In the hierarchy of its parent Volkswagen Group, Skoda has always been the budget brand but with the latest Octavia you’d be hard pressed to tell. Outside and in it looks and feels every bit as good as anything else from the VW stable and has the “premium” sheen everybody is striving for.
The exterior design is a clear evolution of the previous model but is a little longer, a little wider and a good chunk more sophisticated looking thanks to some careful use of sculpting around the bonnet and grille, and a sleeker roofline.
The interior is more of a step forward. Cover the badges and sit it next to a Golf and I’m not sure you’d be able to tell them apart. There has been a real effort to improve and simplify the cabin, with fewer buttons, a neat new rocker-style gear selector sunk into a gloss-black centre console and a generous application of chrome trim.
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Generous can also be used to describe the space inside the Octavia. It has always been renowned for its practicality but this latest version offers even more room, especially for those in the back, meaning it’s a genuine five-seater. A 600-litre boot also offers unrivalled luggage space for your money and, despite still being priced close to the Focus and Golf, the Octavia is far closer to the likes of the Mondeo or Passat and, in fact offers more headroom and boot space than either.
As well as improved looks and space, the latest generation of the Octavia, of course, gets new technology. High-end features such as a head-up display, adaptive matrix LED headlights and new collision avoidance technology are available on high-spec machines but even entry-level cars get the likes of keyless entry, dual-zone climate control and a 10-inch touchscreen.
I’ve got issues with that touchscreen. While it is huge, sharp and crammed full of options, the number of menus is almost overwhelming and the system lacks the ease of use for which the group used to be famous. There’s also the small matter of the ridiculous touch-sensitive sliders instead of proper dials for the heating control and stereo volume. Not only are they hard to see and fiddly to use but their position flat beneath the touchscreen means that if you rest your wrist while using the screen you’re likely to inadvertently crank up the temperature or volume.
Outside the cabin, the biggest technological leap for the new model is its hybrid powertrain. Regular petrol and diesel engines are available but, for the first time, the Octavia can also be specified with a plug-in hybrid system, badged the Octavia iV.
Using a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an 85kW electric motor mated to a 13kWh battery, the iV offers the usual outlandish claims of economy that come with a PHEV but manages to deliver far better than some rivals we’ve tested.
You’ll never see the official 282mpg they’re forced to quote but in a week that incorporated short urban runs and 120-mile round trips the worst economy I saw from the Octavia was 62mpg. The overall average for my week was a staggering 80.7mpg. For a big family car travelling five-up much of the time that is mightily impressive.
The petrol/electric setup also means the Octavia isn’t lacking in power. A combined output of 201bhp is enough to move it to 62mph in 7.7 seconds and it feels even punchier than that at times thanks to the instant shove of the electric motor.
The drivetrain isn’t the smoothest I’ve experienced, however. The engine can sound quite gruff when it kicks in and under EV-only power you’re even more aware of the surprising amount of road noise creeping into the cabin.
As mentioned, even base-spec Octavias get dual-zone climate, LED headlights, an internet-connected 10-inch touchscreen and lane keep and collision mitigation systems. One rung up from there and our SE L test car adds everything from a 10.25-inch digital instrument display and heated seats to 18-inch alloys and adaptive cruise control. It’s a strong specification but while regular SE L cars start at £25,000, the plug-in iV starts at £33,000.
That’s quite a lot of cash but then the Octavia iV is quite a lot of car. For a start, it’s far more spacious than its rivals and projects a premium look and feel along with premium-grade equipment. It’s also fast and frugal, offering a useful all-electric range backed up by an efficient petrol engine for longer trips.
Skoda Octavia iV
Price: £33,150 (£34,525 as tested); Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbo petrol with 85kW electric motor; Battery: 13kWh; Power: 201bhp; Torque: 258lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed DSG automatic; Top speed: 136mph; 0-62mph: 7.7 seconds; Economy: 188.3-282.5mpg; CO2 emissions: 22-33g/km