“It’s big and it’s got lots of buttons,” observes my ten-year-old son, with an economy of language that suggests a career in motoring journalism is surely well within his grasp.
He’s just clambered into the new Skoda Octavia Estate SE 4x4 for the first time and he’s right on both counts. Size matters when it comes to cars suitable for a family of five, and first impressions of the Octavia are particularly favourable on this.
The cabin is cavernous and, with a wheelbase that’s almost 11cm longer than the previous generation of Octavias, there’s loads of room for leggy passengers in the front, and plenty of knee room in the back – more indeed than any other car in the same segment. But probably still not enough to stop him and his 12-year-old brother and seven-year-old sister from squabbling. The car with that amount of space does not exist, and never will.
The boot is huge and it needs to be, as we’re about to embark on a 2,000-mile round trip to France and will be packing the usual half ton of “holiday essentials”. The handbook says its capacity is 610 litres, a pleasing unit of measurement given my intention to cram the car with as much plonk as possible on the return journey. If the rear seats were folded down, that space would grow to 1,740 litres. I can but dream.
There’s more space in the door panels, too, as well as overhead sunglasses storage, cupholders between the seats and a compartment by the steering wheel for loose change. In the back is a foldable centre armrest with cupholders – though having three children makes this redundant.
And those buttons? He could be referring to the dial for the dual-zone air-conditioning with humidity control, which lets driver and passenger set the temperature they want, while keeping the windscreen fog-free. Or the button for heated seats in the front, or the electric windows front and back, or the central locking. Or maybe it’s the one for the driving mode selection, which offers normal, eco, sport and individual settings, altering the torque, steering, accelerator sensitivity and air conditioning accordingly.
Most likely, he’s talking about the knob for turning on the touch-screen infotainment system, which includes the trip computer as well as DAB/FM radio, USB and aux-in sockets for playing MP3s, plus Bluetooth for streaming music from phones and other devices. There are eight speakers, and the usual din the children listen to can be diverted to any area of the car, front/back, left/right, at the touch of a button. The CD player is in the glovebox, which isn’t convenient if you’re driving solo and want to swap discs.
Seated behind the height-and-reach adjustable steering wheel, I feel strangely low down, like I’m struggling to peer over the dashboard. A few tweaks of a lever beneath the seat elevates me sufficiently, but the children in the back still have to crane their necks to see out the windows. This hardly matters, as they usually spend almost all car journeys engrossed in DS games or watching DVDs, but it does limit the options for I-Spy when the batteries run out…
As for how it looks on the outside, it probably won’t turn too many heads, and you may struggle to pick it out in a supermarket carpark – to my untrained eye it’s indistinguishable from a VW Passat and not too dissimilar to the Audi A4 – but I like to think it has sleek styling and a certain understated elegance. My wife disagrees, describing it as dull. Oh well, each to their opinion.
On our first drive, the car feels solid and handles well. Its steering is precise and its turning circle pretty good for a car this big. While its 4x4 prowess isn’t really tested on Edinburgh’s dry and rutted roads, it accelerates readily and cruises happily at high speed.
“I want one when I’m older,” announces my oldest son afterwards. To be honest, so do I. France here we come.
Car Skoda Octavia Estate SE 4x4 2.0TDI 150PS
Engine 2l diesel, 148bhp, 236 lb ft
Performance Max speed 132 mph; 0-62mph in 8.7s
Economy 57.6mpg combined