Believe it or not, many new European cars are getting cheaper. There’s a good chance you haven’t noticed – especially if a new car purchase in your household is about as likely as a Lotto win. But, if you’re lucky enough to be shopping for new wheels, your dollar should be buying you more Euro.
The latest line-up from Škoda is a great case in point. Thanks to the introduction of a new modular platform and associated efficiencies, each new model has been reduced by around $2,000. The price leader, Rapid, is a smidgen under $30,000, while the mid-size Octavia in lift-back or wagon variants, with its better equipment and greater refinement, is well worth a look at $35,000.
If the mention of Škoda immediately conjures up images of Eastern Bloc Europe, it’s time you got out a bit more. While the Czech Republic might be the home of Škoda, these days the company is part of the giant VW/Audi empire. As such, each model shares a significant percentage of running gear with its Volkswagen equivalent.
Design wise, there is definitely some DNA in common with its German brethren, although the range – including my test car, the lift-back Octavia petrol TSI – can best be described as conservative. In its latest guise, it’s both longer and wider and the styling is more modern, with a wider front grille and shorter front overhang. It’s edgier, like the new Golf, and won’t be mistaken for something Japanese or Korean. Friends of mine were split on the looks, but it did turn heads during a brief sojourn around Oriental Bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Regardless, it’s what makes the Octavia tick that will more likely impress. It’s based on the same platform as the latest Golf, and is offered with virtually the same engine options, including the delightful 1.4‑litre turbocharged petrol motor I’ve tested previously. Despite its small displacement, it packs a decent-sized punch. With a hefty 250Nm of torque available from low in the rev range, it is sure to impress. There is some turbo lag on rare occasions, but the excellent twin-clutch, seven-speed DS gearbox is practically faultless.
But why not buy the Golf, I hear you ask? After all, as a brand it has more cache. Put simply, there are two reasons. First, the Octavia is cheaper – the equivalent Golf is another $5,000. Second, that extra length makes a difference. And being a lift-back, the interior space is cavernous and suitable for just about everything when it comes to transporting loads. There’s plenty of room for passengers, too.
Is it as fun to drive? Very nearly. I really like the Golf, and while the Octavia isn’t quite as chuckable, all the same characteristics are there, including good ride, responsive handling and steering that’s communicative.
It’s no bargain-basement model either. The interior has been completely remodelled and looks the better for it. It’s not quite on a par with Golf, but the ‘Ambition’ spec includes plenty of fruit, including manual air con, front parking sensors, and all the safety equipment you could expect and more. For an additional $2,000, you get 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, partial leather and more, although this does take you tantalisingly close to the price tag of the better-equipped Golf. Diesel and petrol models are virtually line-ball in price, while both offer excellent fuel economy.
And if you really want to splash out, the Octavia RS variants with powerful motors – petrol or diesel – and sporty set-up could be the performance bargain you’ve been looking for. Of course, some won’t be able to get past the name association. Everyone else will find the Octavia is more than skin deep.[warning]
Model reviewed: Škoda Octavia 1.4 TSI lift-back
Price: $34,900 (wagon starts at $36,900)
Fuel economy: 5.4L/100km (manufacturer’s figures)
0–100km/h: 8.5 seconds (manufacturer’s figures)
Overall: An affordable option for the capital’s conscious consumer, and those who want something a little less obvious.[/warning]