Parkers overall rating: 4.3 out of 5 4.3
  • Two diesels, three petrols available
  • Plus two mild hybrids, one PHEV
  • …and vRS gets its own diesel, petrol and PHEV

Petrol engines

The Octavia’s engine selection as huge. Currently, there is a 1.0-litre, 1.0-litre mild hybrid, 1.5-litre, 1.5-litre mild hybrid and 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine, as well as a 2.0 TDI diesel offered in 116hp, 150hp and 200hp forms. Depending on the engine, they will come with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission as standard.

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 125mph. Opt for the automatic gearbox and it gets there a little quicker, with its 10.6-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 drive, we found that it’s really smooth and feels more than fast enough for most situations. It’s also a great pairing with 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.

Hybrid engines

Skoda’s e-Tec mild-hybrid engine is available in both 1.0 and 1.5 TSI variants. At the heart of the e-Tec powertrain is a 48-volt lithium ion battery pack and a combined belt-driven starter-alternator. The car can effectively ‘coast’ with the engine completed switched off for extended periods. When this occurs, the car’s electric motor maintains power to crucial on-board systems.

The 1.0TSI e-Tec is a very impressive piece of kit. Barely are you aware that it’s a mere three-cylinder, such is its smooth refinement, and acceleration and responsiveness well up-to the brilliant Peugeot PureTech or Ford Ecoboost engines, you’ll find in the rival 308 and Focus. On the motorway, there’s enough mid-range acceleration to handle steep inclines, and it was just as capable of a long distance run as the diesel model.

As well as the mild-hybrid, you can also choose the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) option. The Octavia iV features a 1.4 TSI petrol engine delivering 156hp and a 48 electric motor. Combined they produce a total output of 204hp and develop 350Nm of torque. The engine utilises a 37Ah, 13kWh lithium-ion battery, which results in a battery-only range of up to 35 miles in the WLTP cycle.

Diesel engines

Diesel is important to Skoda buyers and the company sells plenty. There are two 2.0-litre TDI units in the line-up, offering a choice of 116hp 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 ran the the lower-powered 116hp 2.0 TDI over an extended period and found that it offers a great all-round mix of quiet refinement, long range (more than 600 miles on a tank is easily achieved) and relaxed performance. The only black mark was the gearchange action of the manual six-speeder (below), which is obstructive and quite unpleasant, although it’s definitely loosening off with miles.

Although it’s not as swift as the 150hp version, in most situations the 116hp TDI provides adequate performance, 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 8.8 seconds for instance) it looks usefully quicker without suffering much in the fuel economy stakes.

Sporty vRS: now with three engines

The vRS is offered with a 2.0-litre petrol or diesel. The petrol is 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 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. The big selling point of the diesel is that it offers a decent turn of pace and 50mpg on the motorway. If this is what you really want from a hot-hatch, it will serve you well.

If you’re looking for an exciting hot-hatch then the diesel vRS is not the one to go for. It’s all out of ideas at 3,500rpm and there’s very little need to rev it out. It’s not stimulating then – but at least turn in is sharp and because power is acheived at such low rpm, getting out of a corner feels fast. Overtaking on motorways and country roads only requires a flex of the right toe, too.

A plug-in hybrid vRS 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 139mph.

What’s it like to drive?

  • 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

Although it’s unlikely that many people will buy a standard 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 feels small and responsive enough to give the driver a great deal of confidence when the corners start to tighten up. It’s no sports car, but it gives a good account of itself in the bends.

Long-distance driving comfort is where the Octavia excels. The roomy interior, excellent driving position and low overall noise levels make this a great car in which to reel off a 500-mile day of driving. The 2.0 TDI version we’ve tested passes with flying colours, although the supremely quiet Golf just pips it with lower overall wind and road noise levels.

What’s the vRS like to drive?

The vRS comes with 15mm lowered suspension, sharpened up steering and an electronic front differential system to help maximise traction. The steering weights up quite nicely in Sport mode and avoids being artificially heavy. 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.

We’ve tried the vRS with optional adaptive suspension, which comes as part of the Dynamic Chassis Control package. This adjusts the firmness of the suspension depending on the drive mode, allowing you to favour a softer ride quality or better body control depending on your mood. There’s a noticeable difference between the modes, which isn’t always the case with this option on some cars, and the Octavia isolates occupants from bumps well in its softest Comfort setting. Sport mode firms up the suspension without being too jiggly either.

There’s a fair amount of road noise from the 19-inch tyres, but the level of refinement in here remains good enough for long distance comfort. There are no vibrations sent through the steering wheel, seats or floor, and just the occasional bit of wind noise fluttering around the windscreen pillars. The 2.0-litre petrol engine always remains quiet, while the diesel vRS is noticeably louder than the petrol at idle, and when starting from cold.

The augmented engine noise pumped through the speakers is irritating. The sound is reminiscent of an old-school V8 engine with a low rumble. It doesn’t feel that natural, and while it can sound pleasing at times deep down you know the engine isn’t making the noise. Overall, 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.