Skoda Octavia 2009 Review
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It's not really a surprise because Skoda is, despite its place in the giant Volkswagen Group, an unproven newcomer in Australia.
The Czech carmaker has actually been around for more than 50 years, and had its last big sale surge downunder in the early fifties, but is battling to find its followers in 2009.
Which explains a total rethink on its hero car - the family-focussed Octavia - and a new price point for the new year.
A $3000 price cut and a stronger emphasis on quality are the driving forces for the updated Skoda Octavia.
Skoda has also changed the engine direction on its starter car, trading a turbodiesel for a high-tech petrol-powered Octavia as it cuts the entry level from $29,990 to $26,990. But it is only a 1.6- litre four.
The new price leader still comes extremely well equipped, with everything from aircon and alloys to power steering and CD sound, but it's a value push which must also run up against some heavy hitters including the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Mitsubishi Magna.
Skoda says its trump card, at least with people who are prepared to put it on the shopping list, is a package that is virtually the same as a Volkswagen Golf but with much better value.
There is a new hero car, too, at least until the Octavia RS gets a similar makeover to the shopping cars in the second half of the year.
It is a 1.8-litre TSI with turbocharging and direct fuel injection. It is also available with a seven-speed DSG manu-matic gearbox, with a price from $31,490.
The flagship still has a 2-litre turbodiesel engine, with pricing from $33,990.
As usual, the Octavia comes as both a liftback and wagon, and the body changes for the new model are modest. Lamps and a little more, but nothing like a full model change.
"The focus is on refinement. The old car wasn't that bad, no it was good, but this is better," the head of Skoda in Australia, Matthew Wiesner, says.
"It's in line with how we're evolving. We're premium, with value. And this lifts us to the next level."
Skoda is actually running against the sales trend after two months of 2009, improving its year-over-year results by about 7.5 per cent when the overall market is down by 15 points. The Octavia is making the running, although the funky Roomster is also in the mix and there are evolving plans for the luxury Superb and the compact Fabia further into the future.
"It's simple, it's honest, it drives well. The Octavia is still a medium-sized car, but with this price we're driving down into the top end of the small-car market. We're pushing down, not driving up," Wiesner says.
He admits Skoda has done better with its higher-priced niche cars, particularly the Octavia RS, but needs to convert more customers to create the critical mass essential to success. Even so, he is not about to get into predictions.
"We don't mention targets. You look at volume, yes, but also how the brand is evolving," he says.
"Would we have liked to sell more cars last year? Yes. Definitely. But we had to try a few things, we had to test the market."
"Now we are moving to the next level."
A blindfolded test drive in the latest Octavia would peg it as a Volkswagen. Or maybe an Audi.
So it's a good car and the new price makes it a good deal.
The cabin quality is first class and a match for Japanese cars at a similar price, the chassis is solid and stable, and the mechanical packages work well. Even the $26,990 car comes with six airbags, ESP stability control and a new-style sound system that morphs into a satnav display in the higher models.
Skoda claims the car is a half-size about the $20,000 compacts, but it is really a Golf with a bit more boot space. It's a quibble, but it needs to be said.
The DSG gearbox is also a bit jerky, as I have found in the latest Volkswagen Golf, particularly when parking or trying to ease away on a slight uphill grade.
And the 2-litre diesel gets along well with heaps of torque, but is well behind the class leaders on refinement. In short, it rattles.
The performance of the 1.6 is nothing special but the 1.8 petrol motor goes well and is well matched to a car with a lot of cornering grip for a family hauler, the seats have good support, and there is a lot of standard equipment.
In reality, the updated Skoda workhorse - both sedan and roomy wagon - is a reworked Volkswagen that happens to be built in the Czech republic. It's a good car that should do better in Australia, and will do better once people are prepared to take a (slight) risk on the brand and badge.
The sharper new price could be just the right bait to land them.
Price: from $26,990 to $38,290
Body: five-door liftback, five-door station wagon
Engine: 1.6-litre four cylinder petrol 75kW/148Nm; 1.8-litre four cylinder petrol 118kW/250Nm; 2-litre turbodiesel 103kw/320NM
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 7-speed PDK
Economy: 7.8L/100km (1.6); 6.7L/100km (1.8); 5.7L/100km (2.0)
Star rating: 7/10
Range and Specs
|1.6||1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN||$4,100 – 6,710||2009 Skoda Octavia 2009 1.6 Pricing and Specs|
|1.8 TSI||1.8L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$5,000 – 7,810||2009 Skoda Octavia 2009 1.8 TSI Pricing and Specs|
|1.9 TDI||1.9L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN||$5,200 – 8,030||2009 Skoda Octavia 2009 1.9 TDI Pricing and Specs|
|2.0 TDI||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP||$6,500 – 10,120||2009 Skoda Octavia 2009 2.0 TDI Pricing and Specs|