Parkers overall rating: 4.3 out of 5 4.3
  • Three diesels and three petrols available
  • Four-wheel drive option on vRS diesel
  • Two plug-in hybrids available

The Octavia’s engine selection has been completely overhauled, made up of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) options.

Currently, there is a 1.0-litre, 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine, as well as a 2.0 TDI diesel offered in 115hp, 150hp and 200hp forms. Depending on the engine, they will come with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG transmission as standard.

There are two plug-in hybrids which use a 1.4-litre petrol engine and electric motor to drive the Octavia. Both are available only with a six-speed DSG automatic, while the more powerful one is reserved for the sportier vRS model.

A closer look at the diesels

Diesel is important to Skoda buyers and the company expects to sell plenty. There are two 2.0-litre TDI units in the line-up, offering a choice of 115hp and 150hp - the 200hp variant is limited to the vRS below. Drivers who do particularly high mileage or plan to load the vast boot up to max capacity will prefer the more powerful diesel version. It’s noisier than the petrol, though not by much, and the metallic edge to its sound disappears once you’re on the move.

We spent a week with the lower-powered 115hp 2.0 TDI and found it to offer a great all-round mix of quiet refinement, long range (more than 600 miles on a tank is easily achieved) and relaxed performance make it a likeable car to spend time with. The only black mark is the gearchange action of the manual six-speeder (below), which is obstructive and quite unpleasant.

Although it's not as swift as the 150hp version, in most situations the 115hp version provides adequate performance – a 0-62mph time of 10.0 seconds and a maximum speed of 131mph are claimed – but load it up with people and luggage, and it will start to struggle. The 150hp version should remove all of that lethargy when fully-loaded, and from the figures published by Skoda (0-62mph in 8.4 seconds for instance) it looks usefully quicker without suffering much in the fuel economy stakes.

Petrol engines

The entry-level 1.0-litre is a three-cylinder producing 110hp and 200Nm of torque, taking 10.8 seconds to get from 0-62mph. Top speed is 129mph. Opt for the automatic gearbox and it gets there a little quicker, with its 10.5-second 0-62mph time.

The 1.5-litre petrol engine feels less responsive low-down in the rev range than the similarly powerful 150hp diesel, but in a brief pre-launch drive, we found that it’s really smooth and feels more than fast enough for most situations. It’s also a great pairing to the six-speed manual gearbox, which feels solid and positive, which is quite a contrast to the obstructive manual gearchange in the 2.0 TDI.

We've yet to thoroughly sample these engines and will report back when we put one fully to the test.

Plug-in hybrid option

Called the Octavia iV, this plug-in hybrid makes use of a 1.4-litre TSI petrol and electric motor for a combined power output of 204hp and 350Nm. The 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds and top speed of 136mph means it's by no means slow, while Skoda claims it’ll travel up to 34 miles on battery power alone.

Sporty vRS comes with the choice of a petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid

As before, the vRS is offered with a 2.0-litre petrol or diesel. The former produces 245hp and 370Nm of torque, taking 6.7 seconds to sprint from 0-62mph with a DSG automatic transmission. The six speed manual is 0.1 seconds slower at 6.8 seconds. Top speed for both is 155mph.

It’s quick, but it’s not enough to shove you into the back of your seat. You can opt for a smoother and more relaxed power delivery in Normal drive mode, which makes use of the torque to gently get you up to speed, and if you switch to Sport, this delivers a slightly more aggressive tune.

The drive modes are well calibrated as you do notice a discernible difference between them, but the throttle response from stationary is disappointing regardless of which, as it can take a good couple of seconds before any power gets sent to the driven wheels.

The seven-speed DSG automatic remains smooth and quick to change gears but becomes much more eager to change down in Sport mode for when you need a burst of acceleration. The gearbox hangs onto gears longer before changing up, too, keeping you in the power band for better acceleration, but the vRS is best sampled in Manual mode when you use the steering wheel-mounted paddles. This seems to liven up the driving experience even further and makes the vRS feel most alert. Switch back to Normal mode and you immediately notice how all the controls are dulled back down again.

A 200hp diesel version with 400Nm takes 7.4 seconds from 0-62mph and reaches the same 155mph top speed. This is DSG-only, but you can also opt to have four-wheel drive which cuts the 0-62mph time to 6.8 seconds - matching the petrol engine with the manual gearbox. Top speed dips slightly to 151mph.

A plug-in hybrid is available for the first time, combining a 150hp 1.4-litre petrol with an electric motor to produce a combined 245hp. Like the diesel, this is also available as an automatic only, and takes 7.3 seconds to get from 0-62mph.Top speed is 140mph.

More engines to follow

Mild hybrid versions of the 1.5-litre petrol that Skoda calls eTEC will be added to the range in 2021. These are fitted with the DSG automatic transmission and using a clever 48-volt mild hybrid system, which feature an enhanced stop-start system to save even more fuel and give a small boost in performance.

Handling

  • Body control and ride comfort are excellent
  • Some bodyroll as expected for a comfortable family car
  • ...but this is no bad thing, as the handling is very good

One area where the Octavia has been improved massively over it predecessor is in its handling. Although it's unlikely that many people will buy an Octavia to throw around B-roads, it's good to know that should you find yourself in this situation, it's actually very capable. Steering isn't the last word in preciseness, but it's well-weighted and gives the driver more than enough feel.

As for enjoying the corners, we'd say that's possible thanks to supple suspension and well-controlled damping. It turns-in to corners smartly and although there's some bodyroll, as you'd expect, the Octavia still feels small and responsive enough to give the driver a great deal of confidence when the corners start to tighten up.

We came away with the distinct impression that Skoda engineers have put a great deal of effort into tuning the way this car feels – if you're used to the outgoing Octavia, you'll immediately notice the more precise steering and the excellent traction on poor roads.

It's no sports car, but it gives a good account of itself in the bends.

How does the vRS drive?

The vRS comes with 15mm lowered suspension, sharpened up steering and an electronic front differential system to help maximise traction.

The front brake discs are larger to help better reign in the speed, but the Octavia vRS deals with winding roads with minimal effort. The steering weights up quite nicely in Sport mode and avoids being too artificially heavy, even if it remains a bit light if you’re used to driving Fords. The sharpened-up response is good without being nervous or twitchy, and you don’t have to wrestle the steering wheel as the electronic differential tries to manage traction levels between the front wheels.

Yes, there are more thrilling and involving performance hatches out there, but if you just want to get to places quickly in an undemanding way, this will get you there without causing much perspiration.