When you get to your local Enterprise location and are handed the keys to a vehicle that is essentially made by Volkswagen, it’s a good day. At least that’s what I mostly thought when I was given the keys to the Octavia. I say ‘mostly’, because I immediately anticipated one thing I wouldn’t like about the Octavia – that it was a big car with an undersized engine. It had that ‘base model’ appearance, which made me realise that this was going to have VW’s 1.6L TDI engine under the bonnet.
Let’s start with the positives. Like most Volkswagen products, the Octavia’s interior is a delightful place to be. Everything is well made with good materials, and the cabin is aesthetically pleasing. And when you are sitting in the car, it just feels very solid. Not only that, but it is a lesson in ergonomics as well. All the controls are very nicely laid out and right where you need them to be. This model was equipped with some nicer features, such as DAB radio, built-in satellite navigation, and dual-zone climate control, all of which are intuitive and easy to use. It’s easy to relax too – the seats are comfortable, the driving position is comfortable, and it’s nice and quiet inside. As for room, there is plenty of it. It’s a big car, with lots of room everywhere, including the boot. It is certainly built to be comfortable car for long journeys.
But that’s part of the problem. It’s a very comfortable car, which means it’s also a bit of a boring car. I know they make a sport version of the Octavia, but this wasn’t it. Equipped with the 1.6L 105bhp TDI, this big car is a slow car. Normally, I am a fan of Volkswagen’s little diesel, but in this car, the engine constantly feels laboured, and particularly when the car is full of people and luggage (as it was yesterday morning when I took my in-laws to the airport), it really struggles. It came with a 5-speed gearbox, but to really make this engine work, it would need the closer ratios a 6-speed gearbox provides, although that still wouldn’t be enough. Driving through the North Pennines yesterday required constant downshifting to keep the engine in the peak power band, or it would simply bog going uphill. The 1.6 returns very good fuel mileage, of course, but in this case, the lack of power and drivability isn’t worth the trade-off. There are a couple of 2.0L TDI’s in the Octavia lineup, starting at 140bhp, and they are certainly the better option for a car of this size.
The Octavia handles well for its size. In the corners, it holds the road quite well thanks to a fairly stiff suspension, and you can carry speed into a corner with a degree of confidence. But there is a bit of a sense of detachment; you don’t really feel the road while you’re driving. Some people don’t mind this, but if you like a more dynamic driving experience, you might be disappointed. Related to this, the steering is nicely weighted, but again, could use more feel. Because of this, you generally find yourself understeering a bit in corners, and as a result, having to compensate a bit in the middle of the corner. The brakes lack feel as well, and because it’s a heavy car, requires a fair amount of effort to get the car stopped. To be sure, on the motorway, the car cruises quite nicely, even if the stiffer suspension makes the ride a little choppy at times. But overall, you just feel kind of disconnected from the car when you’re driving, I suppose if you only wanted to get on the motorway and set the cruise control, this car would do the job just fine. This, though, is just the base model, and it would be interesting to move a trim level or two and compare the handling.
All that being said, the Octavia is in many ways a solid car, and it’s clear that with some better options, would be more enjoyable to drive. If you need a bit more space, and the solid reliability of a Volkswagen at a lower price, this might be the place to look. Just be sure to opt for a bigger engine and a slightly more dynamic suspension, because that would do a lot to make this car a really good car, and a pleasure to drive.
Engine: 1.6L TDI diesel, 105bhp, 184 lb.-ft.
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Mileage at pick-up: 4934
Distance driven: 150 miles
Photo location: 54°51’27.5"N 1°59’17.5"W