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Skoda Octavia: The versatile family car that revitalised a brand

Remodelled as a large family car, the Skoda Octavia range has been winning sales - and awards - for 20 years. Paul Connolly looks at the latest models

When Skoda trumpeted the manufacture of the sixth millionth Octavia model last summer, it was just the latest milestone in the history of a remarkable success story.

The Octavia was essentially the key car that helped relaunch Skoda from a fusty communist-era Czech car maker to the international powerhouse it is today.

Part of the Volkswagen Group since the early 90s, Skoda continues to earn plaudits - and sales - for its increasingly diverse range of small cars, saloons and SUVs.

Octavia is Skoda's most popular model, with around 40% of all new Skodas being Octavias.

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The first-generation Octavia was released in November 1996 but didn't go on sale in the UK until '98. It was an instant hit with drivers looking for a solid family car that was refined but also great value for money.

The car was widely used by taxi drivers, who valued its price, size, reliability and good leasing arrangements for self-employed cabbies.

The build quality of the Octavia and other models which followed hard on its heels blew away a generation of Skoda/Lada jokes (although Lada was unable to emulate Skoda's success).

Fast forward to 2004, and the second-generation Octavia was born. As well as sedan and estate body styles, two four-wheel drive models were introduced: the 4x4 and the Scout.

The third generation Octavia - the current one - went on sale in the UK and Ireland in early spring 2013.

It was bigger, roomier and lighter than its predecessor, and had significant improvements to its engines and onboard technology.

What's new?

A mid-life facelift last year refreshed the current Octavia. With the introduction of the smaller Skoda Rapid, Skoda's designers moved the Octavia upwards, both in size and designation. It's now a large family hatchback and comes equipped with everything associated with that segment, including improved towing ability.

The upgrade gave it redesigned front and rear sections, streamlined body and a wider track. Improved interior space, functionality, technology for safety as well as comfort, and value for money remain key features.

Customers have a choice of four trim levels: S, SE, SE Technology, SE L and the range-topping L&K.

The latest Octavia is also distinguished by a large range of derivative models including the sporty Octavia RS series, all-wheel drive Octavia Combi 4x4, frugal Octavia GreenLine, gas-powered Octavia G-TEC (not so common in the UK and Ireland) and the outdoorsy Octavia Scout.

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Under the bonnet

The engine portfolio comprises the latest Group petrol and diesel units with power outputs ranging from 63kW (86 PS) to 180kW (245 PS).

Depending on the engine version, the Skoda Octavia is also available with advanced direct-shift transmission (DSG) and all-wheel drive.

Entry level models

The S trim (from £17,800) is well appointed, with features that include 16" Alcantras alloy wheels with anti-theft wheel bolts, smartphone connectivity including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and an 8" Bolero touchscreen infotainment system with SD card.

SE (£19,095) gets better tech and kit including 16" Ilias alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control air con with humidity sensor and cruise control.

As the name suggests, SE Technology (also from £19,095) is more tech-focused.

Features include 8.0" Amundsen touchscreen sat nav and integrated Wi-Fi, adaptive cruise control with front assist and front/rear parking sensors.

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Higher-spec cars

You'll pay an extra few grand for SE L models (from £22,460), but that gives premium kit like Alcantara & leather upholstery, and full LED headlights, more engine choices and AFS and LED daytime running lights.

Trade up to range-topping L&K trim (£28,390) for further premium kit like 9.2" Columbus touchscreen sat nav with 3D maps, a Canton sound system and a heated 3-spoke multi-functional steering wheel.

Octavia vRS

As well as the standard Octavias and associated estate versions, a range of derivative models has been added to the Octavia family.

The sporty vRS variant has received a new range-topper: the vRS 245, the fastest and most powerful Skoda Octavia ever.

Available as a hatchback and a combi estate, the vRS 245 has a 2.0 TSI engine that produces 245 PS and allows the compact sports car to sprint from 0 to 62mph in just 6.6 seconds (6.7 seconds for the estate.

It also has new lighting systems an integrated Wi-Fi hotspot and numerous driver assistance systems improve comfort and safety in the car.

Octavia Scout

Notable amongst the other variants is the Scout model. This terrain version received a significant upgrade at the start of last year that gave it two engine variants and state-of-the-art all-wheel-drive technology with an electronically controlled, hydraulic multi-plate clutch.

Ground clearance for the compact five-door was increased by 30mm in comparison to the estate, helping the compact five-door master rough terrain. It boasts good climbing capability, a high towing capacity and electronic differential lock (EDL) as standard on front and rear axles.

Who would buy one?

The Octavia will suit anyone with a requirement for a large family car, a good tower or an active outdoors lifestyle (in particular the Scout).

Additionally, anyone looking for power and excitement should check out RS models. All cars have good depreciation value and there is a vibrant used marketplace.

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