"The latest Skoda Octavia offers bags of space, quality and value, plus economical engines."
So how can the new Skoda Octavia take on the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, BMW 1 Series, and fellow Volkswagen Group family members the SEAT Leon and Audi A3? By taking a slightly unusual approach to most other small hatchbacks, that's how. The Octavia offers much more space inside than most of its rivals, and it's really great value as well, offering value-for-money prices with levels of standard equipment that are closer to the Hyundai i30 or Kia cee’d. It's also cheap to run because of its range of fuel-efficient engines equipped with fuel-saving features such as automatic stop-start for the engine when the car comes to a stop in heavy traffic. This approach has been so effective, in fact, that we named our 2013 CarBuyer Best Family Car award – great value, massively spacious and of genuinely high quality. What more can you ask of a family car?
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
You get stop-start fitted as standard across the Octavia range, and many of the engines are used elsewhere in the VW Group and in the Skoda line-up. The standout is the 1.6-litre Greenline model, which returns 83mpg in fuel economy and emits a tax-free 89g/km of CO2. But even the best-selling 1.6 diesel won’t cost you any road tax, with its CO2 emissions of 99g/km, while the more powerful 2.0-litre diesel will only cost you the bare minimum with emissions at 109g/km. Plus, one of the main reasons that Skoda dealers are so consistently highly rated is that they manage to keep servicing costs small, too.
Interior & comfort
You might not get the same level of excitement driving an Octavia as you’d get behind the wheel of a Ford Focus, but if comfort is high on your list of priorities, it will definitely impress. Space is plentiful, with enough knee and headroom to rival cars in the class above, with passengers in the back able to stretch out in comfort. The driving position is also good, with loads of adjustment in both the steering wheel and the seat, plus well laid out and easy-to-use controls. The ride is more comfortable than many of its rivals, but still can’t quite match the well-rounded VW Golf that it's based on. What's more, all the engines are remarkably smooth – particularly the diesels. The 1.6-litre TDI can be a little noisy but the 2.0-litre TDI is ideal for long-distance motorway cruising.
Practicality & boot space
Good luck finding a more practical car than the Skoda Octavia. Each of the last two generations has been known for their class-leading space, and the latest model is no exception. Based on the VW Golf, the bigger dimensions provide more space than ever before, with much legroom in the back than you’ll find in the likes of the Golf, Ford Focus, Ford Mondeo or Volkswagen Passat. Taller passengers can even sit behind tall drivers, too, with room to spare. There's also plenty of room in the boot for all their luggage, with 590 litres of space on offer – the largest of all its rivals and just only 15 litres less than the previous model's huge boot. Fold down the standard-fit split-folding rear seats and the boot capacity expands to an even bigger 1,580 litres. But it's not just space that the Octavia has to offer. There are also loads of clever, handy and useful additions and accessories, from a slot to hold your smartphone to the boot floor that can be reversed when you need to transport dirty or muddy items. There's also a useful automatic parking system that not only helps you parallel park and park in multi-storey car park, but also gets you out of a tight spot if you find yourself boxed in.
Reliability & safety
For the past few years Skoda has sat at the top of the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey for good reason – owners rarely have any problems and if any occur, then the Skoda dealer network is fast and effective at handling it and fixing it at speed. So it's slightly surprising to see Skoda knocked off the number one position in the 2013 poll by Lexus, but Skoda certainly haven’t had a drop in standards, so we wouldn’t worry too much – maybe just give Lexus the credit it deserves for having an outstanding year. The previous, second-generation Octavia fell out of the top five cars in the top 100 list, ranking at number six – what's amazing, though, is that it was nearly 10 years old and had just been replaced by the new model, which tells you how incredibly reliable it's actually been. Like most manufacturers in recent years, new Skoda models tend to improve on the car they’re replacing, so you can expect this third-generation model to make its debut towards the top of the top 100 list when it does appear. All the mechanical components are tried and tested across the Volkswagen Group, and it shares many of its engines and much of its suspension with the VW Golf, Audi A3 and SEAT Leon. If you happen to have the Octavia, Golf, A3 and Leon on your shopping list, you’ll probably notice that many of the switches and controls are very similar, but that won’t be a problem as their quality is a strong across the board. No surprise that the Octavia secured the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety test, coming fitted with a range of top-drawer safety equipment as standard, including automatic city brake, driver drowsiness alert and lane keep assist. A crash detection system also pre-tensions the seatbelts and closes the windows if it detects that an accident is about to happen. It also comes with nine airbags, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.
Engines, drive & performance
One of the areas where the Volkswagen bosses haven’t allowed the Octavia out-perform its Volkswagen Golf cousin is the drive. It's got stiffer suspension so has a slightly firmer ride that doesn’t as effortlessly iron out the bumps on the roads as well as the Golf. It's certainly not uncomfortable by any means, but you will notice potholes and ridges more than you might in the Golf or in a Ford Focus. However, that little extra stiffness does mean that the Octavia has hardly any body roll when driving around corners, which is good for a family car of this size. There's also a wide selection of engines to choose from, including a speedy 2.0-litre TDI diesel and an economical 1.6-litre TDI. However, the entry-level 1.2-litre turbo petrol is our surprise pick, feeling responsive and offering good performance, even when the car is fully loaded.
Price, value for money & options
It might initially be a slight disappointment that the current Octavia isn’t quite as amazingly cheap as the previous model, but it still manages to undercut most of its main rivals by quite some margin. And the important thing is that it certainly doesn’t feel at all cheap for the money – particularly because the entry-level S model comes fitted with air-conditioning, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and a digital radio as standard equipment. Inevitably, it doesn’t feel as well constructed as a VW Golf, and the Volkswagen badge alone will increase that car's desirability over the Skoda – but that may be a trap, because in many ways this is the same car, only with more space and for less money. If you’re shopping with a clear head, the Octavia could well be the better buy if you have a growing family.