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Skoda Octavia vs Skoda Roomster 2007

The two cars driving Skoda back into Australia could not be more different.

One is the Czech company's new pride and joy, and the other is just a rework of a Volkswagen.

They are called Octavia and Roomster and each have starting prices in the high-$20,000 range.

They will lead a new-model onslaught that will eventually include the baby Fabia, luxury Superb and a compact four-wheel drive called the Yeti.

Skoda Australia plans to build a solid base for the brand, and is more concerned about getting the basics right than shooting for big numbers. It will be the starter brand in the Volkswagen Group.

The Skoda position is below Volkswagen and has a slightly more youthful and sporty slant to the model line-up. That means the cars need sharp pricing and something different to pitch them against Japanese rivals, while steering clear of any conflict with the VW badge.

It took nearly two years for Volkswagen Group Australia to reach a distribution deal with Skoda, after failed talks with Seat. The Spanish company is another price-driven brand in the Volkswagen camp, but it was too difficult to get a commitment to Australia.

“We are the fastest-growing company in the Volkswagen group. Since 2005 we have been working on a growth strategy,” Skoda sales and marketing board member Fred Kappler says.

Skoda is more than 100 years old, after starting as a bicycle maker under its founders Vaclav Klement and Vaclav Laurin. It built some of Europe's costliest and more luxurious cars before World War II.

The company slumped under communist rule, but after what the locals call the “Velvet Revolution,” then a buy-in and eventual takeover by Volkswagen it has been going forward rapidly.

Its factories at Mlada Boleslav have been renovated. There is a new technical centre, production is more than 300,000 vehicles, overseas factories include India, China and Kazakhstan, and there are more than 1500 people on the research-and-development side of the business.

“Skoda is a traditional brand with a big future. The company started again with only one model line and one engine, 15 years ago. Skoda has a long history and a lot of clever engineers,” research and development boss Eckhard Schultz says.

The Czechs are keen for success in Australia, not just to boost export sales. They want to learn about selling into another country in the Asian region. It has done well in Britain and hopes to repeat the deal.

It has deliberately held back its newest and best car, the baby Fabia (which will sell 100,000 cars in 2008), to get going with the Octavia and Roomster.

The Octavia is a mid-sized sedan and wagon that picks up the mechanical package from Volkswagen's Jetta, though it is closer in cabin space to the Passat and even has with a sporty RS package, which has been a huge hit in Europe.

The approach for the Octavia is typically Volkswagen. It has only two body styles but a range of engines and three levels of equipment. The four-door sedan is actually a liftback, and a conventional five-door wagon called the combi.

The motors are 1.9 and 2.0-litre turbodiesels, and 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol units. The outputs are 77kw/250Nm and 103kW/320Nm for the diesels and the petrol motors make 100kW/200Nm and 118kw/250Nm.

Gearbox choices, depending on models, are five-speed manuals, a six-speed automatic and VW's excellent six-speed DSG manu-matic.

The Octavia RS has the same 2.0-litre turbo used in the Golf GTI with a six-speed manual until the DSG lands next year. That will set the tone with lowered sports suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, sports seats and a mild body kit.

Final prices and specifications will be revealed in October.

The Roomster deal is simpler. There is only one model, though a giant moonroof and satellite navigation will be optional and buyers will have a choice of 1.9-litre turbodiesel and 1.6-litre petrol engines. The diesel has only a five-speed manual gearbox.


On the road

First impressions of the new-age Skodas are good. The Octavia is solid and gets a bit of an edge with the RS package. The Roomster is a genuinely innovative baby wagon that could be a sleeper for the brand.

Once the Roomster hits the road in Australia, and people see something genuinely different, sales could zoom.

But everything depends on price and value, particularly against the Japanese cars that Skoda Australia has set as the brand's targets.

It was hard to know what to expect from the cars. The brand is virtually unknown in Australia.

The last Skodas sold here were primitive in every way, so even the strength of Volkswagen as a big brother might not have been enough to work a motoring revolution.

But two days of varied driving in the Czech republic, a gorgeous country with roads not totally foreign to Australians showed the basics are good. Skoda has put enough of a Czech twist into the cars to create a point of difference.

The Octavia is based on the VW Jetta sedan but has a roomier cabin and the giant liftback tail of the sedan. This provides good luggage space and excellent flexibility.

It gets along best with the turbodiesel engine, though the sporty RS is a sharp drive with taut suspension and the Golf GTI turbo petrol motor.

There were some minor quality niggles, with fitting errors and some cabin squeaks and rattles, but a range of cars drove nicely.

The Roomster is an innovative baby, from its giant windscreen to the step-down side glass making it a better vision for youngsters. The back-row seats can be lifted out.

The 1.6 Roomster is a drowsy drive but the turbodiesel gets along well and should tap the growing interest in diesel.

It will be good to get the cars on home territory in October, but early signs look promising.

This is despite the prospect of another start-up brand trying to find space in showrooms that are as congested as any in the world.


Inside view

Skoda Octavia

On sale: October 11

Price: Estimate high $20,000s to low $40,000s

Body: Five-door liftback, five-door wagon

Engines: 1.9-litre turbodiesel, 2.0-litre diesel, 2.0-litre petrol, 2.0-litre petrol turbo

Transmissions: Five and six-speed manuals, six-speed DSG auto

Models: Ambiente, Elegance, RS


Skoda Roomster

On sale: October 11

Price: Estimate high $20,000s

Body: Five-door wagon

Engines: 1.9-litre diesel, 1.6-litre petrol

Transmission: Five-speed manual, six-speed auto



Pricing guides

Based on third party pricing data
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Range and Specs

Ambiente 1.9L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $4,600 – 7,370 2007 Skoda Octavia 2007 Ambiente Pricing and Specs
Elegance 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $5,300 – 8,250 2007 Skoda Octavia 2007 Elegance Pricing and Specs
RS 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $6,000 – 9,240 2007 Skoda Octavia 2007 RS Pricing and Specs
Ambiente 1.9L, Diesel, 6 SP $5,200 – 8,030 2007 Skoda Octavia 2007 Ambiente Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide


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