Skoda's third generation Octavia estate offers all-wheel drive without recourse to a large song & dance. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Skoda have been offering us Octavia 4x4s for a few years now, but this latest model in bigger and better than ever. In fact, it makes a really strong case for itself as the most practical 'real world' car you can buy. Just as importantly for some, it's not an SUV but still has that all-weather utility.
After some careful deliberation, I'm proposing this vehicle, the 4x4 variant of Skoda's Octavia Estate, as Britain's most practical car. It's got some serious credentials for the role. It's a Skoda. It's an estate. It has all-wheel drive. Need more convincing? You'll have to stick with us for the finer points then.
Skoda has offered all-wheel drive variants of the Octavia for some time now, the first models sold in Britain making landfall way back in 2001. Back then though, the Octavia Estate was a far more petite thing than you get these days and it was always a bit tight for families with larger kids. The latest Octavia Estate is cut far more generously. The 548-litres of boot space of the old car has swelled to 610-litres and there's significantly more rear legroom. It's now a vehicle that carves its own special niche.
You can choose an Octavia 4x4 Estate with either a 105PS 1.6-litre engine or equip it with a 2.0-litre 150PS unit. Both are diesels. The 1.6-litre makes respectable progress seem quite hard work while the 2.0-litre doesn't. Given that the price difference between the two models is only around £900, the decision seems a bit of a no-brainer. Still, in the interests of providing a comprehensive review, the 1.6-litre gets to 62mph in 11.7 and tops out at 117mph. You'll find yourself working the five-speed manual gearbox quite a bit and for a car with 250Nm of torque, it can feel occasionally asthmatic.
The 2.0-litre gives the Octavia 4x4 the added muscle power it really requires, with 320Nm of torque at your elbow and the ability to get to 62mph from rest in just 8.7 seconds. It also comes with a six-speed manual box so that you can really get the best from that torque figure. If you want this vehicle with a bit more visual SUV attitude and don't mind paying a little more, Skoda also offers it in 'Scout' form, in which guise you can also order a 184PS version of the 2.0 TDI diesel. Whichever version you choose, the revised Haldex 4x4 system used is the same and is almost indiscernible in its action, shuffling drive to the front wheels when required without any fuss or drama. It also gives the Skoda some meaningful off-road ability, helped by the fitment of electronic diff locks on both axles although you do need to be constantly aware of the modest ride height. The rear suspension is an expensive multi-link affair which has a genuinely beneficial effect on the sort of rough and loose surfaces that would make a torsion-beam equipped car feel nervous. There's also the clever XDS braking system for extra grip when cornering on slippery surfaces.
Design and Build
Let's get one thing straight. This Octavia Estate keeps its 4x4 credentials on the down-low. You don't get conspicuous badging or monster plastic cladding up the side. There's no gnarly ride height or steel bash plates front and rear. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to identify it from a normal Octavia Estate and that low-key approach is part of what makes this car so cool. apart from subtle boot badges and 17-inch alloys. Yes, Skoda will sell you a Scout version with raised ride height and rugged underbody protection but for those who don't feel the need to advertise, this one's probably the pick.
There's genuine utility to this estate. It's 90mm longer and 45mm wider than its predecessor, which might seem rather small beer. That wouldn't appear to buy you a whole lot of extra carrying capacity, but it pays to scrutinise exactly what Skoda has done to transform this car. While the length has increased a bit, the wheelbase has increased by 108mm, offering a lot of extra rear seat space. In fact the brand claims it to be the best in its segment although it's rather coy about how it defines that segment. There can be no arguments about the 610-litres of space you get in the boot when all the seats are in place. By contrast, if you opted for a really big car like a Mondeo estate, you'd get a mere 537-litres and a car from the class the Octavia just vacated, such as a Focus estate, yields a mere 476-litres. Now you get an idea of the sheer utility of this car. By folding the rear backrests down, the boot space increases to an impressive 1,740-litres.
Market and Model
Prices for the Octavia 4x4 Estate are eminently reasonable. You'll pay around £21,500 for the 1.6 TDI model, although you really ought to find another £900 for the 2.0-litre TDI version as it's that much more capable. Let's put those numbers in perspective. You'll pay slightly less for something like an estate version of a Vauxhall Insignia, Ford Mondeo or Peugeot 508, but none of these cars has the carrying capacity of the Skoda and none of the vaguely price comparable cars has all-wheel drive. I would wager that if you're interested in an Octavia 4x4, you're probably not attracted to an SUV, so it's hard to generate meaningful competition for the Skoda. The closest thing in spirit is probably a diesel Subaru Legacy Tourer, but these start at nearly £27,000, aren't as quick as the 2.0-litre Skoda, are way smaller in the back and don't come close to the Octavia's fuel economy. When it comes to interior quality, it's a slam dunk for the bulletproof Skoda.
Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, an eight speaker stereo with a digital radio and Bluetooth compatibility, roof rails, leather trim for the reach and rake adjustable steering wheel, climate control, and a touchscreen infotainment controller. Safety gear includes stability control, hill hold, automatic post collision braking, front, side, knee and curtain airbags.
Cost of Ownership
There has to be some bad news regarding the Octavia 4x4 and it's the fact that model for model, this variant is around 10mpg thirstier than its front-wheel drive counterparts. That's a clear efficiency deficit but it's worth putting that into perspective. The 1.6-litre TDI version will still return a combined fuel economy figure of 60.1mpg and the 2.0-litre TDI 57.6mpg, so they're probably not going to know how you like your coffee at your local filling station. Emissions are kept well in check too, with both engines registering 122g/km. Compare that to the 49.6mpg and 149g/km you'd get with a pricier rival like a Subaru Legacy Tourer 2.0D and you'll appreciate how efficient these Skoda models are.
The brand's engineers have achieved significant improvements in the Octavia's consumption and emission figures thanks to advanced petrol and diesel engines, a low drag coefficient and reduced vehicle weight. Despite its increased size and better quality interior, this third generation Octavia is up to 102kg lighter than its predecessor. It sounds impossible but this has been achieved thanks to resolute lightweight engineering, a progressive body design, utilisation of high- and ultra-tensile steel and a careful selection of materials.
There's no such thing as the perfect 'one size fits all' car but when it comes to consistently scoring high marks across a variety of disciplines, it's hard to do much better than the Skoda Octavia 4x4 Estate, especially if you choose the 2.0-litre diesel engine over the rather underwhelming 1.6-litre unit. It does quite a few things brilliantly and even the weakest parts of its dynamic repertoire rarely fall below the 'better than average' level. It's a quite consummate all-rounder and given the string of rather horrible winters we've endured, it's a safe bet that the all-wheel drive versions of cars like the Octavia Estate will be commanding bigger shares of the sales mix.
It's worth reiterating how much this car has changed from its predecessor. It's now a genuinely sizeable thing, yet economy and emissions are better than ever. There's a certain joy in the possibilities that this much utility promises. Cars should be enablers and few, if any, offer quite the blend of talents of the Skoda Octavia 4x4. Consider us sold.