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It's all a load of bollocks, quite frankly

Skoda Octavia Ambiente 1.9TDI

In the United Kingdom, seemingly more than anywhere else, image to some is an important thing. Image is greater than life or death, and be honest there is a bit of it in all of us. You can buy an affordable handbag that would more than likely survive a nuclear holocaust and fit everything from coinage to the entire stock of Boots in there. Or you could spend your hard earnt on the latest offering from Gucci – it will look nice and fancy but will offer no functional advantage over said run of the mill handbag. The only difference is the image it portrays.

It’s not limited to handbags, obviously, as limiting it to handbags would be sexist and stupid. Clothes and shoes are included. Electronic gizmos have fallen foul of this aswell. If you’re not seen with an Ipod or Blackberry or something similar, you are a complete and utter failure.

The one thing though that speaks volumes about yourself more than any one thing is your car. In the UK especially, if you don’t have the correct badge on the front of your car that’s worse than having your testicles removed, served on a plate and garnished with balsamic vinegar and presented as a main meal. Which brings me neatly on to the Skoda Octavia. In particular, the Octavia 1.9TDI Ambiente. Finished in dark metallic blue. Sounds as appealing as the aforementioned dish doesn’t it? And that badge – Skoda, what sort of image does THAT portray?

Years ago it meant you would be the butt of all jokes. The image now seems to be that they are Volkswagens for mean people (which I have a problem with and I’ve touched on this before – read the Skoda Fabia road test). To me, however it means you know your stuff, quite frankly. The Octavia is pure Volkswagen Golf under the skin which means excellent reliability and unparalleled perceived quality. But the Octavia is a fraction of the price of a Golf, and in many ways a far better car. You will also find owners of the Octavia are far happier with their car than equivalent Golf owners. And the biggest upside? I think it’s a quietly stylish, well proportioned shape. It’s a good looking car.

Despite its Czech origin and bargain basement price, the fit and finish in this particular car is absolutely top notch and all the VW parts bin-sourced switchgear operates smoothly and with precision. The interior makes logical and ergonomical sense and is a nice place to be, in a kind of Germanic, austere way. There is masses of space, and despite looking like a saloon the loadspace in this hatchback version is immense.  You could move house quite easily in the estate version, and I don’t just mean the contents, you could fit your house in the back and still have room to hold a board meeting.

The driving experience is very Golf-like, which means it has a reasonable chassis and copes with most stuff very well. The 1.9TDI engine is responsive if a little noisy on start up. However on the road it turns into an extremely refined unit. The ride is compliant due to the chassis being more focused toward a soft set-up, but it still handles well. Coupled with extrememly comfortable and supportive seats, it’s a good car to drive. The steering communicates with the driver well enough, and the brakes have a good, progressive feel. Equipment levels are generous with air con, CD player with MP3, electric mirrors, windows and remote locking. In short, this car has everything you need and no junk. Quite frankly I’m finding it hard to find any fault with this car at all. Which is a bugger, to be honest.

Running costs and expenditure won’t cause your bank manager to suffer a coronary attack of the heart. Depreciation, once a bugbear for Skoda, is solid. If you go for a diesel such as the 105bhp 1.9TDI tested here, fuel consumption is as miserly as Rigsby the landlord and long service intervals really do mean this car is a very complete package.

It all boils down to image. You’ll buy the Skoda because you’re far from interested if something is cool or not. You don’t need to because if you’re the kind of badge snob that would rather pay the premium for a VW Golf, or even Audi A3 when the Skoda does everything far, far better then you’re missing out on a great car.  For me, as I don’t give two hoots about image (my everyday car is a Fiat Stilo, that should speak volumes) and badge snobbery on cars, the existance of the Octavia makes it very hard to justify buying a Golf or A3. It’s better to drive than the Golf, better to look at, bigger, more comfortable and certainly as an everyday family car, there isn’t much out there to beat it. The kind of person that buys the affordable holocaust-surviving handbag that can hold everything, rather than the Gucci form over function nonsense.

Plus points:
Driving experience, practicality, refinement, comfort and I like the styling.

Minus points:
I’m genuinely struggling really to find any… but there is one. It isn’t old, Italian and likely to fall to bits.

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May 11, 2011 - Posted by | Motoring

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