Skoda’s new Octavia is an important car. Not just for the Czech carmaker, but for consumers as well who’ve been restricted to just a handful of saloons at this price point. Hyundai’s Elantra has been dominating this segment for a while now and is the car to beat. This feature-packed saloon has consistently averaged about 350 units per month over the last year and though the number is small in relative terms, it’s ahead of the rest. It’s good-looking, well-equipped and quite spacious – all the ingredients that make it a best-seller. The Laura (which is actually the second-generation Octavia) has always been a solid car but it managed to clock just half of the Elantra’s figures over the same period. Now, back with its original name, the new Octavia is an impressive car and we reckon it has all the makings of a best-seller. So, how does this next iteration compare with the segment best? We spent some time with the manual diesel variants of both and this is what we discovered.
When it comes to their design philosophies, these cars are like chalk and cheese. The new Octavia is minimalist, and quite reserved in its design when compared to the bold Elantra. Its clean-cut looks are inoffensive yet appealing. But, you may find the car’s rear a bit too similar to that of the cheaper Rapid – diluting a bit of the car’s premium feel. On the other hand, of all the Hyundais, the Elantra wears the brand’s ‘Fluidic’ uniform the best. The bold coupe-like design entails nicely proportioned bulges and creases that are well proportioned, and the Elantra looks striking from all angles.
The new Octavia is a marked improvement in quality over the Laura. And while the cabin follows a similar layout, the bits are all new. The dual tone finish with a near-white shade of beige, the plush seats, faux-wood on the door pads, just the right amount of chrome accents, piano black surfaces and a soft-touch dashboard, all contribute in making a very well executed cabin.
In terms of kit, the Octavia fares well and there’s all the equipment you’d expect from a car at this price point. You get dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, remote locking and a media input port. Also, the well-damped glove compartment lid conceals a six-CD changer and an SD card port. Design-wise, the cabin is clean and simple and the additional display systems are easy to read and operated by large buttons. If you’re a smartphone user, the central touchscreen will feel quite intuitive. It uses smartphone-like swipe gestures to cycle through the main menus and isn’t overly complicated either. Also, just like your smartphone, the air-con has profiles where you can club a bunch of settings together– giving you quick access to your temperature preferences. There are a fair number of cubby holes to stow away your music player, phone and coins too. Most important, though, is the rear bench. The longer wheelbase has liberated a lot of space and the seats themselves are comfortable. Thigh support is a bit limited but leg room is plenty. Even with a tall driver upfront, you can expect about 2.5-3 inches of clearance between your knees and the front seat.
The Elantra’s USP is the sheer amount of features it packs and you definitely won’t feel short changed. For starters, you get cooled front seats –that were exceptionally helpful in battling Mumbai’s sweltering October heat. Then there’s cruise control, a powered driver’s seat and a reversing camera, apart from all the other standard set of features you’d expect. That being said, it lacks the large multimedia screen and finer touches such as the one-touch up and down operation for all the windows (present on the Octavia). Using the audio interface isn’t very intuitive and since the directional commands are embedded into the power button, you may find yourself, often accidentally switching-off the unit. Also, you may get a sense that the company has gone slightly overboard with its snazzy styling and may have compromised function for form. This is most evident on the hourglass-shaped centre console, where the air-con and music system buttons are scrunched up in a small area. Also, the relatively often-used mute button on the steering wheel isn’t within easy access. Fit and finish while decent, lacks the final bit of finesse when compared to the Octavia’s.
On the plus side, the chauffeured will appreciate the spacious rear bench. There’s plenty of legroom here and the bench itself is comfortable too. The seat squab is about 3cm longer than the Octavia’s and this improves thigh support here. However, the swooping roofline eats into headroom and the sharply rising shoulder line limits visibility from the back seat. Also, older folks will find ingress and egress a bit more difficult here – owing to the lower seating position.
Engine and Drivability
Here, the Octavia has a decisive edge. Despite its 65kg disadvantage over the Hyundai, the extra 400cc of the 2.0-litre diesel motor makes it a much quicker machine than the Elantra. For instance, 0-100kph is dispatched in 8.54sec that is a good two seconds ahead of the Elantra’s time. And it’s not just flatout performance either, the higher torque coupled with a wider spread means that you don’t have to fiddle with the gearbox too much (not that it’s a bad ‘box). The 32.6kgm of torque comes in from as early as 1500rpm and propels you forward with a nice linear pull till about 3200rpm, after which it gradually trails off. The gearbox has very well defined gates and the clutch is relatively light too. On the highways, the tall sixth gear takes full advantage of the wide powerband, making the Octy a great long distance cruiser. And if the mood takes you, the Skoda is more than open to some enthusiastic use. On the downside, the engine retains its gravelly character from the Laura and the drone doesn’t let you forget that the motor feeds on a diet of diesel. Another irritant is the fact that you need to give the car a few revs while taking off, since it has a propensity to stall.
