Autocar India, over the years, has run numerous versions of the Skoda Octavia or Laura. First came the soda-green Laura TSi in 2009; then in 2013, we ran a canary-yellow Laura RS; and in 2014, we’ve had this car — a silver Octavia petrol — for a few months. Over the years, our respect and love for the car has only grown. A lot of this has to do with the engine under the hood, the brilliant petrol EA888, a common factor in all three cars. We’ve also always loved the Octy’s combination of practicality and comfort, its grown-up driving manners and the fact that this car has always delivered massive value for money. Is there a car out there in the Rs 20-40 lakh band that gives you more pound for pound?
The new Octavia, however, was quite a departure from the earlier Laura. Bigger, but not built as tough, the new lighter car was designed to help lower CO2 emissions. It took a while for us to take to our new longterm car. We initially missed the Laura’s slightly more compact dimensions, we missed its more solid build and that brilliant six-speed manual gearbox was missed too.
The Octavia proved to be tireless to drive over long distances.
But as the weeks passed, the new car soon got under our skin. Space and comfort struck the first chord. The Octavia’s big seats and generous cabin space made long drives a pleasure rather than a pain. And what helped tremendously was the fact that the car with its long wheelbase and perfectly setup suspension rode so well. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought, “Thankfully we’ve got the Octavia for the long trudge back home tonight”, especially after a dawn-to-dusk shoot somewhere in the wild, 150 or so kilometres outside Mumbai.
What made the driving environment even nicer were the beautifully built interiors of the car. Yes, one of the buttons on the steering wheel did work itself loose, but the super fit and finish of the dash and the modern chrome-lined vents and touchscreen central console made the cabin feel quite upmarket. And then there’s the excellent cabin insulation that just shuts the world out.
The real reason this Octavia got under our skin, however, was that fabulous gen-three EA 888 direct-injection turbo-petrol engine. Developed by Audi and improved over the years, the engine’s more linear pull was a pleasant surprise. Unleash the almost 180bhp in the first three gears and I defy you not to grin. And I always loved listening to that nice smooth snarl as the speedometer needle shot up the dial. I almost never let an opportunity to accelerate hard pass, even if the tank was near empty. Traveling long distance was also nothing short of brilliant, the vast reserves of power making it easy to zip past long lines of traffic on the highway.
Tailgate opens high; good to use only where the roof is not low.
While the automatic was a boon in traffic, we did have some issues. To begin with, we missed having paddles on the steering wheel. And then the Octavia occasionally tended to jerk a bit at low engine speeds when the turbo lag of the engine coincided with the box executing a shift. Still, when we wanted lightening-quick upshifts or downshifts, the twin clutch automatic always obliged.
What I liked most, however, was that the Octavia remained an absolute peach to drive hard. The steering is a bit light, and there is a touch of roll as you flick the car into a corner, but then it settles down, grips hard and rockets out as you flatten the accelerator hard. What a joy! In August, we drove our car down to Chennai for our track day, where it set a blistering time of 2m10.75s. Even Narain Karthikeyan simply loved the setup of the car and the way the clever front differential helped put power down.
Super handling and trick diff are a treat on the track.
Over the months that we had the car, we did find that the 178bhp engine can get thirsty if you are always on the gas, the 4.66-metre length makes it difficult to park at times, and then there’s Skoda’s improving but yet less than ‘thrilling’ aftersales service to contend with.
Still, if you like to drive and are looking for an executive car in the Rs 20 lakh bracket, we wouldn’t even consider looking elsewhere.