The Skoda Octavia has always been a formidable force in its class, but can its fourth-generation avatar transcend the segment and take the battle to more popular SUVs?
The Octavia has been highly successful for Skoda not just in India but the world over. But to be honest, the previous iterations of the car have had it relatively easy. You see, the first three generations of the Octavia came in when sedans were still popular. But things have changed now, and it’s going to be exceedingly difficult for the fourth-generation model.
The popularity of the D-segment sedans has been plummeting for over half a decade, forcing most manufacturers to discontinue their models. The question then is – will Skoda reap the benefits of being one of the few offerings in the executive sedan space, or is Skoda being too bullish about the success of a sedan in a time when SUVs are ruling the roost?
Although the fourth-generation model gets an all-new design, it continues to have the signature Skoda touches. At the front, the butterfly grille is a bit flatter on the top and now has bolder chrome surrounds. The lower part of the bumper has a familiar belt, but the chrome strip now extends to surround the fog lamps.
Many were not charmed by the split headlamps of the outgoing model, but frankly, I have never been opposed to the setup. Nevertheless, this new iteration gets a sleeker single-unit headlight, which agrees quite well with the rest of the design. While the clamshell bonnet continues to sport creases, just like before, it now is a bit arched – something that gives it a squatted stance and robs it of the sharpness of the previous model.
In profile, the elegance and size of the new Octavia really come to the fore. The new Octavia is 19mm longer than the earlier version and sits on smart-looking multi-spoke alloy wheels. Unlike the older model, which had a textbook three-box saloon silhouette, the new one’s roof blends into the boot, giving it a Sportback-kind of appeal.
The Octavia easily looks at its best when viewed from the rear three-quarters. Although Octavia’s taillights look heavily inspired by the larger Superb, they nonetheless look good. Overall, the Octavia has an extremely satisfying clean and sharp look. The absence of other badges, except the Skoda and Octavia lettering, further add to that feeling.
Upping the ante
While the new Octavia’s exterior feels more like an evolution of its predecessor, the interior sports a radical change. The multi-layered dash uses high-quality materials all around and looks supremely elegant. The absence of scattered knobs reflects on its design team’s obsession with keeping things clean and tidy. Talking of cleanliness, I absolutely love the petite gear lever. Skoda’s use of ‘shift by wire’ tech, which electronically connects with the transmission instead of mechanical linkages, allowed them to do away with the gear lever, adding more space to the cabin.
While I truly appreciate the minimalistic approach, I wish Skoda had continued with physical controls for the AC. In the current setup, it’s a pain to change the fan speed on the move, as it requires multiple inputs on the central screen.
The 10-inch touchscreen infotainment display is crisp but a wee bit difficult to operate, for it seems a bit to respond as you slid through the menu options. In terms of features and tech, the Octavia gets wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, iBuzz fatigue alert, and hands-free parking. While the new Octavia gets some connected techs via the MySkoda Connect app, it doesn’t offer a very comprehensive solution. It even misses out on some other key features like a sunroof, engine start/stop function, ventilated seats, and a 360-degree camera – all of which you’d expect in a car of this class.
Like other new Skoda cars, the new Octavia also comes with a Virtual Cockpit. Although Skoda says that it’s an updated unit, the overall layout largely remains unchanged, which is a bit of a disappointment, for it now feels a bit too familiar. There is a new two-spoke steering wheel – the one that made its debut in the Superb – and it comes with nice knurled finish controls.
The real USP of the Octavia – like all the other premium Skoda offerings – is the simply clever features. In addition to the signature umbrella holder in the front doors, the Octavia also gets an integrated funnel in the windscreen washer reservoir cap, a mobile holder in the seatback, easy-open cup holders, and lots of anchor points for tying luggage in the boot.
Space at the back is good even for taller passengers. The rear doors, however, don’t open very wide, which does make ingress and egress a bit difficult. Passengers at the back get sun blinds and air-con vents, but the Octavia misses out on the Power Nap Package. There are four USB ports in the cabin, but unfortunately, all of them are Type-C ports.
The third-gen Skoda Octavia was on sale in India with two petrol engines – a 1.4-litre TSI and a 1.8-litre TSI – and a 2.0-litre TDI. Skoda also offered a range of manual and automatic transmission options.
This time around, the fourth-gen Octavia can only be had with a 2.0-litre TSI mill and a 7-speed DSG – the same combination that also does duty in the Superb facelift, a car that won top honours in our Best of 2020 mega test. This engine makes max power of 187bhp – 10bhp more than that of the old 1.8 TSI. The torque rating stands at 320Nm – a meaty 70Nm more than before. Despite the additional power and torque, the Octavia now claims to return efficiency of 15.8km/l – it was 15.1km/l earlier.
What’s more, the new 2.0-litre heart is an absolute hoot. It feels quick and tractable. Of course, it’s no match to the more powerful vRS, but for a car focused on luxury, it feels sufficiently swift. With the torque kicking in very low in the rev range, there is poke right from the get-go, and it continues to feel meaty as you move into the mid-range. The beauty of this motor is that it doesn’t quite show much discomfort, even when you push it to the limit. It not only feels refined throughout the rev range but also lets out a sweet sound when driven spiritedly.
The motor is complimented well by the 7-speed DSG transmission. In Drive mode, it makes absolutely smooth shifts and goes about its business in a rather seamless manner. Switch to Sport, however, and downshifts tend to feel a bit jerky.
The Octavia’s ride quality is equally impressive. The suspension is tuned for comfort and does a great job of absorbing undulations. Our shoot location demanded a drive on some horribly laid roads, but the Octavia showed no signs of discomfort. During our drive, with just two of us onboard, Octavia’s ground clearance felt sufficient for the most part. This means that its 106mm of ground clearance in fully-loaded condition may require you to be cautious while manoeuvring over large potholes and speed breakers.
The soft nature of the suspension does affect the handling of the Octavia. Attack a corner at speed, and the body roll becomes quite evident. There is a bit of understeer too, but it doesn’t feel loose or slacking by any means.
Like a book
The fourth-generation Octavia is in every way a substantial improvement over the outgoing model. Its interior design is contemporary and even feels plusher. While it could have a bit more in terms of connected tech, it does offer most of the essential features that you’d expect from a car in its class. The biggest highlight of the Octavia is undoubtedly the 2.0-litre TSI heart, which is punchier and smoother than the old car’s 1.8-litre TSI. And then there is the aspect that the Octavia has always been renowned for – comfort and practicality, both of which are available in abundance.
Skoda will bring in the fourth-gen Octavia in just two variants to start with – the Style and L&K. Expect the Czech carmaker to price the executive sedan in the Rs 25 – 30 lakh range, which could be a cause of concern for the brand. So, will the Octavia help bring sedans back in trend? Probably not, but there will always be takers for the Octavia, just like there are those who still love the feel of a physical book in an age of digital devices.
- 2021 Skoda Octavia
Engine: 1,984cc / 4-Cylinder / 16-Valve / Turbocharged
Transmission: 7-Speed DSG / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 187bhp @ 4,180 – 6,000rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1,500 – 3,900rpm
X-Factor: In its fourth-gen avatar, the Octavia sets new benchmarks in terms of quality, fit & finish, and comfort.