Skoda Octavia 4x4 Estate: Everything in the balance

In design terms the Octavia is well balanced ' with the front just as clean-cut and good-looking as the rear
In design terms the Octavia is well balanced ' with the front just as clean-cut and good-looking as the rear
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It’s perfectly alright to tuck into a big plate of chips. Equally, a doctor friend assures me that polishing off a bottle of wine – over the course of an evening – is unlikely to do you much harm, as long as you don’t do it every evening. Exercise is good for you, but so is relaxation, even if it is hours spent on the couch watching others on the track, field or in the swimming pool on the television.

It’s all about doing everything in moderation, including moderation, or more accurately, maintaining a balance of good and bad, healthy and “unhealthy”. Given the chance, I’d like to take a wee look round the Czech Republic HQ of the brainiacs at Skoda. I wouldn’t be surprised if the walls were plastered with motivational messages, and if they were, I’m sure they’d say something like “rovnováha je všechno” or as we would say, “balance is all”.

I’m convinced that’s one of the key principles which the company brings to its latest range of fine cars. That’s because I heard the word “balance” used many times by the company’s executives as they waxed lyrically about their latest big baby, the Octavia Estate, when they revealed it to a select band of us in the Austrian Alps.

The Combi, as these foreign chaps call it, and its beefy brother, the 4x4, has got a big job on its hands. The previous model was the best-selling estate car in Europe and there are plenty of them on UK roads too. The reason is quite simple. It’s practical, reliable, economical, spacious and costs less than many of its more prestigious, if similar competitors, including Volkswagen and Audi which are in the same VAG parent group.

So what is this balance thing? Obviously any modern car has to be balanced on the road to return a smooth and secure ride, but these Skoda guys are talking about something more aesthetic and a lot of it is to do with design. That’s one of these intangible things, and is often in the eye of the beholder.

I know a good-looking car when I see one. A designer also knows a good-looking car, but they see something different. Apparently the new Octavia Estate is well-balanced. The front is just as good-looking as the rear and at the sides the shoulder, waist and sill lines all balance each other out… apparently. At the back end, the rear door has a well-balanced look with clear-cut lines on the door and back pillar. Away from the design babble, the new Octavia strikes a great balance between rationality and attractiveness – they say.

“Space in a beautiful shape” is what the marketing people call it. All I know is that the car drives really well, everything fits really well, the sale price suits the wallet really well, there’s loads of space, and on the looks front… yes, it pleases the eye really well.

“Simply clever” is Skoda’s sales tag these days and, simply put, it’s very 
effective. It’s done a lot of basic stuff which really is clever and seems to have passed by some of the more upmarket brands. The ice scraper incorporated in the petrol filler cap, the holder for the high-vis vest under the driver’s seat and the double-sided floor covering the boot may not win any awards for technical innovation, but they are all useful and sensible for the Skoda owner.

My interest though was in the 4x4 version which makes up about 20 per cent of all estate sales. The latest model features a new fifth-generation transmission system which is lighter than before and returns better economy and driving dynamics. In normal conditions it happily drives the front wheels but as soon as it detects any problems with grip, it calls up the rear wheels to join in the fun. It’s silky smooth and relished the gravel tracks I introduced it to.

The two-litre diesel engine is superbly capable and I love the whole car’s understated approach to the job in hand. If I had any criticism, it is that the ride height might still be a little low and could cause problems if you undertake more challenging off-road driving.

I’m told there may be an off-road pack available later this year which will deal with that – and some time next year a new Scout version with tougher underbody protection and greater ground clearance. In the meantime, this Skoda combines good looks and serious practicality. Finely balanced of course.

VITAL STATS

CAR Skoda Octavia Estate 2.0 TDi 4x4

PRICE £22,390

PERFORMANCE Max speed 132 mph. 0-62 mph 8.7 secs

MPG (combined) 57.6

CO2 EMISSIONS 124g/km