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Skoda Octavia 1.6 Classic review (2003-2006)
Bodystyle: 5-door hatchback
Engine: 1.6-litre In-line 4-cylinder
Fuel type: Petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Date of test: September 2002
What is it?
Surprisingly, the Octavia is the oldest Skoda model you can now buy, but it was also the first of the new generation of cars that revitalised the Czech brand. The company is part of the Volkswagen group, and the Octavia is one of VW's clever 'platform-sharing' models that see the same mechanical and chassis parts used in a broad range of cars of similar size but with different badges. Thus the Octavia has a lot in common with mainstream models such as the VW Golf and Seat Toledo as well as style statements like the VW Beetle and Audi TT. The massive range of VW petrol and diesel engines is also largely on offer, as is an estate.
Where does it fit?
In the Skoda range it fits clearly between the supermini Fabia and the new large saloon, the Superb. The competition is less clear, for this is one of those 'cheat' cars that falls between two areas. Skoda would like to compare it with full-sized family cars like the Mondeo, but being based upon a Golf rather than a Passat, that's stretching credibility. The Octavia is almost long enough to qualify, but its shorter wheelbase means the benefits are to be found in the luggage area rather than rear seat. Pricewise, too, it sits alongside Ford Focus-sized cars, where it makes more sense.
Is it for you?
More than you might think. Critical opinion has moved firmly in favour of Skodas in recent years, thanks to the combination of Volkswagen virtues with bargain prices. But it seems that no matter how good a Skoda is, there are still many potential customers who just couldn't live with the idea of telling others they bought one. They are, honestly, missing out on a good thing. The Octavia is a very well-rounded package, built in a modern factory. It's in effect a Golf with a new body, and a big discount thrown in. And as well as getting a good car, buyers who have taken the plunge seem to love the personal service they get at the largely independently-owned garages that sell them.
What does it do well?
Oddly enough, it's the driving experience that stands out first. The 1.6-litre Octavia (make sure it's the 100bhp version and not the older 75bhp model) pulls remarkably well, with ample torque giving pleasing performance. The power steering is nicely weighted, so there's a good feel of the road (and keen handling for enthusiastic drivers) yet it's light enough to park easily. The Octavia is roomier than most cars at the price in the front and has a great boot with, of course, fold-down rear seats. So it may look like a saloon but in reality it's a hatchback.
What doesn't it do well?
Rear seat legroom certainly doesn't measure up to the ever roomier full-sized family car competition, but for a young family the extra boot space is probably more important. In an attempt to carry over just a little of the darker side of the Skoda heritage, the instruments and seat coverings are less convincing to look at, even though they do the job effectively. Diesels continue to be an expensive option compared with petrol Octavias, unless you pick the lethargic SDi version.
What's it like to live with?
The Octavia is an undemanding car that serves the purpose of everyday transport extremely well. It's easy to drive in town, the 1.6 has enough power to scoot along effectively with a load on the open road, with economy that approaches 40mpg. It's a bigger car than most at its price, which means the ability to park in tight spaces isn't city-car good, but the all-round practicality is a benefit. Skoda also comes out well in thebenchmark JD Power reliability tests.
Would we buy it?
An Octavia is a car you buy with your head, because it makes so much sense. The 1.6 Classic, at well under £11,000, is the same price as a posh five-door Fiesta, yet it offers so much more. Sure there are plenty of cut-price family cars being pushed out at the moment, but with the Octavia there is no down-side - this is a genuinely pleasant car with a quality that we feel would give you years of service. That makes it a hard package to beat once you can bury any lingering prejudices.
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