Good advertising sells products. Ask Skoda, whose first ads for the Octavia in India set the tone for the brand, way back in 2001. A clever use of headlines and some unique positioning set the Octavia on a path where it earned the instant respect of customers, and it also opened up a new segment in the market — the entry D-segment — which placed it above the likes of the Opel Astra and below the Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata.
For the last 16 years or so, the Octavia has been a sort of segment benchmark. Sure, it suffered the ignominy of a controversial name choice in the mid-2000s (with the Laura), but apart from that, it’s been quite flawless — well built, with good ride quality and handling, robust and torquey diesel motors, spinetingling petrol motors (with the exception of the 1.4 TSI), ample space for occupants and luggage, and high on safety and features.
Skoda made the current generation Octavia lighter, with better performance and higher levels of fuel efficiency. And now, three years after its launch, the Octavia gets its mid-life facelift, one that’s likely to cause some consternation among Octavia enthusiasts. This is because in pictures, the Octavia’s new twin-block LED headlamps have divided opinion. Although in a darker Quartz Grey shade, they tend to hide the obscure lines better. The external updates are completed by a new design for the alloy wheels, new LED elements for the tail lamps and new LED puddle lamps under the mirrors.
On the inside, you now get a larger touchscreen with more features, like adjustments for the mood interior lighting, newly finished dials that look pinched from the Octavia RS (that’s coming too, later this year), a driver alarm system (to detect driver drowsiness), an updated air-con fascia and park assist. The rangetopping Style Plus that I drove comes with 12-way adjustable and programmable electric seats, a sunroof, a retractable rear screen and navigation, over and above the Ambition and Style variants.
I had a go at the 2.0-litre TDI diesel with 141 bhp/324 Nm, mated to a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission (DSG) and the 1.8 TSI petrol with 177 bhp/250 Nm, mated to a seven-speed DSG. Both motors (and the 1.4-litre, 148 bhp petrol, mated to a six-speed manual) are simply carryovers, the only change being that the solid axleequipped 1.4- and 2.0-litre diesel get an increased rear axle width of 20 mm, while the 1.8 TSI gets 30 mm.
The car still feels great to drive. The steering weighs in nicely at low speeds, and at high speeds it offers good assist, even though it feels like it could have done with a bit more weight. Both the dual-clutch transmissions make short work of the torque on offer, shifting quickly enough on the uptake and making downshifts seem like they were done in the blink of an eye. The 1.8, in particular, feels very sporty to drive, rewarding keen drivers like it was a junior Octavia RS. With a raspy exhaust note and a hint of a fruity intake one, the TSI’s seven-speed ‘box is a joy to shift through. Handling is neutral, further improved by the wider rear axle, while the ride has just a slight hint of firmness, not more.
It continues to be very comfortable on the inside, the seats providing great support up front, while the three-abreast rear seating for decently-sized adults isn’t much of a fuss (plus you get a whole bunch of 12 V sockets to charge your devices).
Skoda, in fact, has more or less kept the pricing unchanged from the outgoing car, making up for the benefits of GST while offsetting the cost of the new equipment. At Rs 15.5 to Rs 22.9 lakh, ex-showroom, the competition isn’t that strong on the product front. The only trouble is, people spending that kind of money are rather keen on having an SUV these days — but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Octavia is a compelling package that’s just gotten better. Maybe they could get back to advertising it the way they used to, 16 years ago.
What we like: Excellent all-round package
What we don’t: Price is a bit steep