2021 Skoda Octavia L&K 2.0 TSI road test review
If you love sedans, the last couple of years have shown hope that all ground is not lost to crossovers. Be the exciting Honda City, or the award-winning 3 Series and its crazy 340i cousin or the recently launched and temptingly priced Mercedes-Benz A-Class, there has been quite a bit of action lately to keep the sedan lovers happy. And now, another iconic model line has revealed its newest offering - the Skoda Octavia. It has got so many people waiting in anticipation that I'm told Skoda had a hard time selling out the third-generation Octavia RS because the fourth-generation sedan was the horizon. Of course, it's no match for its athletic 245PS cousin, but the promise of new-gen tech and comforts is hard to ignore. So does it deliver? Read on
2021 Skoda Octavia L&K 2.0 TSI styling and design
If the split headlights of the going car were a deal-breaker for you, the new Octavia will probably welcome you back to the camp with its relatively more conventional, yet elegant design. The single-piece headlights bundle adaptive LED lamps which work well in our conditions and they will auto-level or turn with the steering to give you good cornering visibility. Adding to that effect is a large glasshouse which makes for excellent visibility of the surroundings despite this being a classic low-slung sedan. It rides on a lower ground clearance than before too, but not one that will make you worry too often unless roads are non-existent where you drive. The other metric that sees a negative sign is the wheelbase, which is a hard-to-notice 8mm shorter than the outgoing car. Otherwise, the new Octavia is longer, wider and taller than before.
While it is unmistakably Skoda, the new Octavia seems to be cut from the same fabric as some of the compact luxury cars. The fact of the matter is, it does share its platform and certain components with the Audi A3, which isn't big news in today's age of modular platforms. But the tastefully done paint finishes, classy wheel choices, subtle chrome and sophisticated lines complement each other quite nicely and give the Octavia a premium poise. The taillights have a subtler C-motif now but have the same bohemian crystal work theme seen on the premium Skoda cars. They have a spilt taillight design too and the spaced Skoda lettering on the boot lid, which, along with increased dimensions almost make the Octavia appear wider and longer than it is - almost making it look more like a premium sedan than an executive one.
2021 Skoda Octavia L&K 2.0 TSI interiors, features and creature comforts
Step in and you will be welcomed by an equally well-appointed interior. Those who prefer minimalism are likely to appreciate it a tad bit more. The Skoda-typical black and beige have been replaced with a more modern black and grey theme and while there are multiple layers and textures nothing looks too busy to the eye. To that effect, a single line of switches that sit below the infotainment reduces the switchgear clutter, while an electric-shaver-like gear selector which is relatively tiny, thanks to shift-by-wire tech, makes the tunnel console appear cleaner than before.
The Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation is crisp and easy to read, just like the 10-inch infotainment screen which is slick and easy to use. It is based on VW's new MIB3 architecture which gives it faster processing power. That in turn has enabled more complex graphics and animations for the menus and infotainment functions, without the system ever feeling laggy. I particularly like how the vehicle settings menu shows a pictorial view of the car and allows you to touch the different components like the lights, windows, boot etc. to fine-tune any settings related to them.
But the infotainment isn't perfect. In a bid to reduce the switchgear clutter, the A/C controls are a part of the infotainment that need multiple steps if you want to change the fan speed, for example. It is unsafe too because you have to take your eyes off the road to make such changes. Using automatic climate control is the better and safer option, then. There is an air filtration system on board too, and the cooling efficiency is good, but the central A/C vents are placed lower and the flow usually cools the lower body or the arms with hardly any draft to the face, which may or may not be to everyone's liking. What I do like are the handy A/C presets for functions like defogging all widows, or cooling ones feet.
The car's infotainment system is compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link and on the L&K you get a high-grade 12-speaker Canton audio unit to go with it. Below the screen sits a tastefully done control for power and volume and I would urge you to watch our video review (embedded below) to know why I like it.
There are multiple themes to choose from for the infotainment and instrumentation, and while some might find them to be a bit too dark and drab, I think you might prefer it in the long run, compared to overly colourful layouts which can get distracting. But if you need colour, you can liven up the mood of the cabin with the ambient lighting package anyway. koda should have embedded connected tech too because some of the cheaper cars get it now - including their own Kushaq. That said, the cabin has a sizeable list of safety features to secure its occupants.
The seats are larger than before and more comforting too. A ventilation function is sorely missed at this price point (and because we shot in 42 degrees), but both front seats are powered. The seats at the rear are equally comforting too, with bucket-seat like contouring for long-distance ease. The wider dimensions of the car make for improved shoulder room, but the tunnel in the floor makes it comfortable for two adults and a kid. Kids or shorter passengers on the outer seats will appreciate the low-set window line. Those looking for a cosier feeling get retractable window blinds too. But those looking for an airer feel will miss a sunroof. It's simply not available on the Octavia sedan anywhere in the world - only the estate gets it.
