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What’s this? The Skoda Octavia, which is something of a giant among family hatchbacks, fitted with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine. Which could be as silly as using a lawnmower’s two-stroke to shift an oil tanker. It replaces the Octavia’s old entry-level engine, which was a 1.2-litre four-cylinder. Is power, erm, adequate? In fact, is it there at all? Because the engine is of course turbocharged, outputs are respectable. You get 113bhp and 148lb ft, the latter held from 2000-3500rpm. And because the Octavia is a bit of a racing oil tanker when it comes to weight (just 1150kg in this trim, which is hugely impressive for such a spacious, cargo-capable family car), the result is an engine not out of its depth and a car you don’t have to work breathlessly hard to move about in. Audi recently stuck this engine in the A3, right?
The very same, and the result was a car we liked a great deal. In fact, if you’re not beholden to the vagaries of company car CO2 tax and the need for a 700-mile range, the 1.0-litre version was probably the pick of the bunch. No pressure on the Skoda to be just as likeable, then? Just a bit. And from the get-go, there is a problem. In the Audi, you twist the ignition key and the rev counter needle boings up to idle, but that’s the only clue fuel is now being ignited under the bonnet. The Skoda isn’t as smooth. Rouse the engine and a slight but noticeable quiver thrums through the pedals and gear lever. You’re being made aware the engine is fundamentally lop-sided. Set off and this is largely smoothed out, and in any case, you’ll be far to busy being bowled over by the performance to care. Skoda’s got the gearing spot on here, so there’s a real keenness in first and second, and the shift itself is really sweet. Wouldn’t embarrass a sports car, in fact. The 1.0-litre turbo motor revs cleanly and reasonably smoothly, and its note is pleasant and far from thrashy. Claimed stats of 9.9 seconds to 62mph are perfectly realistic. Settle into a cruise in the taller gears and it’s like you’ve donned a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, as any sensation of engine machination melts away altogether. Besides the vibration on start-up, the Octavia has survived its cylinder-ectomy with aplomb. Fine, but is this another teeny motor that doesn’t get within squinting distance of its claimed efficiency? Running off-boost in a lab, this car will do 62.8mpg. Running on boost on a road, we saw low 40s to the gallon being claimed by the car itself. Respectable stuff, if not headline grabbing, but with 104g/km only adding up to £20 of road tax a year, the running costs here are far from wallet-pummeling. And the biggest cost of all? This is the cheapest Octavia, setting you back a total of £16,660 in basic ‘S’ trim, a hatchback guise and joined to the slick manual gearbox. A six-speed DSG adds £1,250, and the estate’s £1,220 dearer. At that money, the Octavia makes life very difficult for the less refined Ford Focus EcoBoost, which is also far more cramped and cheaper inside, and squares up well against the £16,145 Vauxhall Astra 1.0 Turbo hatch.
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