Skoda's mould-breaking Octavia is back for a third model generation. Improved in almost every area, the Octavia best displays the Czech company's practicality bias and 'simply clever' ethos. headed to Austria to test this newly launched estate variant.

What is it?

The car that offers more, for less. Priced to compete with compact family cars such as the Ford Focus estate and Vauxhall Astra, the Skoda Octavia offers the passenger and luggage space of a much bigger car, such as the Volkswagen Passat or Ford Mondeo. It shares its underpinnings with the SEAT Leon and VW Golf, but given its market positioning as a family workhorse, majors on ease of use. It will be available in UK showrooms in June with a choice of clean, efficient and smooth engines, including 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol units, and a 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel.

What is it like to drive?

Completely and utterly stress-free. Whether you go for the manual or the self-shifting DSG automatic that is optionally available in the diesel models, the Octavia is an effortless car to drive. The 1.6-litre diesel is not exactly a ball of fire, but has enough grunt to get the car up to speed without the need to thrash it, and is easy-going around town. Opt for the larger 2.0-litre unit and the urge increases but the noise filtered into the cabin remains a subdued throb, the car filtering almost all sound, vibration and harshness from its occupants. Even on an Autobahn blast at its maximum speed, the Octavia stays hushed, as well as stable and composed.

It's a similar story in the corners. A front-wheel drive estate is never going to be the last word in driver thrills but the Octavia turns-in and changes direction with an enthusiasm often missing in this type of car. Due to less mass in the nose, the smaller petrol engines feel more alive, but even in the biggest diesel model, understeer and body roll are rarely an issue at legal speeds.

A drive-mode selector is fitted on mid-range SE models and above, which changes the steering and engine management between three different modes: Sport, Normal and Eco. While the additional fuel economy of the Eco setting is a welcome benefit when you're not in a hurry, Sport mode adds unnecessary extra weight to the steering, making the car feel stodgy and heavy. Thankfully, parameters can be modified independently of each other in an additional Individual mode.

What is it like inside?

Anyone not familiar with modern Skodas will be surprised at just how sumptuous the new Octavia estate is. Aside from the fabulously comfortable seats, there is enough leg and head room for even the tallest adults to get comfortable. Almost every surface is constructed from soft-touch plastics and all of the switchgear (most of which is lifted straight out of the VW Golf) feels solid and tactile.

The Octavia is also available with a host of toys more commonly seen on premium executive saloons. Top spec Elegance models come fitted as standard with large screen sat nav that not only gives clear, precise instructions but also comes with a gesture function, meaning as soon as your finger nears the screen it pops up with a number of menu choices. Go mad with the options list and your Octavia estate can be fitted with radar cruise control, traffic sign recognition, high-beam assist, keyless entry and ignition and lane assist, which keeps you from wandering out of lane on the motorway.

You won't feel short changed if you plump for a cheaper version, though, as even entry level models are fitted with Bluetooth connectivity, DAB digital radio, USB ports, tinted windows, a cooled glovebox and an eight speaker stereo system.

Is it practical?

Practicality is the Octavia's trump card – every aspect of its design has been designed with family friendliness in mind. Aside from the huge 610-litre boot – which outsizes everything else in the compact-family car market – and levers for automatically folding the rear seats, the Octavia is littered with neat touches that fulfill Skoda's 'simply clever' mantra. There are rubbish bins in the door panels, eight cup holders, an ice-scraper built into the fuel filler cap and a multimedia holder, which will hold your MP3 player and other devices upright for easy access.

That rear load space is well thought out too, with a plethora of hooks, straps and nets to stop all manner of items from sliding about on the move. There's even room underneath the boot floor to stow the optional roof-rack when it's not in use. Whatever you may need to move, the Octavia estate has got you covered.

Should I buy one?

We would. If you're in the market for a hard-working family wagon, but don't want to relegate yourself to a poverty-spec Dacia Logan, the Octavia estate strikes an intriguing balance between economy and luxury. With a range of engines to suit almost every taste and an easy-going demeanour whether your crossing continents or mooching about town, the Octavia estate is the sort of car that will blend seamlessly into your family life.

Don't want to buy new? Browse through the first two generations of Skoda Octavia here.

The facts

Skoda Octavia estate 1.6 TDI 105PS Elegance manual

Price: £21,890
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged, diesel
Power: 104bhp
Top speed: 119mph
0-62mph: 11 seconds
Fuel economy: 61.4mpg (urban), 85.6mpg (extra-urban) 74.3mpg (combined)
Emissions: 99g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five stars

Daljinder Nagra


May 3, 2013