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Skoda Octavia SE L Hatch 1.5TSI 150PS

I can’t imagine there are many people who would feel excited by the launch of a new mid-size family car and, what excitement there, is may be tempered further by the fact that, in this case, it’s a Skoda. However, and this has been true for a good number of years, there has been some impressive machinery rolling out of the Czech brand’s factories and, with the arrival of the latest version of the Octavia, they will be hoping to continue that trend.

Many of you won’t know this but the Octavia was 60 years old last year but, maybe even more surprising, is that this is only the fourth generation of the model. It is longer, wider and boasts an even bigger boot. The quality and diversity of the materials as well as the fit and finish in the cabin has been improved while more technology has been added that brings with it innovative connectivity and new assistance systems.

So, you see, your apathy was misguided and, in fact, this particular family car has plenty to get excited about – on paper at least – but what really matters is how it measures in the real world. So let’s see, shall we?

I know looks aren’t supposed to matter but we all know that’s not always, and not entirely, true so let’s start with the exterior design changes. The new Octavia hatchback driven here is 19mm longer (Combi 22mm) and 15mm wider than the previous model.

The grille is more prominent and is flanked by slimmer headlight assemblies that feature LED technology for low and high beam and daytime running lights as standard. The Octavia looks just a little angry from the front and, consequently, a little more imposing. The rear clusters, which still have a hint of the signature “C-shape” despite the change to a wider, slimmer, design also use the same lighting tech.

Overall the new Octavia has much greater presence than the outgoing model with a sharper, more premium look.

Inside there’s a further step up in quality with lost of soft-touch, squishy materials used across the most prominent areas of the dashboard and the armrests on the doors. There are some harder plastics lower down but even here, it all feels robust and very well put together.

SKODA Auto (45853406)
SKODA Auto (45853406)

SE L and SE L First Edition trims get a faux suede insert across part of the dashboard that makes it feel even more plush.

All the controls feel nice to use but I’m not especially keen on putting the cruise control functions on a stalk behind the steering wheel. It’s all too easy, especially while you’re getting used to the layout in the cabin, to flash your high beam – not a euphemism – at someone while trying to set a cruising speed.

The infotainment screen – with its classy, frameless, design and sharp graphics – is mounted usefully high on the centre of the dashboard. The large icons on the 10in display (8.25 inches on entry-level models) are relatively easy to hit and the screen is responsive too. There’s a pair of shortcut buttons – touch sensitive – that take you to the menu and home screens but they are rather inconveniently located at the point furthest away from the driver in the top left corner.

SKODA Auto (45853457)
SKODA Auto (45853457)

Annoyingly the air conditioning controls are located on the touchscreen – there are no analogue buttons or dials – and, although the temperature icons are on display at the bottom of the screen, all the other functions are hidden away and making adjustments on the go is a tricky affair.

Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring and DAB radio are standard across the range. SE Technology, SE L and SE L First Edition cars get the bigger screen with built-in sat-nav. SE Technology and SE L are fitted with two USB ports while First Edition cars are equipped with five. There’s two additional ports in the rear and another by the rear view mirror for powering a dash cam.

There’s plenty of adjustment for reach and rake in the steering wheel position and a decent amount of movement in the seat, too, so finding your ideal driving position shouldn’t prove too difficult. All models are equipped with adjustable lumbar support.

SKODA Auto (45853461)
SKODA Auto (45853461)

The digital instrument display is also standard in all models. It replaces the conventional analogue dials that you would normally find in the instrument binnacle and replaces them with a large LCD display that provides plenty of layout and content options.

Visibility out the front and sides is excellent thanks to large glass areas and relatively slim A-pillars. The thick C-pillars impact on the view out the rear however. Rear parking sensors are standard across the range while SE Technology, SE L and SE L First Edition models get sensors at the front too. On the options list is a rear-view camera and Skoda’s Park Assist which will park the car for you.

There’s loads of space in the front of the Octavia with room for even taller drivers to get comfortable behind the wheel. Space in the back in reasonably generous too, with plenty of room to carry equally tall passengers behind those same tall drivers.

SKODA Auto (45853400)
SKODA Auto (45853400)

There’s a significant hump in the middle of the floor so anyone sitting in the centre of a three will have to straddle but the footwells are a good size so it isn’t too restrictive. The rear seat is wide enough to accommodate three adults in some comfort.

There’s plenty of storage space throughout the cabin, including generously-sized door bins, a cooled glovebox, a cooled cubby beneath the centre armrest and, in front of the gear lever, a tray that’s large enough for a mobile, wallet and house keys.

There are two cupholders in the front that, cleverly, will grip a bottle tight enough to allow you to unscrew the cap with one hand, and another two in the rear centre armrest.

The boot is huge. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s large enough to shame most competitors in the class above. The load area is longer and taller than most of its direct rivals and is a useful shape too. The only negative is a sizeable lip that makes lifting heavy items into the boot a little more difficult.

SKODA Auto (45853449)
SKODA Auto (45853449)

The rear seats fold flat in a typical 60/40 split to turn a huge boot into a cavernous one. They’re simple to operate using levers in the boot but they don’t lie completely flat when folded.

The 1.5-litre petrol engine powering the car reviewed here is a capable performer. It’s reasonably quick and flexible but also offers decent levels of refinement, although there is small, bit persistent, high-frequency vibration through the steering wheel and pedals at higher revs.

Wind and road noise is quite prominent in the cabin and you can hear the suspension doing its thing as it tries to keep the occupants as distant from broken surfaces and potholes as possible.

The suspension is quite soft but that doesn’t mean the Octavia can’t hold its own on tight and twisty roads. Its steering is accurate and has plenty of reassuring heft, providing a good connection to the front tyres. There’s also lots of grip and, while the Octavia does lean a little in corners, it always feels predictable and planted.

SKODA Auto (45853459)
SKODA Auto (45853459)

The Octavia wafts its occupants along on motorways and other high-speed carriageways in relaxed and stress-free comfort. Potholes and other sharp-edged imperfections can leave the car feeling a little rattled and it can take a while to settle after you’ve negotiated a speed hump.

Adaptive suspension that allows to switch between soft and firm settings is available as an option.

There isn’t much to dislike about the Octavia. Yes it’s a little wallowy over undulations and the touchscreen is a little tricky to operate on the move but the new model brings a sharper design and a plusher interior while continuing to represent excellent value for money. The combination of refinement and ride quality is unmatched at this price point while the amount of space on offer for both passengers and luggage is simply staggering.

Skoda Octavia SE L Hatch 1.5TSI 150PS

Price: £25,370

As tested: £27,490

Engine: 1.5-litre TSI

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Max speed: 143mph

0-62mph: 8.5sec

WLTP combined: 52.3 – 42.2mpg

Emissions (CO2): 123-151g/km

For more information visit www.skoda.co.uk

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