The Skoda Octavia has carved something of a niche for itself by being both bigger and cheaper than rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic and Vauxhall Astra.
The engine range includes everything from a 1.0-litre petrol to a 2.0-litre diesel, and the Octavia is notable for its affordable prices, whether you're a private buyer or a company car driver.
Four-wheel-drive is an option on some models, while those after a performance-oriented Octavia are catered for with the vRS, which again is available in petrol and diesel forms.
A mid-life facelift in 2017 resulted in a new headlight design, more safety features and revised infotainment systems, adding additional appeal to an already successful formula.
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Loads of room for people and luggage
Four six-footers will have plenty of space in the Octavia. And while life isn’t as comfortable for those in the back when you’re travelling five up, this is also the case in rivals.
The Octavia also has a boot can swallow a family’s holiday luggage with ease, offering significantly more space even than the commodious Honda Civic. Plus its tailgate opens high and wide, which helps with loading and unloading.
A grab handle that hangs down from the open tailgate ensures even smaller adults can close it. Meanwhile, numerous in-car storage spaces and an ice scraper positioned behind the fuel cap cover add further to the practicality.
A bit unforgiving around town, but improves with speed
The Octavia feels a bit firm in town, thumping and fidgeting over imperfections in the road surface that a Honda Civic or VW Golf would soak up, particularly if you specify 18-inch wheels or larger.
Fortunately, the ride settles with speed, so the Octavia makes a good motorway cruiser.
That the engines are all pretty smooth and quiet helps, with the petrols in particular proving impressive. And while some wind noise can be heard passing down the sides of the car, it’s never loud enough to get on your nerves.
The front seats are big and comfortable, and they feature adjustable lumbar support if you go for the mid-level SE specification or above.
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Dashboard layout 8/10
Works well and feels classy
Skoda used to be a budget brand. However, that’s no longer the case, and the Octavia’s dashboard reflects this because it looks and feels classy.
You also get rotary air-conditioning controls that make it easy to tweak the temperature inside the car, while the stereo, vehicle settings and satnav are all controlled through a user-friendly 8-inch touchscreen system (a 9.2-inch version is also available, but some will prefer the smaller unit for its shortcut buttons and physical volume and tuning knobs). That all models feature Apple Carplay and Android Auto is typical of Skoda’s generosity when it comes to equipment.
Easy to drive 8/10
Very easy, as long as you have reversing sensors
It can be difficult to judge exactly where the back of the car ends unless you have parking sensors to help. Fortunately, these are fitted to all versions aside from the basic S spec.
The steering, pedals and gearshift are all precisely weighted, too, so the Octavia is an easy car to drive smoothly. And even the entry-level 1.0-litre engine can pull the car without the help of frequent gear changes.
If you want an even easier life, you can specify a smooth-shifting automatic gearbox on almost every Octavia.
Fun to drive 6/10
Enjoyable to drive, but not sporty
The Octavia’s precise controls make it a pretty enjoyable car to drive, and it feels happier on a twisty road than most big family cars. However, a Honda Civic is better still in this respect.
The sportiest model in the range, the vRS, makes overtaking easy, but its sheer size stops it feeling properly sporty; you’ll have more fun in a Golf GTI. For a sensible balance between power and parsimony, the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine is hard to beat.
Skoda has an excellent customer satisfaction record
Skoda finished first out of 24 manufacturers in the 2016 JD Power UK Dependability Study, and frequently tops customer satisfaction charts, too.
Skoda also gives you the reassurance of a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty. This is in line with the warranties on the Ford Focus and VW Golf, but it falls short of the five-year, 100,000-mile warranty provided by Toyota, let alone Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty.
Fuel economy 10/10
Amazingly efficient for such a big car
The most efficient Octavia is the 1.6-litre diesel, which has an official average of 74mpg. In the real-world economy won't be quite as impressive, but you can still expect in the region of 60mpg, or more if you're careful.
For a more powerful diesel Octavia the 2.0-litre TDI is a good bet, returning 50-55mpg in normal driving and having decent pulling power. Even the 1.0-litre petrol has an official average of almost 60mpg and will deliver 45-50mpg in real-world conditions, and the turbocharged 1.4-litre litre petrol isn’t far behind that either.
Priced to undercut or match rivals
The 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel versions look particularly good value, but even the more expensive, 2.0-litre diesels are competitively priced.
Insurance and servicing costs won’t break the bank, either, and the Octavia holds on to its value reasonably well when you come to sell it.
Both the 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel emit little more than 100g/km of CO2, which adds to their appeal as company cars.
Good in a crash, but some equipment costs extra
Every Octavia is fitted with a stability control system that helps prevent skids. Plus there are seven airbags, including two that run the length of the car at window level and one beneath the dashboard to protect the driver’s knees.
These features helped the Octavia earn a five-star safety rating when it was crash tested by independent safety assessors Euro NCAP, although the VW Golf finished ahead for adult and child occupant protection.
From the 2017 facelift the Octavia is available with pedestrian detection for its Front Assist autonomous emergency braking system, which automatically applies the brakes if it senses that you’re going to run into another car or a pedestrian in stop-start traffic.
Blind spot monitors and a rear cross traffic alert system that will warn you if a car is about to cross your path when you are reversing are also on the options list.
Standard spec 8/10
Good if you choose the mid-range SE model
Stick with the cheapest, S spec and you get alloy wheels, electric front windows, air-conditioning and an 8-inch touchscreen including a digital radio and full smartphone connectivity.
We’d be tempted to upgrade to the SE version of the Octavia, though, because this brings electric rear windows, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and a system that warns if the driver is showing signs of fatigue.
The diesel-only SE Technology adds satnav, a Wifi hotspot and front parking sensors, while the SE-L includes Alcantara and leather upholstery, emergency city braking and LED headlights.
Other Octavias are the sporty vRS with larger alloy wheels, sports seats and a bodykit to complements its more powerful engines, and the Laurin and Klement complete with heated heather seats, the 9.2-inch touchscreen and keyless entry.
Our favourite version
1.0 TSI SE, list price £18,500
Options you should add Metallic paint (£555), steering wheel-mounted stereo and phone controls (£155) and space saver spare wheel (£100), Front Assist autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection (£315)
The verdict 9/10
The Skoda Octavia makes a fantastic family car, because it’s practical, relaxing to drive and surprisingly affordable to buy and run.
The 1.0- and 1.4-litre petrol engines are particularly good, being smooth, surprisingly powerful and not too far off the diesels for fuel economy.
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