What is it like on the inside?
The big change from Mk7.5 to Mk8 Golf came on the inside. The new generation gets a minimalist interior that prioritises touch screens and touch keys over physical buttons, and the story is much the same in the Octavia.
At first glance the interior looks smart and most of the touchpoints on the doors and the dash feature soft-touch materials for a premium feel. Skoda says that central chrome strip reflects the shape of the car’s grille too, and it’s making a big point of the layout being ‘modular’ or at least on different levels.
Perhaps that’s in response to VW’s attempt to merge the digital dials and infotainment system in the Golf – something that we remain unconvinced by. As a result, the Octavia gets a 10.25-inch digital cockpit behind that two-spoke steering wheel. The dials can be configured in four different ways with a full-size navigation screen an option, and the layouts are all controlled using the scrollers at your fingertips. Nice.
Base spec cars then get a separate 8.25-inch central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, whereas other trim levels get the full works with a responsive 10-inch screen, gesture control and access to Skoda’s Digital Assistant, Laura, who can apparently control the onboard systems in six different languages. Show-off.
Back to that minimalism, though, because like with the Leon and Golf, this is a less user-friendly cabin than before. The Octavia does have it better than its VW Group siblings though, largely because of a strip of proper shortcut buttons to instantly access the climate controls, heated screens, drive modes and park assist features (the Leon has nothing and the Golf only four small buttons), but all of those still require a couple of prods at the touchscreen after pressing said button. It’s just not as intuitive as it should be, and the volume is controlled by a strange touch-sensitive slider under that central screen. What was wrong with a good old-fashioned knob?
It is worth repeating just how practical this Octavia is though. The 600-litre boot in the hatch is only 40-litres smaller than the estate, and there’s plenty of room for rear-seat occupants. The plug-in hybrid has slightly less luggage space because of how the battery is packaged.
That sloping roof does impinge on headroom ever-so-slightly, but you’d hardly notice unless you regularly transport multiple six-footers. If you do, the estate is for you.