I own a Skoda, and before you even ask me which one, yes, it’s the one with the weirdly odd name that, in fun-biology, means ding-a-ling. Skoda could argue that it’s also a popular ladies’ name, but not in India will you get away with such silliness, no!
The one I’ve got is the sportier model from Skoda’s ding-a-ling portfolio – the one with 1.8 litres worth of metal laced with 160 smile-inducing horsepower. What makes the car even more enjoyable is the 6-speed stick shift, which is the source of immense satisfaction as your right foot completes a heel-and-toe operation every time you shift a gear.
But, like all good things that must provide a reality check, there’s a huge downside to this car too – it comes default-packaged with huge depreciation when you go to sell it. And then is the matter of the after-sales experience, which – and I’m using the most placid adjectives here – has been monstrously expensive! No one expects a motoring journo to bother about such things, but then where’s the sense in hiding from what’s a universally known fact anyway?
I’ve been in the trade long enough to know that Skoda’s can be frightfully expensive to maintain. So, you’d, at this point, ask me which part of my brain stopped working that I actually put down 13 lakhs of my own money on this car? The answer is simple – it’s a bloody impressive thing to drive! But now the ding-a-ling is being replaced by a much better sounding product, and one which started Skoda’s operations in India – the Skoda Octavia.
If you’re the kind who likes to announce your arrival to a crowd, please look elsewhere – Korea maybe. The Skoda Octavia is an understated and sedate looking car, and more for an unassuming CEO who likes to impress with precision and strong numbers. The new corporate face on the Skoda Octavia looks impressive, and you’ll absolutely love the treatment given to the LEDs – which are discreetly beautiful. There are strong and confident lines all over, and the Octy looks like it’ll age well with time. The rear, however, is strikingly similar to the Rapid’s back end, and though it helps in hiding the Octavia’s increased dimensions, it doesn’t really give it any brownie points on uniqueness.
Any VW family product has replicated this subtlety of exterior design on the inside too, and it’s the same with the new Skoda Octavia. The design and layout of the dash is pretty straightforward, and let’s just say that if you’re familiar with any Skoda’s of the recent past in India you’ll feel completely at home. The materials used are, as has become the norm with European manufacturers, absolutely top notch and the almost-white in the dual-tone scheme gives a rich feel – as does the piano-black finish of the plastic outlining the center console.
Let’s progress in the most natural way – smallest to biggest. When I drove the Jetta with the 1.4 litre petrol engine that it now shares with the Skoda Octavia, I didn’t find it to be particularly exciting. It was frugal alright, but it didn’t give you the kind of performance you expect from a sedan of this segment. In the Octavia though, the same engine feels pretty good on power delivery and I’ll even go to the extent of calling it sprightly. But there’s a reason for such a marked difference in performance between the Jetta and Octavia. The Jetta had 120 horsepower, while the Skoda Octavia gets 138 direct-injected horsepowers. But there’s a catch – a big one at that. You’ll have to be quite heavy on the accelerator all the time to get the juices flowing. There’s noticeable lag below 2,000rpm, and you’d be working the gearlever quite frequently on this version. Oh yes, you’d be working the gears – it’s a manual with 6 delightfully spaced ratios.
Meanwhile, the 1.8 litre, 178bhp, 250Nm engine is totally different in character. The power is transmitted to the front wheels through a 7-speed dual clutch transmission with absolutely no lag in shifts. The Skoda ding-a-ling’s 1.8 litre feels insipid in comparison – this one’s that good, really! Alright, granted that it’s a bit dimwitted below 2,200rpm, but you actually expect such delay from an engine aimed towards providing a sporty driving characteristic. It can, however, be rather irritating when just puttering around at city speeds. This one makes a pretty good noise though, and you’d love working the gear lever in manual mode. It’s a shame that there are no paddle shift, even as an option on the Skoda Octavia, because that would have enhanced the experience to a different level altogether.
The 2.0 litre diesel is a known motor, and it performs quite brilliantly still. There’s 141bhp on tap, but it’s more about the linear spread of 320Nm of torque with this engine. It comes mated to a superlative 6-speed DSG that manages the torque very well, and you don’t even have to stress the engine much to get the best out of it. The Octy actually feels faster than the Jetta with the same engine – I sense a strong sibling rivalry in the offing. Just how much faster is it – well, we’ll be able to tell you that only after we’ve put the two in a head-on battle. That’s coming soon…
There’s a marked difference in the way the Skoda Octavia drives with each of the different engines bolted under the bonnet. The 1.4 petrol and the 2.0 diesel share the same suspension geometry (non-independent torsion beam at the rear), but the petrol variant feels a bit too light at the rear. The low speed ride quality is absolutely brilliant though, and both the petrol and the diesel variants have great road manners. The 1.8 litre variant has independent suspension all round, with a multi-link stabilizer bar that gives it added charm. It’s much more energetic in changing direction, and is a joy to throw around corners.
It’s the MQB platform, really, that makes the car as good as it’s become now. The ding-a-ling suffered with predictable understeer when you decided to go crazy while steering around your favourite twisty roads, but so much work has gone into this architecture that there’s no way the front will wash out on you anymore – the steering is precise, and the Skoda Octavia feels impressively ready for any amount of excitement that you might want to enjoy with it. It’s so good now that it may even be more enjoyable than some pricier brands that command more snob value in the market. It’s the best driver’s car this side of 25 lakhs – and that’s high praise.
I’m in trouble now though. I’ve got to find a buyer for the ding-a-ling. Anyone interested?