The diesel Elantra, on the other hand, uses the same 1.6-litre 126bhp, variable-geometry turbo (VGT) engine as the Verna, but with shorter gear ratios. Compared to the Octavia, the engine demonstrates a fair bit of lag under 2000rpm and that makes you use the throttle more liberally at lower revs. City driving isn’t as effortless as we would have liked, as this smaller engine simply doesn’t have the low-end grunt of the 2.0-litre Skoda. Moreover, the heavy clutch and very noticeable vibrations at idling further dent the city driving experience. To enjoy driving the Elantra, you need to be on a highway. Once the boost builds up at 2000rpm, there’s a nice surge of power and the saloon moves forward with more than adequate gusto. Cruising at about 120kph in 6th gear keeps the engine spinning silently at about 2000rpm (the meat of the engine’s powerband) and here, the car responds almost immediately to part throttle responses. On its own, the Elantra isn’t weak in its overall performance but when compared to the Octavia, it just can’t match up in terms of tractability and outright performance.
Ride and Handling
The new Skoda Octavia’s MQB chassis is significantly stiffer than the Laura’s old-generation A5 platform and this has allowed Skoda to get away with a softer suspension setup. Unlike the multi-link rear suspension setup on the petrol Octavia, the diesel variant does with a more traditional torsion beam. While this isn’t as sophisticated as the multi-link mechanism, it does its job quite well. On the highway, the Skoda feels rock solid and it flattens lumpy bits with ease. On the other hand, the ride in the city isn’t the smoothest and the suspension is a bit noisy too. In terms of handling, there’s nothing really to complain about. The steering is quite accurate, well-weighted and the front wheels offer plenty of grip as well. What may take a bit getting used to is the brakes. They have an aggressive bite towards the initial bit of their travel and you need to be a bit more conservative with the pressure you apply.
The Elantra’s soft suspension is ideally suited to tackle potholes and patchy bits at slower city speeds. And here, it does its job very well, absorbing the bumps with a nice damped feeling and more silently than what the Octavia manages. But, gather some pace and the car feels loose and the damping isn’t as consistent as it is on the Skoda. While a boon in the city, the excessively light steering wheel has a sort of floating feel around the straight-ahead position and this unsettled feel, does induce a bit of nervousness at very high speeds. Braking isn’t very impressive either. After the strong brakes on the Octavia, the Elantra’s four discs feel relatively weaker and just lack the bite present on the Skoda.
The Elantra’s USP lies in the fact that it offers a plethora of equipment in a package that is bold and attractive to look at – all of which can be had a competitive price of Rs 15.16 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). The 1.6-diesel engine has decent overall performance and the cabin is spacious too. Many of you will also appreciate the light steering and gearbox that makes driving in the metros especially easy. But, there are some drawbacks. It doesn’t have the finesse one expects from an executive saloon and the over styled cabin may be a bit too tawdry for some. Also, the engine isn’t best suited for city driving and while it does a good job on the highway, the car’s dynamics let it down here, making it a master of none.
Conversely, the new Octavia is conservatively styled and isn’t as handsomely kitted as the Elantra. It isn’t very cheap either. At Rs 16.55 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the top Ambition manual variant, it is a good Rs 1.5 lakh more expensive than the Elantra and that, in itself, may steer away many buyers. But at the price, you do get a lot of car for your money. The engine is fantastic in the city or on open roads, the ride quality is good, the cabin is plush, grown-up and ergonomically sound and there’s a cavernous 590-litre boot as well. But most importantly, it is a car that is as inviting to drive as it is to be chauffeured around in – thanks to its great dynamics and a comfortable rear bench.
All told, picking one depends purely on your priorities. If you’re looking for a car that’s stylish, packed with features and will spend most of its time in the city, the Elantra is a perfect candidate for the job. What could also tilt the Elantra in your favour is that Hyundai’s after sales service is generally better too. On the other hand, if you enjoy driving, want high quality ambience and a saloon that is elegant and understated, the new Skoda Octavia is nearly impossible to beat.