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When the date for the review of the most talked about new car launch approached, my feeling can be summed up by the old phrase, “big shoes to fill”. The launch of the new Skoda Octavia is as perfect an example for this phrase as there can be. The outgoing Octavia (Laura), till the time it was replaced by this car was tirelessly timeless and relevant to the segment and one had to have a strong reason to not opt in favour of that one if one had the relevant purchase budget. That was the kind of a benchmark that the Laura enjoyed. Many car manufacturers launched premium cars in the D-segment class but could simply not build a “Laura-beater”. Am sure by now you have some idea of the size of those shoes.


 

So we were handed over the top of the line, and most importantly, the most powerful 1.8 liter, 180 bhp petrol variant. Of course having seen the pictures of the car, had some impression of what it would be like, but, when the actual car presented itself, it was something else.


 

First impression, a beautiful car! The lines are much sharper, crisper and more grown up. If there was one word that came to my mind to describe the overall new exterior design of the Octavia is, toned. It is reasonably futuristic, true to the Skoda family, not vulgar and sophisticated, all at once. Brilliant! Led treatment tastefully done and classy! Understated yet aggressive.


Unlock the car with the remote key and small lights placed under the wing mirrors come on which light up the ground and help in guiding you through to the front doors. This useful feature was earlier seen in the Yeti and very glad that it has made it to the Octavia. When you step in, you for once do not get a deja vu feeling. Thank God for that! Unlike earlier version in which the interiors were so similar across the Laura and Superb, and steering virtually across the range. The interiors of the new Octavia are not only all new in every sense of the word, but also very fresh and much much grander. There is also an all new steering wheel. Ergonomics are perfect. There is tasteful use of chrome along with the all beige treatment. Leather wrapped seats are electrically adjustable with four memory options. The seat design seems straight out of the VW cousins, Jetta and Passat. Overall build quality and finish is top class.

During the photoshoot of the vehicle, we came across quite a few curious onlookers. Some of them owned either the first generation Octavia or the Laura. It was very interesting to see each one of them ask for permission to admit themselves into the rear seat and not the front seat and check for the leg-room. Now you know the extent to which that single factor was a pain point in the previous versions of the car. And, each one of them came out wearing a satisfied grin on their face. The rear bench of this beauty offers legroom that gives you a feel of being in a Skoda Superb! That IS simply superb! And this, mind you is after you adjust the front seat for a driver who is not short.

Start the car and it you realize it is extremely silent. Revving the car also produces only a very muted sound. Engage the Drive gear of this 7 speed DSG automatic gear-box and the sophisticated manner continues. A slight tap of the gas pedal makes you realize that the low end is rather torque-y. Not surprising when you read the technical specification sheet that reads, 250 Nm of torque as low as 1250 rpm and all the way to 5000 rpm. This is some power band! Before you know you are doing 100 kmph (realize that I haven’t wasted any time talking about 60 kmph mark here) and if you are not alert enough you will see yourself staring at 140+ kmph if you continue to use your judgement from other cars and also going by how silent this one is, trust me you are in for trouble.

We always look for linear power delivery and this one takes that to an altogether new level. Torque delivery at a very low rpm value ensures there is no lag at all! So for some time until you get used to it and the novelty dies down, you tend to slow down to a crawling speed and hit the pedal and enjoy the smile on your face turn into a grin.

Now coming to the gearbox. To be honest We were a bit disappointed to learn that this variant does not have a regular 6-speed manual option. But, this DSG is simply fantastic. It is sans most of the drawbacks that can prod you to use the manual tip-tronic option. No over-eager downshifting. Up-shifting at 2000 rpm for most gears. If you hit the pedal down real hard in a drag like way, you will notice the higher gears present a slightly longer range rev range. This is one gearbox that got me to leave the manual shifting alone and for a petrolhead to opine so, you can imagine how good the gearbox must be! It almost mimics the gear shifting behaviour of a good driver. To add to that, an average fuel economy of 10.8 kmpl and you find yourself asking, "do I really need a manual???"

Coming to the ride and handling. You realize that the steering is a bit light and especially for those who have driven the earlier Octavia, Laura and more so, the RS version. Sadly, this continues even at higher speeds. One does feel that the steering feedback is a tad lesser than in its predecessors and also it used to be a bit tighter. Having said that, the suspension hits the sweet spot between being too stiff and too soft. The body roll during cornering exists but not too significant. Also, due to the fact that the steering doesn’t give you the expected feedback as we mentioned earlier, you may not be encouraged to push it really hard through the corners. But if you are able to see past that and do push it, you will realize how much this one likes to play. Try overdoing the “play” part and you will activate the safety feature which tries to preempt a crash when it senses an accident like state of the car. It tightens the seat-belts and slows the car down. This variant did not have the button to turn the traction control off and am glad it didn't as it is a very deceptive car owing to the silent cabin and well behaved nature that you tend to forget how powerful this car really is.

If there was one thing that we would like to critique, it would be the fact that the car could sound a bit like a car that has the power of 180 horses under its hood. Made at least half a roar when one revved it beyond the mid range. But yeah, am being a tad over critical here and too much of a petrolhead.


During the coordination phase with the Skoda team, we did go front and back about which variant should we drive upfront. Of course the TDI Diesel variant is expected to bring in the numbers and hence be the popular one but somehow there was that rush which a petrolhead experiences when he hears 180 bhp which we just couldn’t resist and after the drive, we are so very glad that we did indeed stick with our gut.

To sum it up, this Skoda Octavia starts where the Laura left. It fits those over-sized shoes and how! This car makes the job of us reviewers very very simple. If you have a budget between 15 and 18 hundred thousand rupees, you need to have a serious and peculiar reason to buy any other car.

 

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