Expert Rating: ****
Ex-Showroom Price: Rs 16,55,000
Fuel Type: Diesel
“The Indian market is funny” - that is a line that you have probably heard from me a zillion times now. This time, I say this because you often see a carmaker getting successful with a particular model and then they launch its successor with a different name so that the successful predecessor and the improved successor can coexist to gain a larger market chunk.
There are a zillion examples too - M800 - Zen(s) - Alto - A-star, Dzire Roam - New Dzire, Fiesta Classic - New Fiesta, Micra Active - Micra facelift - the list is endless. But it is not only the run of the mill models that are subject to this phenomenon, for the premium brand Skoda had tried something similar too. Since its poster child - the Octavia - was so successful in India since its launch, the Czech carmaker repositioned & rechristened its successor and called it the Laura; and let the two coexist until the Octavia had to be discontinued due to the tightening emission norms.
But all said and done, the strategy hasn't worked too well. The two iterations of the Laura could not recreate the magic of the Octavia and Skoda strongly believes that the model-name has a big role to play in this regard. Therefore the third generation Octavia - which was launched in Europe a few months back - keeps its identity intact for its Indian operations too. 'The legend is back' says Skoda India's marketing campaign - but is it just that or does it really mean what it says? To find out, we took a part of the new Octavia line-up for a brief drive through the winding roads of Himachal Pradesh. Given the constraint of the drive schedule and the number of variants to be sampled, we could only drive enough to get our early impressions of the car.
The Skoda Octavia is now in its third generation and while all the four designs that we have seen so far are significantly different from each other one thing is common - they are all boxy and straightforward. The new model is no different, but thanks to the new design language based on the Skoda Vision D Concept, the Octavia has a smart and firm fascia. The headlights are back to a rectangular shape - no more frowning eyebrows like the Laura. The car comes with three trim options - Active, Ambition and Elegance and the latter being the top spec trim, gets bi-xenon projector beam headlamps and seamless daytime running LEDs. The headlamps and fog lamps have black shrouds around them, which impart a more aggressive look. The lower trims get regular multi-focal-reflector type headlamps and fog lamps with corner illumination function.
There is a prominent pair of creases that run longitudinally along the centre of the bonnet and extrude into the new grille to create the effect of an aerodynamic 'nose' like the one seen on a Formula One car. The metal extrusion creates space for the new Skoda logo on the bonnet. These elements come from the new design philosophy that Skoda will incorporate in all its upcoming models / facelifts.
The Octavia follows the classic notchback form factor, however, the roofline is raked significantly at the back to give it a coupé-ish stance. It still isn’t as pronounced as the new Elantra though. The side profile also features a bold, straight shoulder line that makes the car look wide. The doors feature flame surfacing towards the bottom end to add some flair to the otherwise straight lines of the car. The tailgate features the new design language too – and like the Rapid, it features the prism cuts next to the registration plate. The taillights are quite like the Rapid too, though they feature a more detailed layout. The C-motif looks good, but the lack of LED treatment is surprising!
Another downer is that the sleeker design of the boot, the small tail lamps, the low roofline and the 16-inch wheels across the range, reduce the visual bulk. While a sleeker design is a welcome change, the Octavia appears a tad too streamlined for those seeking a luxury car that ‘looks’ large enough for the Rs 15-22 lakh bracket.
Nevertheless, the new Octavia’s design will appeal to the kind of buyer looking for a conservative appearance in the car. While the top spec Elegance trim does have a hint of aggression, the low- and mid-level trims look sober. No matter which one you choose, this design will age well – just like the original Octavia.
The Octavia’s line-up for India will comprise of three engine options. The base variant uses a 1.4-litre TSI (direct-injection) petrol engine that puts out 140 PS of power and 250 Nm of torque, is good for 16.81 kmpl and will be mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Its more powerful petrol counterpart is a 1.8-litre TSI unit that produces 180 PS of power and 250 Nm torque and gets a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DSG) that helps it gain a fuel economy of 14.72 kmpl. The diesel Octavia uses the trusty 2.0-litre TDI oil burner that is tuned to produce 143 PS of power and 320 Nm of torque. This engine will be the choice for most Octavia customers and therefore Skoda is offering two transmission options on it as well – a 6-speed manual and a 6-speed DSG, with a claimed fuel economy of 20.61 and 19.28 respectively.
Depending on the trim level you choose, the Octavia offers up to six airbags. Apart from the regular ABS with EBD, ESC (electronic stability programme) and seatbelts with pre-tensioners, a new piece of safety tech that needs a mention is the Multi-collision Brake (MKB). In the event of a collision that has multiple possible impacts (like for example, crashing into a divider and then swerving back into the oncoming traffic), the car will automatically apply brakes the moment the first impact of the collision happens. Arguably, that is a nice bit of safety tech to have!
Coming back to the variants, we managed to sample the 1.8 TSI and the 2.0 TDI-manual variants, followed by a small spin in the diesel automatic. As the figures suggest, the 1.8 TSI is a stonker of an engine. Its 150 PS version had left us impressed in the Laura vRS and in the new guise it has just gotten better! The engine is rev-happy, quick and fast; however, the gearbox is a slight bit of a let down. Being a DSG, you expect quick shifts, but when you step on the throttle, you realize that the gearbox takes a while to downshift. The behavior is similar on part-throttle as well. You can always shift to the tiptronic mode for better control over the gearbox, but the lack of paddle shifters is annoying. The saving grace for enthusiasts, apart from the engine’s performance of course, is the turbo-whine and the blow-off whistle!
The suspension setup is another area that will leave you impressed. The Volkswagen Jetta’s handling had put a big smile on my face and the Octavia 1.8 does no different. The setup imparts significantly lesser body roll for a car of this segment and at the same time it absorbed most of the undulations and patchy surfaces that the Himachal twisties had to throw at us. While offering such a plaint ride, the Octavia can attack corners with utter precision and the well-weighted, well-tuned steering system only makes the experience better.
The same can’t be said about the Octavia diesel though. For starters, the diesel Octavia (and even the Octavia 1.4 TSI) employs a torsion-beam type rear suspension whereas the 1.8 TSI model uses a multi-link setup. The latter has noticeably better ride quality and imparts better handling characteristics. The suspension setup on the diesel variant seems noisier as well.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine is a hot favorite amongst the Volkswagen group and it is a mill that has proven its mettle. It continues to impress even in the new Octavia. With 320 Nm of torque on tap, the engine never really feels out of breath. But like its 1.8 TSI-powered sibling, the diesel automatic’s 6-speed DSG feels a tad sluggish and showcases a fair bit of turbo-lag as well. Moving in slow city traffic is not a task, but overtakes need to planned in advance. The diesel manual on the other hand is more fun to drive and also my choice for everyday use. The 1.8-litre TSI petrol and 2.0-litre TDI diesel automatic are the better choices for customers looking for the convenience of an automatic transmission.
The new Octavia is an impressive car. It has the precise dynamics of a Skoda, scores high on overall comfort and build-quality and unlike its Volkswagen sibling – it is very feature rich as well. But the latter is what could push the Octavia’s pricing higher than the Volkswagen Jetta, which in itself is a pricey car. The original Octavia’s trump card was the value-for-money aspect in the premium sedan space. Let us hope the new Octavia can maintain that too.
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