THIS is the pricing move Skoda had to make.
The new Octavia starts from a super sharp $21,690, driving a much-needed wedge between Skoda and its bigger sibling, Volkswagen.
While traditionally the budget offering from the Volkswagen Group (which also has the likes of Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche and Bugatti under the umbrella), Skoda has struggled to become a major volume player Down Under.
This Octavia may be just what the doctor ordered. It delivers on the promise of European quality for those on a budget.
Undercutting the previous entry-level model by $3300, nothing mid-size comes close to the base model Octavia. Not even the Koreans or the Japanese.
But have they cut corners to bring down the price? We went to the Mornington Peninsula this week to find out.
Take a good look around, its Volkswagen heritage is evident.
While it doesn't have the gloss or finish of a VW or Audi, the functionality, buttons and operations have a clear lineage.
There are hints that this is the budget end of the scale. Blank buttons even in the range topper and a basic black finish point to its market positioning.
Yet it's all inoffensive, and easy to use - especially the touch-screen which, like the VW Golf, comes up with options once it senses your hand from within 15cm.
We actually liked the base model seats more than the range-topping leather-clad pews. The cloth ones offered better support at the base and laterally whereas the leather ones encouraged sliding.
This new model is 90mm longer and 45mm wider than the second-generation Octavia, while the wheelbase has grown by 108mm. That means improved space in the back and it can handle adults in the back with ease.
Three across the bench is more challenging, partly due to the hump in the rear floor. It looks designed for a rear or all-wheel platform rather than a front-wheeler.
On the road
Quiet, smooth and well-mannered with an ability to flatten out the bends nicely, the Octavia proved adept in various conditions.
Probably the standout from the trio was the base model, 103 kilowatt turbocharged petrol.
It doesn't have the same urging as its larger 132kW petrol brethren or the punch of the diesel which offers 320Nm of twist, but it has strong and linear power delivery.
Both the manual and the dual clutch automatics performed without fault, and fingers crossed, the Volkswagen Group has got on top of the reliability issues it experienced with the self-shifters.
On the highway and through some testing bends, the Octavia acquitted itself well with surefooted steering feel and solid all-round performance.
What do you get?
Ambition models have steel wheels, four-speaker CD stereo which is MP3 compatible with auxiliary and USB inputs, Bluetooth phone connectivity, seven airbags and air-conditioning.
Step up into Ambition Plus and it represents the best value for an extra $2800, with 17-inch alloys, eight-speaker 14.7cm touch-screen stereo with Bluetooth audio streaming, two more airbags, rear parking sensors and cruise control.
At the top of the Elegance tree you can add 18-inch alloys, leather trim, DVD-capable/sat nav system with 20cm screen and tinted windows.
Following the footsteps of its European siblings, there are packs available to up-spec the Octavia.
For the Ambition models, you can get rid of the steelies and replace them with 17-inch alloys, gain cruise, rear parking sensors, improved stereo and a front arm rest for a thrifty $1300.
On Ambition Plus and Elegance models, you can opt for the $3300 Tech Pack which includes a whole heap of cool gear, like radar cruise control, Bi-Xenon headlights, automatic parking with front, rear and side sensors, keyless entry with push-button start and a 10-speaker sound system.
Official fuel consumption figures don't rise above six litres for every 100km. Even if you add a couple of litres for real-world travel that's impressive stuff.
Capped price servicing over six years adds peace of mind associated with maintaining European cars.
Both the sedan (568 litres) and wagon (588) have generous boot space.
The rear seats fold 60-40 for extra space although they don't drop flat into the floor.
There are also some handy hooks which fold down to stop the groceries or other items from being splayed across the rear end.
The Octavia is quite the looker. Put some tape over the badges and some could be fooled into thinking it has the four-rings.
We especially liked the wagon in vivid blue.
Across the bonnet, in profile and at the back are some nice creases, although the grille has a striking resemblance to "Chick Hicks" from Cars fame.
What matters most
What we liked: Strong performance from the base turbo petrol, cloth-trimmed seats, soft-touch cabin materials, cabin space.
What we'd like to see: Rear view camera, fewer vacant button holes, great new safety features as standard.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist. Capped price servicing is available for six years or 90,000km, with maintenance scheduled annually or every 15,000km. Average prices are $340 (1.4-litre petrol), $399 (1.8-litre petrol) and $410 (2.0-litre diesel).
Model: Skoda Octavia.
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive sedan or wagon.
Engines: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 103kW @ 5000rpm and peak torque of 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm; 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol 132kW @ 6000rpm and 250Nm @ 1250-5000rpm; 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel 110kW @ 4000rpm and 320Nm @ 1750-3000rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (103TSI only) or seven-speed dual clutch automatic; six-speed auto on diesel.
Consumption: 5.2 litres/100km (combined average); 5.9L/100km; 4.9L/100km.
Bottom line: Ambition 103TSI (m) $21,690, Ambition 103TSI (a) $23,990, Ambition Plus 103TSI (m) $24,490, Ambition Plus 103TSI (a) $26,790, Elegance 103TSI (a) $32,190, Elegance 132TSI (a) $34,690, Elegance 110TDI (a) $35,490. Wagon is a $1350 premium across the range. (Plus on-roads)
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