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Skoda 2 - CopyBelieve 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.


Tech Specs

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.


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