Shaking off the budget label
Skoda Octavia:If there is one way to make a Skoda executive bristle, it is to mention the words “budget” or “economy” to describe their cars.
These days the firm’s big image agenda seems to be to rid itself of any association with cheaper brands, such as the newly re-emerging Dacia brand – the Renault-owned Romanian manufacturer.
“We are one of the biggest car manufacturers in Europe and we sell cars that are affordable, not made on a small budget. We have never made ‘budget’ cars – we make cars that ordinary people can afford and get value from,” insists Skoda’s CEO, Winfried Vahland, when asked if the new Octavia model – a car that has now emerged as a Mondeo-class contender – marks a move towards making Skoda cars more prestigious.
Nevertheless, the Octavia is a departure from the relative anonymity of the current model. Built on VW’s new, seemingly all-encompassing midsize platform – shared with the new VW Golf, the Audi A3 and the new Seat Leon to name but three – its profile is an amalgam of modern German influences, and not all of them from VW.
One of the ambitions of its designers was to produce a car that might be considered “timeless”, and there is certainly nothing about the car that will age it quickly, hence the sharp but generally conservative overall styling.
Main seller is diesel
The Octavia will be on sale by Spring and the main seller, as always, will be the diesel. The 1.6 diesel, with a 105 horsepower engine and emissions of 99 grammes per kilometre, will cost about €22,500. The entry-level version will be the 1.4 TSi petrol version which should go on sale at less than €20,000, and there will also be a 1.8 petrol version. An estate version for about €1,350 more than the saloon will be on sale later.
The Octavia’s main competitive focus will be its opposite numbers from Hyundai and Kia; Skoda is pitching the new car on the basis of boot and interior space, specification (seven airbags will be standard, for example) and value for money. Certainly the interior space is impressive and the car is longer and wider than the current one. Once again, boot space is extremely generous for a car in this class and won’t be matched anytime soon.
The interior has been given a fairly extensive workover, with much sharper and clearer instruments and a warmer ambience. In fairness, it doesn’t have a “budget” feel to it and that should change quite a few perceptions. The dilemma for Skoda may be that in the rush to shake off any “budget” links, it risks losing its value proposition, which has served it very well in these tough economic climes.