CARS CAN surprise you in any number of ways. Most don’t, but as the police in Midsomer Murders must know by now, sometimes the most ordinary-looking suspect is the one with the most to hide.
Take one Skoda Octavia, add a small-capacity turbo diesel engine and a bundle of efficiency-boosting but largely hidden refinements, package it up with some relatively subtle Greenline stickers and nobody will be any the wiser that you’re in a large family car that’ll top 70mpg.
Let’s be more specific. With a decidedly unhurried journalist at the helm it returned a 71.8mpg average on a 140-mile motorway jaunt at 60-65mph, with a bit of town driving at either end. Then it managed 79.2mpg on a 13-mile trip across town, door to door via a stretch of free-flowing dual carriageway. Conditions were about as ideal as they could be in the real world.
There’s no other way of looking at it: those numbers are astonishing. This is a big motor, despite always seeming to be landed in the ‘compact family car’ categories in awards. If this is a compact family car, the category up must include things like London buses and the RMS Queen Mary 2.
That’s an exaggeration of course, but the Octavia, especially in estate form, is about as practical as the average family could need while still staying compact enough for parking duties at the supermarket. The boot is monstrously big in all dimensions; width, length and depth. It does have a load lip as a result, but for outright capacity it’s mighty.
Then there’s all the handy storage in the cabin, which has clearly been thought out by someone who actually has a family and uses a car daily to carry them. All the things you’re likely to want to lay your hands on, be it your wallet, a drink, sunglasses, spare change, your sat-nav, a car park ticket – it all finds a convenient place in the Octavia’s cabin. It’s all solid and relatively utilitarian plastic, too, so it won’t look ready for retirement by its first birthday.
Fortunately it’s just as well thought out under the bonnet. It uses the Volkswagen Group’s latest 1.6 TDI diesel; breathed on to enhance its green credentials and make it as cheap to run as possible. The common rail 104bhp unit is absolutely ideal for the task, being quiet, smooth and surprisingly muscular through second and third in the five speed gearbox – chosen to keep costs down.
It runs out of meaningful puff above 60mph, but it’s still handy enough. It doesn’t feel at all wheezy like some eco-tuned cars, and despite a split-second’s diesel chatter after firing it up it’s very refined.
So it’s big and practical, economical, smooth and simple. Great stuff. Sadly, no car is perfect and the Octavia Greenline does have one or two niggles. One is its price. It doesn’t really have much standard equipment of note aside from air conditioning, a touch-screen media interface and cruise control, but the on-the-road price seems high at £19,305.
The second is that the tyres, being very high-profile efficiency-boosting items on small 15-inch alloy wheels, are very stiff to minimise rolling resistance. As anyone who’s ever driven on first-generation run-flats will know, stiff tyres mean lots of road noise.
Motorway Tarmac quality varies massively and on the brand new, billiard table-smooth dark-coloured stuff the tyres are as quiet as the proverbial church mouse, but on any other surface they make a real din; much more than you’d get from normal tyres of this size.
They do serve their purpose, helping the Greenline reach astronomical MPG figures. But as daft as it sounds, if you’re going to cover a lot of motorway miles it’d be a good investment to drive your brand new car off the forecourt and straight into a tyre-fitting workshop to swap them to something equally good quality but less noisy for around £60 per corner.
Otherwise it’s very comfortable even over long distances. Its seats aren’t as hard as a lot of VW Group cars’ are and the Octavia is the better for it. It’s also wide enough to seat three kids in the back without things getting too crowded, so for family holidays it ticks just about every box. Likewise for business users, who can enjoy the spectacularly low benefit-in-kind payments that the Greenline technology allows for.
It’s a thoroughly honest car, this Octavia. It is what it is and it does what it does, with no flowery details or unnecessary pomp. It just works and it’s very easy to like it. It’s not flashy and it doesn’t make any overt statements, and it’s a car that you can’t help but respect.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Skoda Octavia Greenline II, £19,305 on the road.Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel producing 104bhp and 184lb.ft.Transmission: 5-speed gearbox driving the front wheels.Performance: Top speed 119mph, 0-62mph in 11.4 seconds.Fuel economy: 68.9mpg.CO2 rating: 107g/km.