But it's still a roomy place to be in and some chauffeur-driven buyers might even choose the Octavia over the Superb if they don't need the additional room. But if you have bad knees or back, you might prefer the wider doors and aperture of the Superb for easier ingress and egress, or a simply cleverer idea would be to get a crossover.
The Octavia lift-back seen here has a massive 600l boot space and it gets lots of organisers and cargo nets because koda likes to add such versatility under its Simply Clever tag. Other such clever bits include the trademark umbrella pockets in the front doors, a washer for the exposed reversing camera, a funnel and filter for the windshield washer reservoir, traction dots in the front cup holders that make one-handed bottle opening easier, touch-sensitive reading lamps, and a roof-mounted USB-C port too for powering dash-cams, cradle mounts etc., which helps reduce cable clutter. (Watch the video to see them)
2021 Skoda Octavia L&K 2.0 TSI engine specifications, performance and driving dynamics
We hear that the Volkswagen group won't consider any diesel engines for India until the more stringent Bharat Stage VI - B norms come into effect in 2023. So at least until then, the familiar 2.0l TSI petrol (from the Superb/A4/Q2) will lead the charge for the Octavia. Internationally the Octavia gets a 1.0l TSI too, which wouldn't have gone with the premium positioning of the car in India and the plug-in hybrid options would have been too expensive. The 150PS 1.5l TSI from the Kushaq and Karoq, however, could be introduced later to bring down the entry price, but at the moment it's pure speculation. The 190PS 2.0l turbo-petrol engine is your only option then and it seems perfect for this car - it runs relaxed at highway speeds, making for excellent fuel economy and when you are in a lighter mood it will oblige with instantaneous power too.
The engine is mated to a 7-speed DSG automatic - the wet-clutch DQ381 transmission which is said to be more reliable than its DQ200 dry-clutch counterpart. If you still have doubts, there is a 4+2 year warranty package on offer that could ease some of those apprehensions.
The gearbox is quick to upshift and downshift in most driving scenarios, and should you need manual control, there are the paddle shifters too. But you will hardly need to touch them, as even when you are in a sportier mood the automatic's engine braking and rev-matching is quite enthusiastic. The physical brakes have a bit of a sponginess in the pedal feel, but the bite is predictable and not one that I would complain about.
At city speeds or when cruising on the highway, the gearbox moves to higher gears quickly for better economy and is equally quick to drop a gear or two when you need it. It's a pity that there are no driving modes bundled with this powertrain. Though the engine doesn't lurch forward all the time like an angry pup, it does feel quite eager. Be measured with the throttle and it behaves, be even a little bit heavy with the right foot and it quickly drops a gear and accelerates briskly. Quick sprints or negotiating overtakes are an easy affair, then. The S mode on the gear selector is the only 'Sport' mode you get, but the engine never revs all the way up to the humble 6,000rpm redline. Honestly, you would seldom need to rev that high unless you are on a drag strip. Even when pushed the engine isn't too noisy, and save for tyre hum on concrete roads, the noise insulation of the cabin is fairly good, though not as silent as the Superb.
While there is no Eco mode, there is an eco display that will tell you how efficient your driving patterns are. When you are driving in the urban environment, you will realise that the parking or proximity sensors are far too eager to beep even when the objects around you aren't too close.
In a sea of crossovers, a stiffly sprung executive sedan won't survive for long. For that reason, the Octavia has gone quite soft now and that shows with a fair bit of vertical movement around winding roads. Thankfully, it doesn't feel as understeer-y as one would expect a 190PS front-wheel driven car to be. The Octavia's suspension is quite supple for a European sedan which is great news on our roads. Even with the 18-inch wheels, the ride is pretty good. But triple-digit speeds make the car feel a bit floaty and it's more to do with how light the steering feels at speed than how this car's suspension is set up. So if you have been shunning the older Octavia RS for this newer but sober workhorse, remember you are getting exactly that. This one chooses comfort and ease of use over sharp responses and corner-carving, and there is nothing wrong with that.
After spending two days and a few hundred kilometres behind the new two-spoke Skoda wheel, I can safely conclude that the new Octavia means business. Sure, the lack of some new-age essentials like driving modes, ventilated seats, connected tech, a 360° camera etc. may not make this car as value for money as you would expect an Octavia to be. And for that very reason, owners of a range-topping 3rd-gen Octavia may not find the new one to be a convincing upgrade. But it is a worthy contender for anyone looking to upgrade from smaller sedans or even the older Lauras, Octavias and Jettas for that matter. But more importantly, the Octavia continues to be a sensible and economical alternative to compact luxury cars if a practical and premium family sedan is what you are seeking. What further strengthens its case is the fact that most of the premium crossovers that can give the Skoda a run for its money are priced a notch or two higher, making the new Octavia a very compelling proposition. Long live the sedan!
Photography Anis Shaikh
Watch our review of the new Skoda Octavia below:
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