By Andy Enright
A couple of decades ago, few families had Skoda on their shopping lists. This was a value brand but it wasn't one you'd attach much value to. What changed all of that was this car, the Octavia, launched in 1996 and the model that finally persuaded buyers to take Skoda seriously. It was a conservative, spacious and capable design based on the Volkswagen Golf and over a million were sold before this second generation version arrived in 2004.
This car consolidated its predecessor's success amongst buyers who rather liked the idea of a five-door hatch or estate car bigger than a Golf but slightly smaller than something Mondeo-sized like a Passat. Once they'd taken delivery, they were rarely disappointed. Even as recently as 2008, the Octavia was winning its class in the JD Power Customer Satisfaction survey. By the end of that year however, sales were starting to dwindle, hence the announcement of the facelifted version we're looking at here which sold until the arrival of the MK3 model in the Spring of 2013. Now is a good time to pick up a used MK2 Octavia, so here's what to look for.
By 2009, the second generation Skoda Octavia had been on sale for five years and had been steadily bringing a legion of new buyers round to the Skoda brand. The premise was relatively simple. Here was a car that ran on the same VW Group PQ35 chassis as cars like the Audi A3, the VW Golf Mk5 and the SEAT Leon. The styling work of Thomas Ingenlath and Peter Wouda had aged elegantly but required a little wash and brush up to keep the Octavia looking fresh in the face of revitalised rivals such as Ford's Focus and Vauxhall's Astra.
The 2009 changes gave the Octavia a bit more about it, thanks to its more imposing grille, topped with a thick band of chrome. Substantial headlamps flank it to form a band across the nose that sits above restyled bumpers. Moving backwards, there are revised side mouldings, while smarter C-shaped light clusters adorn the rear. Overall, this remains a solid-looking, nicely sculpted car with more than a hint of Volvo in its design make-up: perfect then, for that older target market.
The interior revisions had, if anything, an even greater impact. Previous Octavia interiors felt rather self-consciously plain - as if they were trying too hard not to be a Volkswagen Golf. Here, it's much better. Enhancements to the switchgear, entertainment systems and trim work well. There's a smarter steering wheel and classier instrument panel graphics. Overall then, the gap between this and the acclaimed interiors of Volkswagen and Audi products is not a big one.
What You Get
The model continued to be developed, with the expansion of its economy GreenLine brand, and a number of offers on the back of 2009's Government scrappage scheme. November 2010 saw the introduction of a four-wheel drive 2.0 TDI CR 140bhp engine with automatic DSG transmission to the Octavia Estate and Octavia Scout. Run-out special edition models, the Octavia SE Connect and Octavia vRS Blackline, were announced in late 2012, the former a fire-sale of existing stock at 25 per cent discounts and the latter a well-equipped version of the punchy vRS in both hatch and estate body styles. Featuring 18-inch black alloy wheels, the car also got acoustic rear parking sensors, Amundsen satellite navigation system, DAB radio and vRS leather upholstery. The introduction of the suspiciously similarly-sized Rapid model in 2012 signalled that this Octavia had run its course and a much bigger successor model was duly announced which went on sale in Spring 2013.
What to Look For
The Octavia used to be a surprisingly temperamental thing with water leaks, dual mass flywheel problems, suspension alignment issues and computer display woes rather undermining its reputation as offering all of the Volkswagen Group's good stuff at a cheaper price. The good thing about a late shape facelifted car is that all the niggles get fixed. The company gets better at building the things and is keen to drive down the cost of warranty claims. That's exactly what happened with this generation Skoda Octavia. In the Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, the Octavia scored 3rd, 3rd and 4th in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 surveys and in the 2011 one, two of the cars which beat it were its stablemates the Yeti and the Superb. Buyers have few complaints with slow heating systems, frozen washer nozzles and an over firm ride on vRS models as the main niggles.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2009 Octavia vRS 2.0) An alternator is a big ticket item at around £450, while a clutch assembly is around £215, making these parts of the Skoda ownership experience as upmarket as Volkswagen claim. Front brake pads are a reassuring £50 a pair, whilst a starter motor is around £135.
On the Road
When the original second generation version of this car was first announced in 2004, all the stuff you didn't see - chassis, engines and so on - was pretty much identical to those parts used in far more expensive VW Group products like the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3. That wasn't quite so true by the time this facelifted MK2 Octavia model came out in 2009. Those who were interested enough to care learnt that this Skoda was based on the Golf MKV rather than the more refined Golf MKVI model that by then was on sale. Moreover, in 2009, mainstream Octavias still hadn't got the smoother common rail diesel engines by then being used by Volkswagen, Audi and even SEAT - though these were progressively added to Skoda's range as the second generation Octavia's model life wound towards its close.
Still, the facelift MK2 Octavia was revised in a number of key areas, even if these didn't extend to driving manners that remained assured, comfortable but not too sporting. The more performance-orientated vRS models at the top of the range were something of an anomaly in this respect but were all the more welcome for that and are well worth a look. As, at the other end of the range, was the 122bhp turbocharged 1.4 TSI petrol version, a good compromise between petrol power and diesel economy. The 1.8 TSI variant offered a similar approach but this time with 160bhp under your right foot.
The 2.0-litre TDI 140 diesel model continued to use the old direct injection diesel that sold in its hundreds of thousands beneath the bonnet of VW Golfs. Though not especially refined, it's still a strong engine and complements a relaxed gait aided by ride quality that's impressive. The Czech nation shares our pock-marked roads and engineers its cars to suit. As a result, you may well find yourself to be more comfortable in this car day-to-day than in any comparable Volkswagen or Audi.
The Skoda Octavia is a great used buy. In fact, it's hard to do much better, especially if you opt for your MK2 model in post-2009 facelift form. We'd look to either the 1.2 or 1.4 TSI engines as they're modern, cost-effective and surprisingly good fun to drive, although a big case can be made for the sporty vRS. Residual values have been propped up by the fact that this Octavia was never really replaced like for like. Its successor is a bigger, plusher car and the Rapid which tried to fill the gap left by this MK2 model just doesn't feel as well rounded. This one will be remembered fondly.