2020 Skoda Octavia Estate prototype review
What can you expect from the new Skoda Octavia? We get behind the wheel of a prototype to find out
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of the Skoda Octavia to the brand. Since its reintroduction in 1996, almost 6.2 million have been built - one in three Skodas sold worldwide is an Octavia. Half of all the profit Skoda makes from car sales is attributable to its Ford Focus rival.
The new Octavia is crucial to the company and Skoda can’t afford to rest on its laurels despite the success of previous models.
From our drive in several pre-production models, it’s clear that the new Octavia is likely to continue the model’s success. Skoda hasn’t done anything drastic with the latest version of its most popular model; instead the car is an evolution of an already polished product. Although it’s 50mm wider, most of the dimensions are similar to those of the current car and it still sits on Volkswagen’s MQB platform.
Some engines have been carried over but with tweaks and upgrades to make them more efficient. Five of the Skoda Octavia estate’s powertrains emit under 100g/km of carbon dioxide, and the line-up will include mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. We tested a 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol with a manual gearbox and a 2.0-litre diesel with the same power and a seven-speed automatic gearbox. Both have cylinder deactivation technology, which allows the engines to run on two cylinders when you’re not pressing the throttle heavily. The diesel also features multi-point AdBlue injection to reduce harmful emissions.
Both the petrol and diesel we tried feel eager and refined. The manual gearbox is light and enjoyable to use, while the automatic shifts gears quickly and without fuss. The updated gearbox hardware means it can support self-driving Skodas in the future.
Skoda has fitted much more soundproofing and absorption, so the interior is quieter than before. You don’t notice as much road noise, and the cars we tested struck a good balance between comfort and handling. The steering will feel familiar if you’ve driven a previous Octavia, in that it’s precise but not as crisp as a Ford Focus or SEAT Leon. On cars with adaptive dampers fitted, you’ll be able to cycle through 15 settings.
Another aspect that will improve with the new Octavia is the amount of technology on board. The 2020 model will borrow some of the recently revealed equipment for the new Volkswagen Golf. Most trim levels will get a 10-inch touchscreen that controls most of the car’s functions - even some of the climate control settings - and volume can be adjusted by sliding a touch-sensitive panel. Even the entry-level models will get an 8.25-inch infotainment screen with smartphone mirroring.
Skoda will offer wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto connectivity (a wireless connection is still being developed), plus the company’s new voice assistant called Laura. As many as five USB-C points will be available, including one mounted near the top of the windscreen so you can fit an aftermarket dash cam. Matrix LED headlights and a 10-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster will also be offered.
Alongside the extra soundproofing, Skoda has given the Octavia a more premium feel with better materials and a new dashboard design. A number of horizontal elements make the car feel wider and more spacious, while there are new LED ambient lighting options and trim finishers.
Some extra safety kit will be available, including an updated lane-keeping assistant, adaptive cruise control that can obey speed limits, evasive manoeuvre assist, pedestrian and cyclist detection and auto emergency braking.
Skoda says both the hatchback and the estate have slightly bigger boots than before. The hatchback will now offer 600 litres of space and the estate will have 640 litres - although you’d probably struggle to notice the difference over the current cars. There’s still plenty of room for your passengers in the back seats, no matter how tall they are, and myriad ‘Simply Clever’ touches, such as the umbrella in the front door.
While few people dream of owning a Skoda Octavia, it’s an incredibly well-rounded family car and this new version is likely to go straight to the top of the class again. The 2020 Octavia won’t do anything radical but new technology, a more premium feel, and Skoda Superb-like styling will please existing Skoda fans and attract newcomers.