents and the high quality chrome that surrounds them, the glossy black centre console, the typically clear Skoda dials and the nicely knurled finish on the air-con controls all add up to a cabin that feels and looks special.
Then you move into the Jetta and feel an extra layer of heft in the car. The doors shut with a bit more solidity, the beautifully finished aluminium inner door handles feel just right to touch and the seats feel snugger, if a tad firmer than the Octavias. The dashboard design is as clear and easy to use as the Octavias, but it just feels a bit more staid. Where the Octy’s dashboard comes across as a younger, slicker design, the Jetta’s has an older citizen feel to it. Again, it’s the little details that separate them – the Jetta’s touchscreen is larger but simpler and less technical in its interface than the Octavia's, faux wood trim on the dash has become a bit passé, but now, the facelift on the Jetta sees the addition of its dual-zone Climatronic air-conditioner. However, there’s still no sunroof on the Jetta.
The Jetta does have most of what you would expect – remote locking, rear air-con vents, powered driver’s seat and front and rear parking sensors as does the Octavia. What neither offer is extra equipment – a reverse camera, cooled seats or keyless go – the Hyundai Elantra has them!
At the rear, they are near identical in pampering the chauffeur-driven with excellent legroom, headroom and support, but it’s the Octavia’s seats that are better, simply because you sit higher and as a result, have a better view.
The Octavia has always excelled at boot space and this one has 30 litres more than the Laura before it. The heavy-to-open but wider aperture of the hatch is also more practical than the Jetta’s regular saloon-like 510-litre boot.
Then you move into the Jetta and feel an extra layer of heft in the car. The doors shut with a bit more solidity, the beautifully finished aluminium inner door handles feel just right to touch and the seats feel snugger, if a tad firmer than the Octavias. The dashboard design is as clear and easy to use as the Octavias, but it just feels a bit more staid. Where the Octy’s dashboard comes across as a younger, slicker design, the Jetta’s has an older citizen feel to it. Again, it’s the little details that separate them – the Jetta’s touchscreen is larger but simpler and less technical in its interface than the Octavia's, faux wood trim on the dash has become a bit passé, but now, the facelift on the Jetta sees the addition of its dual-zone Climatronic air-conditioner. However, there’s still no sunroof on the Jetta. Continued..
You could say the Jetta looks too much like the cheaper Vento and you could say the Octavia’s rump is identical to the Rapid but the truth is, they are both very understated, handsome designs. Because the Octavia is newer, it is but natural that its lines look fresher and more appealing, and a lot of people will like the LED daytime-running lamps that add just a bit of excitement to the clean lines. The Jetta facelift also brings with it LED daytime running lamps and Xenon headlamps.
To truly understand what separates these cars, we need to dip into what underpins them. The Octavia is built on an all-new thoroughly modern platform as against the Jetta’s older chassis. In that respect, the Octavia is slightly longer, both of overall length and wheelbase and yet, is lighter than the Jetta. This lightness manifests itself in the way the Octavia feels lighter in every way, be it the door shut or when it is on the move. The Jetta still feels more of the tank here.
Their suspension layout is different as well – the Jetta has the more sophisticated all-round independent suspension (the petrol Octavia has this as well). But for the diesel, Skoda has opted for a more cost-effective non-independent torsion beam axle. This detail has consequences but we’ll come to that in a bit.
Under the hood, both have the VW group’s widely used 2.0-litre TDI motor with identical peak power and torque and both come with a six-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox that have identical gear ratios. Even the standard wheel and tyre sizes are the same – there’s plenty of cost saving, part-sharing among these siblings.
Performance and handling
From the off, the Octavia’s driving controls feel friendlier to use. The steering is more direct, you sit higher and the engine feels eager to perform right off idle. It’s not that the Jetta is a difficult car to drive, it’s just that the VW’s steering is heavier at low speeds, the high dashboard makes you feel like you’re sitting low and the engine takes a little more time to respond when you’re pulling away from low speeds. There’s also more of that drone that this ubiquitous TDI engine is known for.
That apart, both have strong mid-range performance and both will spin happily to 5000rpm. The Octavia has a slightly wider torque band than the Jetta – it makes its peak torque of 32.6kgm all the way to 3000rpm – the Jetta’s grunt starts falling off 500rpm earlier.
This, and the Octavia’s 65kg weight advantage, makes it 0.6sec quicker to 100kph than the Jetta – a lead it extends by 2.5sec by the time the cars cross 140kph. The Jetta’s slower responses also show up in the in-gear runs where the Octavia is close to a second quicker.
In truth, you really won’t find the Jetta lacking for performance, you just learn to drive around the delayed response by feeding in the throttle earlier. In fact, both cars are more evenly matched on real-world performance than the figures suggest.
For all their similarities, there is one area where there’s a clear difference between them, and that’s on Mumbai’s monsoon ravaged roads. The Octavia’s ride just doesn’t have the finesse of the Jetta’s. It feels stiff-kneed and doesn’t have the initial bump-absorbing abilities as the Jetta. As a result, you feel a lot more of what’s under the wheels and its relative inability to absorb small, regular imperfections is quite noticeable. There’s also plenty of drumming noise from the suspension and a hollow resonance over bad roads that the large boot cavity seems to amplify. Even the door trims squeak (an age old problem that we noticed in the Laura as well), all of which point to the Octavia’s lighter build. It’s nothing that the Bolero audio system can’t drown out though.
The Jetta rides with far more authority over the same roads. Its damping is clearly better and the pliant and quieter suspension simply makes it feel like a better place to be in on bad roads.
The enthusiast won’t find much separating these two. Both have electronic locking front differentials that give them plenty of grip, both are capable of carrying tremendous speed through corners, both are incredibly stable at speed and the Jetta’s heavier steering doesn’t offer much more than the Octavia’s in terms of feel. In any case, we prefer the Skoda’s more direct rack. It’s also worth mentioning that the Octavia’s stiffness all but disappears at speed and there’s no real difference on the handling front despite its less sophisticated rear axle as well.
On the practical front, VW claims a slightly higher ground clearance than Skoda – 159mm vs 155mm. But, it’s the Jetta’s longer rear overhang that has a tendency to drag its exhaust pipe off bigger speedbreakers when fully loaded.
The Octavia is also the one that’s slightly better at the pumps – its 12kpl city figure isn’t much better than the Jetta’s 11.8kpl. It’s the same on the highway – 17kpl for the Skoda versus 16.8kpl for the VW. The Jetta does have the better range thanks to its larger 55-litre tank.
Strong engines, comfortable rear seats and a healthy dose of practicality are what make these two hugely capable cars. So, we’ve had to split hairs and it doesn’t make it easier that both are pretty closely matched on everything they do and the fact that they are priced so closely. We love the Jetta’s inherent toughness and ride but it does feel what it is – a generation older. The Octavia may not have the all-conquering ride of the Jetta but it’s not that bad to make it a deciding factor. And, when you pull the microscope out, you’ll find the Octavia has the smarter interiors, slicker controls and is slightly nicer to drive thanks to the lighter, more direct steering, smoother and more responsive engine. So, ultimately, it’s the Octavia’s fresher take on things that endeared it to us more.