Tushar BurmanJun 09, 2021 14:57:36 IST
As I walked to the swoopy new Skoda Octavia test car, pat came an estimated price range from a little birdie: Rs 25-30 lakh. “Half-a-segment up” is how the positioning for the new Octavia was described, an early intimation for me to frame my expectations and impressions accordingly. A perfectly reasonable way to mould the narrative and – after our brief first drive – I won’t argue with this suggestion. The 2021 Skoda Octavia is the fourth generation of the midsize sedan in India, since it was introduced back in 2001. For this iteration, it grows larger in every dimension, though you’d be hard-pressed to notice the change in size while driving it. It’s certainly a departure from the Skodas of the past, in terms of design.
Whichever angle you look at it from, the new Octavia is significantly different from its predecessors. Gone are the boxy shapes you had to grow to like. The 2021 model is sharp, swoopy and somewhat curvy, too. The bonnet arches downwards at the front, just like some new Audis, while the rear with its sharp lip reminds me of some Volvos. Glancing at an older model parked nearby, it was clear that the new Octavia has grown in size. It retains the eminently practical notchback design, however. The 17-inch wheels on the top-spec Laurin & Klement variant have a sharp two-tone design and are shod with tyres of generous profile. This undoubtedly impacted the ride quality we experienced.
Design is certainly subjective, and while I think this is a positive change, it does appear that Skoda is perhaps playing with some ideas. The overall impression is sporty and cohesive, as an all-new design should be. One nit-pick is the practical, tall ride height does no favours to the side profile of the car, but I’ll live with it, given the new Octavia never once scraped its underbelly over our imperfect roads.
Interior is a step up
Inside the car is where the added premium seems to make sense. The new Octavia looks and feels well-built and luxe on the inside. The focus is on keeping it minimal, and Skoda has achieved this without making it look bare. I think this is an evolving aesthetic that will only get better with time. The two-tone black and beige interior makes use of fine materials. The top of the dash is a soft, rubber layer, while the middle has actual fawn suede and white stitching, contrasting with small amounts of high-gloss piano black trim. I rail against piano black when I see it in cheap cars, but when used properly like it is in the Octavia, it looks as rich as intended. The bottom bits are beige plastic, but there’s enough going on to not make you feel like you’re surrounded by slabs of it.
Even the door panels have four different textures, and not just patterns of trim. This may seem a bit excessive, but it works in the Octavia’s case. In fact, the interior felt a notch above what I’ve experienced in some entry-level European luxury sedans.
For the driver and passenger, accommodation is generous and comfortable. There’s plenty of room in the footwell, and the centre console has a rather uncluttered feel to it. Skoda has gone with a shift-by-wire transmission for the new Octavia, which means the traditional shift knob is replaced by a small paddle that lets you switch between Reverse, Neutral and Drive. Park is selected by pressing a dedicated button, and there’s an automatic, electronic parking brake. There are also paddle shifters behind the steering wheel for the impatient ones.
Rear seating is just as generous. After adjusting the front passenger seat for my 5’9” frame, I was able to sit behind it with plenty of knee room. I’m not very tall when seated, but headroom felt a little bit short; perhaps I’ve been driving SUVs for too long. There’s enough space inside the Octavia for a proper bench with some semblance of thigh support, and three abreast can be accommodated without much discomfort. For two, the rear seat is pretty spacious, with a large folding centre arm rest that houses two retractable cup holders. There’s even a provision to access the boot from the rear seat, which adds to the new Octavia’s practicality, and will also come in handy when you need to carry oblong items like skis. I particularly liked the adjustable headrests on the rear seats, which can be set low enough to support the base of your skull. I can imagine comfortable, upright naps riding in the back seat of the Octavia.
Lots of equipment hiding in plain sight
It takes a minute to really take in all the new Octavia provides. It’s easy to miss the little things, thanks to the minimal aesthetic. For instance, we didn’t notice the customisable ambient lighting during the day. Or the 12-volt socket in the boot. Or even the ‘virtual pedal’ to open the hatch, where you wave your foot below the rear bumper. There are little touches that could easily have made it to an overpriced options list, but are standard on the L&K variant – the cargo net system, for instance, and little plastic tabs that can be Velcro-d in place to prevent loose luggage from shifting about.
