Road test: 2021 Skoda Octavia Estate SE L First Edition

Nick Francis

11 Jan 2021

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The Skoda Octavia Estate has long been overlooked by those distracted by more glamourous crossovers, but has this latest generation done enough to change the minds of fashion-conscious drivers?

The Skoda Octavia Estate is one of those cars which is adored by owners, praised by car journalists yet often overlooked in favour of more glamourous crossovers by potential customers. We get it, estates aren’t fashionable, and to be fair the Octavia Estate has never been what you would consider an exciting car. But in terms of giving you what you need – bundles of space, solid build quality which stands up against kids and dogs, plus a comfortable interior and driving experience – the Octavia Estate is hands down one of the best choices in the family car class.


The fourth generation Octavia Estate which, as before, shares the MQB platform with the Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3 and Seat Leon, has had some work done to lift the appeal of it exterior and interior so that it’s no longer the dreary-looking cousin. The surgeon’s scalpel hasn’t affected its practicality either: it boasts a class-leading 640-litres of boot space and, thanks to its stretched wheelbase, is roomy throughout the cabin. Is it as good as the Golf or further removed rivals like the Ford Focus Estate? Let’s find out.





Exterior


The new Octavia Estate is better looking than the last generation, no doubt, but its styling is still more sober than most fashion-forward crossovers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and while beauty is in the eye of the beholder we think it’s actually rather handsome, in an understated kind of way. It doesn’t look as sharp as the Ford Focus but gone are the split headlights of the last generation, which have been replaced by slimline LEDs which lift the image of the front considerably. The rear lights have been neatened too, creating a far less cluttered look, while the Skoda logo spelled out in bold letters Porsche-style on the heavily-creased rear makes it a good looking car to be stuck behind.





Interior


This is where the Octavia Estate really shines. As we mentioned, with a 640-litre boot it’s the roomiest in its class, beating the Ford Focus Estate by nearly 100-litres. Fold the seats flat and you’ve got a cavernous 1,700-litres which is more than enough for most tasks. The theme of space continues in the cabin with generous legroom for back passengers and plenty amounts of head space, and the addition of comfier seats for this generation means the Octavia Estate is the ideal car for large families who do a lot of driving.


Being a Skoda the Octavia Estate is bristling with helpful touches, including phone storage pouches for those in the back and USB ports positioned in the right places, rather than hidden away in spots so far from the windscreen you need an extension lead to jack up your sat nav or charge your phone. Build quality is solid throughout the cabin with plenty of focus on strong, durable materials which will give parents peace of mind. The SE L First Edition model we drove includes the odd splash of Alcantara which lifts the overall visage but also dials in a perceived premium feel.


Being so closely related to the VW Golf the Octavia Estate has gone down the minimalist route when it comes to the driver fascia which, while it looks good, brings with it frustrations. Like the Golf, a lot of functionality has been shifted to the infotainment system. Key features like fan speed are bereft of physical buttons, and instead of traditional controls the climate temperature is manipulated via a haptic feedback slider which we never seemed to get used to. It’s too easy to end up making the cabin either Sahara-hot or Arctic-cold when looking for a comfortable 20 degrees Celsius. This is a prime case of style over substance and you might find yourself longing for the more basic layout of the old model.


Overall though, the Octavia Estate’s interior offers little to complain about, especially as there is still a bank of physical buttons for things like drive modes and front and rear windscreen heat. Unlike some estates the Octavia doesn’t lose rear window space to a sculpted, dipping roofline and the roof pillars are slimline, both of which mean visibility is excellent. And the new two-spoke steering wheel both looks good as well as offers plenty of buttons for on-the-go commands.





Technology and equipment


Thanks to the 10-inch infotainment screen (8.3-inch on the entry trim only) and 10.25 digital driver the display the Octavia estate feels as modern as anything else in the segment, benefitting from a share with the Mk8 Golf. Naturally you get all the bells and whistles, including smartphone mirroring, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you’re not a fan of these systems you might want to get used to them, as the infotainment system can be a little confusing in terms of menu selection and locating what you want to do. The graphics are slick and its super-responsive, it just feels a little more logic could have bee applied. Thanks to the screen’s size it is easy to prod with your finger accurately, which is just as well because, as we mentioned, some frequently used features now live in the infotainment system.


In this SE L First Edition model equipment is generous and includes adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, dual zone climate control heated seats. Adaptive LED headlights are standard across the range. Our car was also loaded with features which are less useful but make you think ‘hmm, nice touch’, such as an ambient lighting package which lights up the door interiors in different colours, depending on whether they are open or shut. Skoda’s digital assistant, Laura, works well most of the time but can leave pregnant pauses while you wonder if she’s actually understood what you’ve said. It’s still clunky enough to be more of a gimmick than something you would use every day.





On the road


The car we drove was powered by VW Group’s 1.5-litre evo engine which has been on the scene for a long time now. Even so it doesn’t yet feel long in the tooth and offers a smooth, hushed power delivery, although it could never be called powerful or exciting. Only when ringing its neck does it feel at all juddery, and ringing its neck doesn’t exactly liven things up: it’s a sensible engine for a sensible car and requires little no thought about how to manage. While we drove a manual version, we’re familiar enough with VW’s DSG automatic to know that it is probably worth optioning if you want an easy, fuss-free driving experience. The manual copes fine but feels a little baggy and loose on occasion and considering the Octavia’s target audience of no-nonsense yet discerning drivers, the DSG would offer just that little bit more refinement.


On B-roads at speed the Octavia sometimes felt a little floaty over the lumps and bumps, but that softness comes into its own in the motorway. It’s a relaxed a peaceful ride on the whole, with the damping clearly tuned for those who want to be uninterrupted by what’s going on beneath the wheels. The optional adaptive suspension would no doubt iron out any creases and offer a degree more sharpness in corners. Even though cornering isn’t taught the Octavia Estate is still confidence-inspiring, especially thanks to the nicely weighted and responsive steering, and there is plenty of grip at all times.





Verdict


The fourth generation Skoda Octavia Estate has built on its existing strengths, such as class-leading boot space, while at the same time improving marginally in the areas it was lacking, like the exterior design and interior tech. Because it still focusses on its key USPs it won’t have broadened its scope of appeal massively, but it will hopefully offer something of an alternative to those who have discovered that crossovers usually don’t offer more in terms of practicality than the smaller cars they are based on.


The Octavia Estate is still one of the first cars we would recommend to any parents looking for a do-it-all family wagon, but it’s very low down on the list of cars we would suggest for those who want driving thrills. But guess what – there’s a VRS version if that’s what you’re looking for. Even though Skoda prices are creeping upwards and narrowing the gap to VW’s, with a starting price of £22,210 there’s a hell of a lot of car here for your money.


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Model tested: Skoda Octavia Estate SE L First Edition 1.5 TSI

Price: £26,230

Engine: 1.5-litre turbo petrol

Power: 148bhp

0-62mph: 8.3 seconds

Max speed: 139mph

MPG: 42.2 (combined)

CO2: 130g/km


Nick Francis

11 Jan 2021

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