Day one: The Skoda is waiting in an underground car park. It is grey. It’s quite smart but in such an underplayed way that it would probably make a very good undercover police car. The interior is equally unflashy but it immediately reveals one very intelligent piece of design. This test car has keyless go which often means a button somewhere quite random, possibly even bloody mindedly hidden on the dashboard. But the Skoda’s start button is very neatly installed right where the normal key hole should be. Which is also right where your hand instinctively goes to when you want to start a car. For now at least. Tell your grandkids that and they’ll say ‘Yea whatever gramps, now piss off and let me play Really Angry Birds on the gaming chip in my head’. Anyway, VWs don’t have their start buttons there so it must be Skoda’s idea and a bloody good one it is too.
I drive home across London. During the journey the Octavia reveals itself to have an engine, some brakes and some steering all of which seem to work perfectly well. The ride is a little bit lumpy. By the end of the journey I think I’ve discovered what this car can do; it can be a car. I’m not filled with any particular urge to drive it again.
Day two: Urges or not I have to drive the Skoda today because I’m going to the Brecon Beacons. I was being unfair on it yesterday when I said I’d discovered everything it can do. It actually turns out to be a very good cruiser. It’s comfortable, it’s quiet and, this being the diesel one, it seems determined to do at least 50 miles to the gallon everywhere, even if you drive like a total arse. My mate Paul is with me. Paul is moderately interested in cars. We’re just passing Reading when he asks me to explain how the Octavia relates to the new Golf. They’re both based on VW’s spanky new MQB modular kit of parts for transverse engined cars, I say, so they share important things like the electrical systems and even certain body pressings but the Skoda has a longer wheelbase and longer rear overhang which the highly configurable modular architecture allows with relative ease. Just beyond Reading I notice that Paul has fallen asleep.Stopping at the Brecon branch of Morrisons I discover they sell a ready meal version of chips & curry sauce. If I was being thorough I would buy some and then throw it across the back seat. Mind you, I’m sure minicabbers will like the new Octavia whether it’s stain resistant or not. And fair enough. The rear legroom is huge which would be easier to comprehend if the boot wasn’t measurable in hectares too. It’ll be great for airport jobs. By which I mean it could be used to transport actual airports.
Day three: Spend the day walking up mountains. The Skoda stays back at base. I hobble past it on the way back and notice again that it’s actually rather a good bit of design. The way the windscreen pillar drops down into the bonnet which then twists forward is particularly nice. The whole thing gets more attractive the more you look at it, a bit like St Pancras station. Or Jennifer Lawrence.
Day four: I take a drive up into the Black Mountains. I wouldn’t say the Octavia is the greatest handing car in the world but it gets all the basics right. All the controls are about the right weight and they basically do what they’re told which isn’t always a given. On excellent roads it’s mildly entertaining. Only the ride isn’t quite right. This car is on optional 18-inch wheels. The standard 17-inch ones are almost certainly better.
Day five: Back to London. The Skoda handles the M4 as well as it did before, briskly and comfortably. I’ve just discovered why the mat inside the cubby ahead of the gearlever has a phone symbol embossed on it: Put your mobile here and it’s supposed to boost the signal through the car’s aerial. I recently decided I didn’t want anyone to reach me at any time, especially in central London, so I took the precaution of joining the Three network and since then pesky phone calls are a thing of the past. Even the magic cubby mat doesn’t seem to change that. It’s a £180 option anyway.
Day six: I use the Skoda for a trip to see a financial advisor. It seems like an appropriately sensible trip for a very sensible car. Although not, as it turns out, a sensibly priced one. This test car is the top-of-the-range Elegance spec and it’s loaded with options like electric seats and full leather which bump the price to an alarming £27,895. As standard it’s a less punchy £21,990 and in fairness Skoda are forever doing things like VAT-back deals, sort of like Citroen but with more dignity.
Day seven: The Octavia is going away again. It’s not a sexy car nor indeed an especially exciting one but it does all of the things you might reasonably expect from a car and then a bit more. It has a bit more room than you might expect, it’s a bit nicer looking than you might expect , it’s a bit more economical than you might expect and it’s a bit more fun to drive than you might expect. It also caused one of my neighbours to come out of his house to ask what it was like which doesn’t happen very often. I told him it was a perfectly good car. Because it is.
This car talked about here is a Skoda Octavia Elegance 2.0 TDI CR 150PS DPF. And breathe. It has a 148 horsepower turbo diesel engine which gets it from 0-62 in 8.2 seconds and to a top speed of 135mph. Skoda also say it can do 68.9 miles per gallon on the combined cycle. It costs £21,990 although the range starts at £17,990.