In its fourth generation, the Skoda Octavia is one of the very few sedans worthy of waging a war against the SUV army. A lone survivor who’s managed to find cover, reload the artillery and emerge from the ground. But in this nail-biting action sequel, will the Czech emerge to glory? Or will it succumb to the affection we have for our SUVs?
One thing’s for sure, no SUV can look as stately as the Octavia. I like how Skoda has retained the silhouette of the third generation, although this receives all-new panels and has grown in size as well. The face isn’t as serious as before, but it seems to be trying to merge with the bigger barbeque grilles, and that might not sit well with the audience. Yet, the sleeker headlamps replace the split-headlamp arrangement from before, giving it a more modern look. The tight shut lines and prominent creases remain, and so does the clean understated look. The wheels too are quite unique on the L and K trim and again, will surely split opinion. The rear of the new Octavia is by far the prettiest angle to look at. The amalgamation of the coupé style, sleeker tail lamps, and a tidy tail section does look very premium. Is it because they’ve given those fake exhaust tips a miss? Likely.
Things are much more engrossing on the inside; the architect, new materials, and newfound luxury. The dashboard with its three-layer design and distinctive use of soft-touch materials, including suede, will want you to admire it for hours. The floating 10-inch touchscreen benefits from a permanently marked home and menu button, but adjusting the fan speed will give require you to annoyingly press a few buttons. But all is forgiven when you scroll your finger on the touch-sensitive volume slider, and hear crisp, clear notes from the 600W canton speaker. Fit and finish, in typical Skoda fashion, is top-notch, and feels built to last.
Keen drivers will surely appreciate Skoda’s second-generation virtual cockpit that gets tweaked input methods. The two-spoke steering doesn’t feel any different from a three-spoke, yet aesthetically it suits the modern cabin. The front row seats – well they remain an absolute gem in Octavia’s cabin, very comforting, good levels of electric arrangements with memory function and generous shoulder support. I would have loved two buttons to cool them, but Skoda reckons otherwise.
It’s marketed as a premium sedan for India but internationally, the Octavia is a hatchback based on the Golf’s platform. And while this might be a debatable topic for the exteriors, it clearly isn’t as you hop into the rear seats. No complaints about the bench or the features on offer, but it’s the space that’s concerning. That, combined with the absence of a sunroof and a dark headliner which Skoda seems to have forgotten to match with the rest of the upholstery, does make you feel claustrophobic. But you can still make yourself comfortable and settle in for a relaxed and calming ride.
However, what about the driving experience, which is a strength that positions this sedan ahead of the tempting SUVs. No surprises here, it’s definitely better than those hot-sellers and its sole rival, the Hyundai Elantra, but that doesn’t label the Octavia as an enthusiastic machine which it once was. It’s floaty, there is a fair amount of body roll and the steering feedback, although predictable, isn’t precise. Under the sculpted bonnet is the 2.0-litre TSI engine dishing out 187bhp, but a slightly relaxed seven-speed transmission and body dynamics never encourage you to drive it quickly. Clearly then, it leans towards the chauffeur driven thanks to the refined cabin and the soft ride.
With Skoda trying to inject a bit of style and tech to Octavia’s usual practicality, it seems like that college student who’s matured and landed in an MNC. It isn’t a mistake, but it’s sort of lost track of its fun and energetic personality. And that’s precisely the essence that this new Octavia lacks. Then there’s the elevated pricing that makes it a very questionable proposition. With our most sensible hats on, it’s difficult to justify its appeal to a sensible customer looking for a luxurious family sedan. If I were to choose one, it would be a slightly more expensive Skoda Superb, or even better, a slightly less expensive Jeep Compass. I’m sorry Octy, you’ve fought well, but the upmarket looks and refinement just aren't enough reasons to make the buyers look away from the SUVs. Sigh, another one goes down.
Quick Specs: 2021 Skoda Octavia Price: Rs 25–30 lakhs (ex-showroom, India) Engine: 2.0-litre TSI, 4-cyl Power: 187bhp Torque: 320Nm Transmission: 7-speed DSG
Pros: Elite appeal, top-quality materials on the inside, enthusiastic engine Cons: Misses on a few premium features, transmission isn’t the sportiest, rear-seat space