Brawn meets brains

Mid-size wagon blends turbo power with the lat­est gad­gets — and adds more peace of mind

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK -

THERE is a new rea­son to con­sider a Skoda this week.

It’s a five-year warranty that moves the Czech con­tender into equal sec­ond place in the warranty wars in Aus­tralia, equal with Hyundai and only trail­ing the seven-year stan­dard set by Kia.

The move to back its qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity should im­prove sec­ond­hand val­ues for own­ers.

The big ques­tion now is when — or if — its par­ent com­pany Volk­swa­gen will also in­crease its warranty cov­er­age.

We al­ready know Skoda makes very good, re­li­able cars that are also good value.

Af­ter driv­ing the lat­est Oc­tavia RS Wagon, I can also re­port that it is se­ri­ously sporty while still classy and prac­ti­cal for a fam­ily. There is a lot to like and I’m strug­gling to find any­thing nasty.

Even so, it’s the ex­tended warranty — now five years with 100,000 kilo­me­tres — that could make the big dif­fer­ence for Skoda in Aus­tralia.

The Czech con­tender orig­i­nally ar­rived as the ju­nior VW brand, priced to sit below Volk­swa­gen and of­fer­ing a bit more space and style.

That idea went out the win­dow when a for­mer VW boss de­cided to cut prices to boost sales of the Golf and Polo,

pulling the rug out from un­der the Skoda ef­fort.

Now the Czech bat­tle plan is about boost­ing value, with a strat­egy of un­der-promis­ing and over-de­liv­er­ing on cars that re­ally are very good.

The Oc­tavia RS is one of the best, with a 162kW tur­bocharged en­gine, fron­twheel drive and a roomy sta­tion wagon tail that dis­guises the hot-hatch per­for­mance. Think of it as a Golf GTI in a school uni­form. It’s not cheap at $41,890, but it is good value and the wagon price needs to be com­pared with the GTI hatch from $46,990.

The Oc­tavia got a to­tal makeover in June last year, bring­ing the pack­age up to the stan­dard of the lat­est Golf but with the usual de­sign dif­fer­ences that give a Skoda — for some peo­ple — more per­son­al­ity with the same im­pres­sive VW qual­ity cabin fin­ishes. It also ar­rived with up to $4300 worth of value im­prove­ments.

Sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tions to the stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion in­cluded auto safety brak­ing and radar cruise con­trol on all Oc­tavia mod­els. The ba­sic car also has a rear cam­era, rear park­ing radar and smart­phone mir­ror­ing on the cen­tre screen.

The RS model trumps that with a drive-mode se­lec­tor, sports chas­sis tun­ing, an elec­tronic lock­ing dif­fer­en­tial and shift pad­dles for the sixspeed DSG auto.

It’s im­por­tant to also re­mem­ber that the Oc­tavia qual­i­fies as a medium-class car where the Golf is only small, thanks to an ex­tra 60 mil­lime­tres in the wheel­base.

ON THE ROAD

Very few peo­ple know what the Oc­tavia RS is, or what it can do. It flies un­der the radar in al­most ev­ery way and even the RS sports pack doesn’t make it a look-at-me kind of car.

It’s smooth, el­e­gant and swift. It will eas­ily han­dle a trip to the shops but re­ally shines on long in­ter­state runs, where the bi-xenon lamps, sup­port­ive sports seats and easy over­tak­ing punch make it a great long-haul friend.

It’s also got a good sound sys­tem with ex­cel­lent con­nec­tiv­ity.

The idea of 162kW im­presses friends but they re­ally like what they see in the tail, with ter­rific car­ry­ing space, a big flat floor and good flex­i­bil­ity.

The turbo en­gine does a great job in all con­di­tions and I like the mode se­lec­tion switch, which al­lows me to wind back to Eco for com­mut­ing then run up to sports for the best throt­tle re­sponse and crispest shifts. It re­ally punches from about 2500 revs thanks to 350Nm of torque, al­though that some­times means the elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial con­trol strug­gles to get power to the ground with­out lim­it­ing the en­gine’s out­put. The six-speed twin­clutch gear­box works well in all con­di­tions, al­though the plas­tic

pad­dles be­hind the wheel feel small and cheap. It also needs pre­mium fuel.

For me, the RS also needs to be a bit more “spe­cial” in­side, per­haps some­thing more sporty in the dash and seat trim­ming, to move it fur­ther away from the Golf GTI.

The Oc­tavia RS is a big lit­tle car with a big heart that’s en­joy­able to drive and just gets the job done.

THE TICK

It’s hard to un­der­stand why Skoda is still strug­gling in Aus­tralia.

The Oc­tavia RS is a re­ally good car in a range of re­ally good cars, with Volk­swa­gen en­gi­neer­ing and qual­ity but with­out the stig­mas that have hit the Ger­man par­ent com­pany in re­cent years. It’s a car that does good fam­ily work and can also turn on the speed and driv­ing en­joy­ment.

It def­i­nitely de­serves The Tick, es­pe­cially with the warranty change.

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