The thoughtful touches continue across the cabin. The map lights are touch-sensitive and can be adjusted for brightness. There’s a USB-C port near the rear view mirror, in case you want to attach a dash cam there. There are two more for the rear passengers. Just in time for the monsoons, there’s an umbrella in the driver’s side door, just like on some luxury cars. There’s a neat little extra pocket behind the front seats, just right for keeping smartphones. This allows you to keep your black mirror at hand without having to fish into that traditional, large pocket. Rolling sun blinds are available at the rear. They’re manually operated, but still thoughtful. There’s even a puddle lamp that projects the Skoda logo – another luxury car-like touch.
One feature that is entirely absent is the sunroof, which is not available with either variant. I never use it, so I didn’t miss it. I did miss individual rear AC controls, however; you just get vents with the Octavia.
A word about tech
I really like technology to stay out of my way when I’m in a car, and I’m happy to find that Skoda has struck a very nice balance here. There’s a large, 10-inch touchscreen front and centre, which is responsive and high-resolution. Images and text are both sharp and readable, despite the glossy finish of the screen. I hesitated seeing the two USB-C ports up front, since I only had a regular USB-A cable for my iPhone. Thankfully, the Octavia supports wireless Apple CarPlay. A few taps later, my phone menu was available on screen, complete with high-resolution maps, Siri and standard apps. It worked flawlessly in the time I spent with the car, always reconnecting to the car when I returned with the phone.
If you’ve used wireless chargers in cars in the past, you know what a boon they can be. Coupled with wireless smartphone connectivity, they eliminate the need for fiddly cables in your storage spaces. But they’re not all made equal. Wireless chargers can be annoying to use if you don’t align your phone perfectly on the charging pad. Some manufacturers make them so small that you absolutely must place your phone in the right spot. Skoda has, thankfully, provided a roomy wireless charging pad that worked well every time we used it.
Speaking of tech getting out of my way, I almost missed the full TFT ‘virtual cockpit’ colour display that replaces the traditional dials in the instruments binnacle. It’s bright, sharp and allows for customisation of the information displayed. You can control it from the very convenient scroll wheels on each spoke of the steering wheel, which – thankfully – is as minimal as the rest of the controls in the car. The Octavia strikes the right balance of practical tactility and connected tech, at least to me. There’s a companion smartphone app available as well, but we did not try that out.
On the go: potent, sophisticated
The 2021 Octavia is familiar in all the right ways, while taking steps forward in refinement. For India, we only get a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine at launch, which makes 190 hp and 320Nm of torque. This is a similar state of tune as many other applications of this unit across the Volkswagen Group (including its bigger sibling, the Skoda Superb). However, in the Octavia, it seems even quieter and more refined. It’s just about audible so that you have feedback, but is otherwise inconspicuous. It’s mated to a seven-speed DSG automatic with paddle shifters. This is not my favourite gearbox, but the engine makes it work. The car gets up to triple-digit speeds very quickly and effortlessly, with no drama. That begins at 120kph, where a loud chime warns you to slow down, as per regulation. There are no drive modes, apart from the ‘Sport’ mode on the transmission. The 2021 Skoda Octavia’s fuel efficiency figure is an ARAI-rated 15.81 kpl.
For a vehicle that has grown in every dimension, the 2021 Octavia feels about as large as a Honda City to drive. It’s easy to place, park and manoeuvre, and you really need to check the brochure to get a sense of its size. Kerb weight is 1,459 kilos, but it feels light on its wheels. Feel at the throttle pedal is very light, while the brakes bite well and with confidence. The suspension is sophisticated, with less of that rumble I so dislike in VW Group cars. Coupled with 137 mm of ground clearance, ride quality was smooth and mature, but with enough feel to keep a driver entertained at pace. Even when driven spiritedly, rear passengers in the Octavia remain comfortable without being thrown about. I’m happy to report that the Octavia did not scrape over even the most conspicuous of speed breakers.
A Superb option
We expect 2021 Skoda Octavia prices to be in the range of Rs 25 to 30 lakh. At the upper limit, that’s just two lakh shy of the larger Superb Sportline, which uses the same design language and engine. It’s almost as if Skoda wanted to offer a scaled-down Superb for those who don’t need as much volume and enjoy driving themselves. It certainly has the equipment list to justify that impression to an extent.
The new Octavia is a practical, enjoyable sedan for the driver and passenger. That is, if you are still a sedan buyer. The car appears to have no direct rivals in its expected price range, with everything else sporting a similar price tag being a large SUV. It gives the impression of a well-equipped, luxurious European sedan, and for some buyers, easing down into a Rs 30 lakh car will still beat climbing into one.
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