This column is a farewell to an old friend, as it heads towards that great car lot in the sky. It has ably served millions of owners with no end of hard work and oodles of charm. And not just blue-collar charm.
The car of which I speak is the Skoda Octavia and three generations of it transformed the fortunes of the Czech manufacturer and made this model a legend among drivers from every walk of life.
Since we first saw the Octavia, back in 1996 — shortly after Volkswagen took over Skoda — it has become that most unusual of things: an everyman’s car.
People talk wistfully about the VW Beetle and how the ‘people’s car’ schtick of the company’s name actually did apply to it — and still applies to its successor, the Golf. Those cars appealed to an unbelievably broad cross-section.
But the Octavia is a modern-day version of those VW greats, because it has been bought and loved by everyone from doctors to dockers and taxi drivers, farmers, sales reps and various others of the high-mileage, up-early-in-the-morning brigade (as our Taoiseach would have it). In doing so, this Skoda became a nailed-on legend.
Through those three generations, the Octavia has captured the hearts and minds of an very wide audience, but its legacy will depend on the fourth iteration, sketches of which were printed in these columns a few weeks ago and which will hit the streets here sometime — possibly early — next year.
As the reign of the third generation Octavia comes to a close, then, Skoda is doing what all manufacturers do in an attempt to wring the last from the sales potential of every model: it is producing what is known in the trade as ‘a run-out model’.
This is a neatly tarted-up version of the car, with some special colour choices, maybe added body kit, a few interior baubles, and one or two specification upgrades. The intention is to keep both production and sales brisk until the day when the latest model gets driven out the factory gates.
People are attracted to run-out models, because even though they know there might be some residual fall-off in value when they eventually sell the car on, they balance this potential loss by citing the original value they got for all the added kit.
In the case of this week’s tester — the Octavia Soleil — that will definitely be the case. There is €3,000 worth of added kit on this car, but the difference in price between it and the Ambition model is just €500, so potential owners are already two-and-a-half grand to the good.
And for a car such as the Octavia, which already has such broad appeal, that sort of economic incentive can only mean added sales, even if the car is in its run-out phase.
Just to give you an idea of the specification additions to the Soleil, standard on the car are 16” alloys, front and rear LED lights, half-leather upholstery, driver’s seat lumbar support, parking sensors and a rear camera, heated front seats, auto lights and wipers, an 8” touchscreen, privacy glass, cruise control, leather steering wheel, an eight-speaker sound system, and all-round electric windows.
All that adds up to a pretty comprehensive package. Oh, and you get a cigarette lighter, too, which is something of a rarity these days (so smokers out there be advised).
With such an ample suite of goodies, you can also reflect that the Octavia — as has always been the case — has a huge interior, considering it is only supposed to be Golf-sized by definition and a boot that, in Dublin 4, could easily be let out as a ‘bijou’ apartment.
The tester was fitted with the familiar 1.6 TDI engine (115 bhp, 0-100 kph in a smidgen over ten seconds and economy of 4.1 l/100 km, or 68 mpg in ‘old money’) and while it won’t deliver exhilarating performance, the experience is definitely improved by the seven-speed, DSG automatic gearbox.
It is possible to extract a decent performance from this machine and the DSG makes sure you are never caught short when passing a determined lorry, for example. It is not mind-blowing, certainly, but it is well able to keep most people happy.
The ride and handling are perfectly acceptable for a car of this middle-of-the-road stature and there is little in these departments to complain about.
One thing annoyed me and it has becoming something of a motoring bugbear for me. This Octavia was fitted with a proximity warning sensor to alert you that you’re too close to the car in front, which is all very well.
On top of that, though, it is also fitted with a lane-change warning, which is all fine and dandy, too, until you take it out on a narrow country road (and I live in the countryside), where it is sometimes impossible not to creep across the centre-line. When you do, the steering reacts to get you back to where you should be and, in certain circumstances, this can be frightening.
In all too many cars these days, this system cannot be turned off by pressing a button. In the case of the Octavia, you have to go into the car’s central menu to turn it off and this is awkward.
Some manufacturers — like Kia, Peugeot, Citroen, Mazda, and so forth — employ the simple button method, whereby you can turn the system on if you need, but otherwise it remains inactive.
The system employed here — similar to a host of Mercedes we’ve tried in recent months — is constantly on and has to be turned off every single time you pull out of your driveway. Correct this, please, Skoda.
All told, the Soleil is an excellent rendition of an excellent car and the added kit will attract many drivers who are not put off by the ‘run-out’ tag that comes with it. And, frankly, they should not be, either.
So, farewell then, Octavia Mk111: your replacement will be along shortly.