Small-capacity Octavia big on everything

This should not work. It definitely should not work.

Small-capacity Octavia big on everything

I mean, a one-litre turbocharged, three- cylinder engine hauling along a big, sturdy family saloon does not sound like a very workable proposition. In fairness, it does not, does it?

In times past when small one litre engines were only made for microminis or fancy-dan lawnmowers, people would have — rightly — scoffed at the concept of a substantial four or five door car being powered by such a thing. And not only would they have scoffed, they would not have bought one either, thinking it to be a ridiculous, puny waste of time.

Of course, the small petrol engine revolution is now with us and the likes of Ford, Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Opel and all the family members in the VW Group have got on the one litre wagon.

Aside from feeling smug about this situation — primarily as we here at Examiner Motoring have been predicting such a phenomenon for quite some time now — the move by manufacturers to small capacity petrol engines in the face of the dying diesel breed was always going to happen.

Think of it. Back in the early 80s when Formula One racing was in the throes of a turbocharged era, the 1.5- litre engines made back then by the likes of Ferrari, BMW, and Renault, were producing over 1,000 bhp and as much as 1,200 bhp in qualifying trim where their accelerative powers were astonishing and longevity surprising.

So, big horsepower, small capacity petrol engines are not exactly mysterious and unknown things. And, with the advance of technologies in terms of engine manufacture, electronics and turbocharging, the ability of engineers to produce viable, economic and suitably powerful modern pieces of kit is — now — soup du jour.

It may be that the efforts we have seen thus far from the manufacturers are a little distant from the explosive F1 powerplants of yore — and this week’s tester is quite far removed — but it is the beginning of a massive mind-set adjustment in the car buying public as they spurn diesel in their droves.

Even so, the psychological reboot that’s needed for many people to get their head around the thought of a small petrol engine for their family saloon/hatchback is a biggie, but I am here to tell you that what Skoda have come up with in their Octavia TSI 1.0, will change many minds.

Despite my continued advocacy of the breed, I must confess I was a little nervous approaching this test myself, worried that the Octavia, which is quite trim in comparative terms with others in the class, but very bulky when you consider the size of the engine. I should not have fretted.

Consider the facts: Output of 115 bhp; a sub-10 second 0-100kph time; a top speed of 202kph; a joyously sonorous three cylinder thrum; emissions of just 102 g/km (for an annual tax bill of just €190); and, economy which while not quite of diesel proportions is not at all bad at 4.5 l/100 km (62.2 mpg) which should raise an eyebrow or two among prospective buyers.

Obviously the real-world consumption figures will not be as idealised as those coming from the manufacturer, but with judicious use of the loud pedal — a sometimes difficult thing in these quarters — and careful application of the (very slick) six speed gearbox, it should be possible to record and maintain figures that are pretty close to anything a diesel could offer.

My biggest fear for the car was that it would be weedy and wooden, particularly on the open road and I have to say I was nearly shocked at how good it was in terms of response and vigour.

Overtaking was always going to be a potential problem on roads other than motorways, especially when passing trucks, but not so. It was as sharp as a tack and as willing as a puppy dog.

The other worry was that it would run out of steam on a regular basis and that your arm would be falling off you from all the gear changing necessary to keep it at its work. Again, not the case, as the powerband offered was wide enough to cover most driving requirements and the peak torque of 200 Nm was achieved at between 2,000 and 3,500 rpm which gives you very decent driving flexibility, even with a small gang on board.

A hefty gang, in fairness, may exercise the arm a bit more.

I was surprised and delighted in equal measure that the Skoda actually lived up to the high expectations I had for it and, admittedly, just a little big smug that this engine was as good as it was and that all my soap-boxing wasn’t all the of the Monster Raving Loony Party variety, sensible as I’m sure they are.

As for the Octavia itself, well we all know the car to be well built, sturdy, hard-working, well-specified, solid and good looking as well. It is assuredly not the best handler out there, understeering willingly when pressed, but it is not bad at all and will definitely satisfy the needs of most customers without shocking them anytime.

For those who want testosterone-filled experiences, other Octavias fill that need.

But for day to day driving and doing stuff such as the shopping or the school run and all those other requirements, the Octavia TSI will manage everything with aplomb. That it is one of the more practical cars of this or any other era, is a given.

A woman of my acquaintance who was asking advice about her next car almost choked on her gin and tonic when I told her the Octavia TSI was something she should look at very carefully before buying. Knowing of my penchant for all things Skoda, the recommendation of the Octavia was no surprise to her, but the thumbs-up for the one litre caused a mild splutter.

And, I suspect, that is going to be the case with many more of those people who are prepared to try this thing out and see just how good it actually is.

There will be elements of shock, consternation and downright bafflement that Skoda has managed to make this jammer a very workable and usable car and one which — I have no doubt — will keep dealerships busy (and happy) for quite some time to come.

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