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The Octavia nameplate is back in India. This time, it’s bigger, better and here to raise the bar

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Ever the glorious history of automobiles the world over, there are car models that have changed the fortunes of their makers. And then there are models that have been instrumental in annihilating their creators. That’s why we see carmakers, time and again, bringing back only their popular model names – hoping to relive the glory all over again. While some of those celebrated names simply head for a slow death, a few manage to bring the magic back to life.

The Octavia is one of those fortune-changer models for Skoda, and it has been that since 1959, when the Czech carmaker first used the Octavia moniker on one of its sedans – which remained in production till 1971. It was one of its bestseller models of that era. So, when the Volkswagen Group took over the reins of the Czech car company, the Octavia name was resurrected in 1996, for an all-new model.

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Wondering what ‘Octavia’ stands for? The word originated in Latin and the only meaning to it is ‘eight’. In the older days, the name was reserved for the eighth child in a family. And that’s how Skoda first started using the name back in the ’50s, calling the eighth model it built the Octavia.

So in 2001, when the VW Group wanted to enter our market, it used its trump card and launched the much admired Skoda Octavia here. As expected, it took the market by storm. Then, in 2005, the second-generation Octavia found its way to India, only it was called the Laura and sold alongside the first-gen Octi. Cut to 2013 – the third-gen sedan is back in India, and we are glad Skoda hasn’t bothered looking for another side-splitting name. Instead, the new Octavia will be sold alongside the Laura, which will be replaced... eventually.

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What’s new about this Octavia, then? Everything! This isn’t a facelift or a revision. This is a generation change, meaning the new sedan is actually all-new. It’s the first Skoda model to be developed on VW’s highly flexible MQB platform, which will eventually form the basis for future Skoda models. We are told the modular platform can churn out cars a segment lower and higher than the Octavia.

So it’s as flexible as a Lego kit, in which you easily remove a few blocks here and there to build a completely new structure. For the new Octavia, the MQB platform means a world of good. First off, interior space has gone up by a great margin, so it feels only a shade smaller than the Superb. Okay, slight exaggeration, but yes, it is quite roomy at the back. The wheelbase is now 110mm longer than the Laura’s, which directly translates into dramatic enhancement of legroom on both rows. And that, we believe, will be the key to stardom for this executive sedan.

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Driving through the wide, open roads of Chandigarh, not many could tell this was a new Skoda model at first glance. It’s only with a second look, when you spot the new logo and the Octavia badge, that you realise this is the new sedan. Gone are the Laura’s subtle curves; in comes a sharper, cleaner-looking sedan. The new car has grown in size, but it doesn’t look out of proportion. It’s a typical Skoda design template, with the new Skoda all-metallic logo, the distinctive grille and bumper design, and those power lines on the bonnet. This thing has Skoda written all over it.

In profile though, it looks as if the designers have taken some inspiration from their Audi counterparts, which is not a bad thing at all. However, it seems the motivation was lost midway – the boot section looks quite similar to that of the Rapid. With the signature C-shape tail lamps and identical slats around the number plate section, it looks like a stretched Rapid from the rear. And if not for the reflectors on the rear bumper, it would be difficult to tell them apart from a distance. A good thing is that the new Octavia retains its signature gigantic tailgate, which classifies this executive as a notchback.

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On our way from Chandigarh to Shimla, we came across an elderly couple who were proud owners of not one but two Skoda cars. When we told them about the new Octavia, the first thing they wanted to see was cabin quality. A thorough inspection of the interior left them mighty impressed. And we all mutually agreed on that because the new cabin is refreshing. The all-new, sharper looking dashboard, soft-touch plastics, faux wood inserts and black-beige colour theme look the part. The quality of materials is also a notch higher than before, giving the cabin a more premium look. Plus, both rows of seats are ridiculously comfortable – nothing to fault here.

Currently, there are two powertrain options on the Laura – 140bhp, 2.0-litre TDI, and 160bhp 1.8-litre TSI – and both of them have been passed on to the Octavia, but with the TSI now making a good 177bhp. In addition, there will be a new 1.4-litre TSI motor, borrowed from the VW Jetta and that too will see a jump in power from 120bhp to 138bhp. The diesel comes with the option of a six-speed manual and a six-speed DSG gearbox, the 1.8 TSI gets a seven-speed DSG, the smaller petrol motor gets only a six-speed manual.

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We extensively drove all the variants, and if there’s one motor that still leaves me speechless, it’s the 1.8 TSI with seven-speed DSG action. This time with more power than before, it’s all that you could ask your executive sedan to do. The 1.4 TSI wasn’t bad either. Driving up to Shimla, turbo lag poked its ugly nose in on the ghat sections time and again, but the motor proved ideal once we entered the city limits. Just keep it boiling over 2000rpm and the 1.4 TSI can be fun to drive too.

Given our preference for the cheaper fuel, we believe the diesel variants will outsell the petrol twins, but not by a big margin. Plus, the 2.0 TDI is available with either a DSG ’box or a manual – 140bhp and 320Nm of pulling power means the diesel motor is suitable for varied driving conditions. And if there’s a hint of turbo lag in the manual variant, the seven-speed DSG does its best to mask the delay in power delivery.

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But this is just half the story. With this new platform, Skoda’s engineers have mastered the art of tuning the Octavia for outstanding ride and mindboggling handling. Broken patches near Parwanoo, loose gravel en route to Chail, winding roads and blind corners while heading to Shimla – none of this unsettled the mighty Skoda. The Octavia has set a new benchmark for ride and handling.

The relaxed manner in which it handles any given situation can put most sporty hatchbacks to shame. There is hardly any hint of body roll while going into corners and the 205/55 rubber grips like a leech. Out on the highway, at speeds beyond 150kph, nothing, nothing tends to shake this Skoda.

The steering wheel too is precise and the 1,350kg sedan points its nose exactly where you want it. But if there is something to fault, it is the electronic power steering system, which is now a bit too light – now it only helps turn the wheel easily, rather than generate any sort of fun driving. It does weigh up with an increase in speed, but only to a miniscule extent. Also, it doesn’t offer the sort of feedback that quite a few previous-gen Octavia owners would have appreciated.

Nevertheless, the new Octavia is sure to set a new benchmark in the executive sedan segment. It comes loaded with all creature comforts and safety features you would need and expect from a car like this. And with a range of exciting petrol and diesel engines, an excellent chassis, spacious interior and fresh styling, this is a product that can give its rivals a serious run for their money.

(Words: Devesh Shobha, Photos: Himanshu Pandya)

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The numbers
Engine: 1395cc turbo-petrol / 1798cc turbo-petrol / 1968cc turbo-diesel
Power: 138bhp / 177bhp / 140bhp
Torque: 250Nm / 250Nm / 320Nm
Transmission: 6M / 7DSG / 6M and 6DSG
LxWxH: 4659 x 1814 x 1476mm
Boot capacity: 590 litres (min) 1580 litres (max)
Price: Rs 14-20 lakh (ex-Delhi)
Fuel tank: 50 litres

Pros: Ride and handling, interior, feature list, tank-like build quality
Cons: Light steering feel, no reverse camera, rear styling

The verdict
The new Octavia gives you a good taste of the Skoda brand as we knew it when it first came to India. Which means it’s a car we’d like in our garage too.

Rating: 8/10

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