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Skoda Octavia 2009 review

As any first-year marketing student will tell you, a new product must have a USP if it's going to succeed. Frustratingly for some brands it can take time for its unique selling points to be truly appreciated by the market.

Skoda is a good case in point. The Czech brand's key selling points are solid engineering, borrowing heavily on its VW links, quality and delivering big on value for money.

Skoda is a big seller in Europe, but here it remains a niche player; still a little known brand with unknown models. But Skoda has the firepower to impress. Its in the form of the RS — the sports version of its volume seller Octavia — and it has the merit to be a sales hit, but it remains a sleeper in the market, accounting for less than 20 per cent of Octavia's modest volume.

But Skoda's battle to build excitement in its model mix took a giant step forward this week with the launch of the face-lifted RS. The Skoda dragon has woken and been stirred into action. The RS range has been diversified, offering buyers a wider choice of petrol or diesel engines and manual and manu-matic DSG transmissions.

The latest RS neatly ticks two of the important marketing boxes: it packs performance without sacrificing fuel efficiency and it comes with a comprehensive list of standard equipment at a price which doesn't break the bank.

Skoda Australia boss Matthew Wiesner says he finally has a range of RS models to win incremental sales. "We were handicapped by the previous RS in that we could only offer a manual petrol version. Now we have petrol and diesel, manual and the DSG and in liftback or wagon. It will probably still only account for 20 per cent of Octavia sales but that model is showing healthy growth, so it's all incremental. "What the RS does is add another layer to our model mix. It will attract younger buyers and even female buyers, which is what we need to expand."

Driving

The new RS's styling belies its potency. Here's a versatile liftback or wagon which successfully does double duty as a performance car and family bus. A wolf in sheep's clothing? Not quite, because the clothing gives a hint there's something here with more than average driveability.

The RS comes to the party with lowered and stiffer suspension, new front and rear lamps, including for the first time, daytime LED running lights, 18-inch alloys, sports seats, alloy pedals, obligatory rear wing, chromed twin exhaust pipes and red-painted brake calipers. They all neatly lift the otherwise homely appearance of the Octavia. But if you are looking for the petrol or diesel badges to tell the RS twins apart you won't find them.

Skoda has delivered two models which between them have an impressive set of numbers — starting with the price from $37,990, up just $300 on the previous version. That gets you into a Euro import with plenty of solid German engineering and better than expected Czech build quality.

There's a generous level of standard bling for the money including dual zone air conditioning with air quality sensing, remote central locking, six-stack MP3 audio system, heated front seats, rain sensing wipers, rear park sensors and multi function trip computer. On the safety list you can tick the boxes for six airbags, advanced anti-lock brake system, traction and stability control and onboard tyre pressure monitoring. Luggage space in both the liftback at 560 litres and wagon 580 litres with rear seats up.

Options include sunroof, front park sensors, satellite navigation with 30GB hard drive which replaces the CD stacker, Xenon headlamps and leather upholstery. The hardest choice for buyers is picking the petrol or diesel.

There's an interesting balancing act here: the gap has narrowed between traditionally slower but more frugal diesels and the quicker but thirsty petrols.

Skoda says the turbo-packing direct-injection petrol version can hit 100km/h in a claimed 7.3 seconds which is 1.1 seconds quicker than the diesel, but for a diesel a sprint time of 8.4 seconds for a vehicle which tips the scale just under 1.5 tonnes and is 35kg heavier than the petrol version is no embarrassment.

The petrol version delivers peak power of 147kW over a 900rpm band, with maximum torque of 280Nm available from 1800 to 5000 revs, that's a huge broad band, giving the RS strong and long legs.

The petrol version delivers where it counts. For a performance car the RS shows few vices: it feels well balanced, there's a degree of expected understeer which gets more aggressive as speed rises; only the brakes could benefit from more stopping power. But I just love the diesel alternative as well.

It has a different driving dynamic but it probably is the better car to live with, especially if you do a lot of country running, that's to its massive low to mid range torque and good fuel economy. The secret is to keep the revs up.

The diesel, now the most powerful in Skoda's range, sips a claimed 5.9l/100km for a mix of city and highway running compared to the petrol's 7.7l/100km.

The common rail turbo diesel delivers 125kW, but its secret is the fat 350Nm of torque on tap from 1750 to 2500rpm. There's some turbo lag, but for a diesel, the engine is remarkably quiet so there's little of the old fashioned rattle and chatter.

My pick? The diesel is impressive, but my choice is the petrol wagon. It offers the best of both worlds — a family-sized and versatile load carrier with potent performance. That's hard to ignore.

Pricing guides

$9,035
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$4,100
Highest Price
$13,970

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
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