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Old 9th September 2013, 09:58   #1
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Default The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

Mod Note : Team-BHP's Official Skoda Octavia Review has been taken live at this link (Skoda Octavia : Official Review). Please continue the discussion over on the new thread.

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The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05360k300.jpg

Disclaimer: This thread is not going to list all the technical specifications of the soon-to-be-launched 3rd generation Skoda Octavia - there are, and will be, plenty of official reviews on this forum and elsewhere, where the numbers are munched and comparisons with competitors are made.

BHPian Ardy and I were part of a select group of 10 people who won an online contest, the Skoda Unofficial Experts 2 Drive. Skoda India paid for our travel and hospitality during the entire journey. Here, I am going to talk about our general impressions of the 2 cars
- the 2.0 common rail diesel with 6-speed DSG, and the 1.8 TSi petrol with 7-speed DSG, both in Elegance trim - that we drove fairly extensively, the hospitality we received, the general experiences, and share some photographs of the whole event.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05402k300.jpg

Last edited by GTO : 4th October 2013 at 15:43. Reason: Thanks SS-Traveller. Adding link to Official Review!
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Old 9th September 2013, 10:25   #2
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Default re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

Meet Chetan Bhartia, my first point of contact in Skoda India, who announced that I'd been shortlisted as a winner in the contest, and finally that I'd won. A bubbly young chap who worked untiringly to take care of our needs along with the rest of Skoda's PR team - we have a lot to thank them for. How thoughtful can folks be, to include an anti-emetic tablet in the kit presented to each one of us, just because a fast drive in the mountains can induce nausea in some!

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05319k300.jpg

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05389k300.jpg
It was a pleasure to catch up with Ouseph Chacko, Autocar India's Assistant Editor and Skoda's "Official Expert", who put up with my (and Ardy's) driving pattern over a large part of the trip, and shared insights about cars in general and the new Octavia in particular. In the picture above, Ouseph (second from right) seems to need that power nap after the first day's trip!

The surprise meet-up was with Mr. Sudhir Rao, the new Managing Director of Skoda India (seen in the photo below on the left, talking to Jamshid, one of the contest winners) since the last 18 months - a person who came across as warm and approachable, someone who is willing to listen to (even adverse) opinion patiently without any ego issues, someone who can laugh at and make fun of himself, and someone who appears to be genuinely interested to redress customer grievances. More about our discussions with him later on.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05388k300.jpg

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Old 9th September 2013, 10:58   #3
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Default re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

To transport us from the Chandigarh Airport to Timber Trail, our designated car was a Toyota Innova - and someone telepathically heard my snide opinion about Skoda folks' preferences for other manufacturers' cars! Soon after, Ardy and I got switched to a Laura for the trip.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05311k300.jpg

A good lunch at Timber Trail, a round of introductions among contestants and officials, and a presentation about the new car while waiting for the cars to return from Shimla with a group of journalists (including our very own Dippy) who had gone up the previous day, took up quite a few hours.

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The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05335k300.jpg

Talking about any kind of DNA to someone with a little background in medicine always helps! - especially if the DNA is crystalline and poetic as well...

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05336k300.jpg


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Old 9th September 2013, 11:51   #4
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Default re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

The cars come in - and the most striking of the lot, to my eye, is this silver Octavia with a black roof. Not often do I stop to admire the external beauty and aesthetic appeal of a car. For me, what matters is what I can enjoy while at the driver's seat (and how painless the overall ownership experience is). Functionality for me takes precedence over bling and beauty, ergonomics is more important than aesthetic enhancements, and my car is never one that I want to turn heads with. But here's a car that looks (almost) like the Laura or Rapid at first glance, yet it's understated improvements, the road presence and lack of clashing lines somehow make me take a little bit more notice.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05331k300.jpg
(Skoda paid for my comforts - but that isn't going to mean I'll talk ALL positive about the car! The criticisms are going to be equally as much my personal opinion and conviction as the praises!)

But wait - what jars the otherwise impeccable aesthetics of the car is that part of the roof behind the large sunroof panel is in body colour. The most irritating contrast is for white paint! (not photographed here)

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05344k300.jpg

Ardy and I team up to drive the diesel automatic up to Shimla. It seems that not all the participants are familiar with driving a car with automatic transmission. The first thing that strikes me in the face is the big, bold DSG lettering on the shiny shift lever - perhaps that's supposed to say "Dummy, See? - Gears"

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05346k300.jpg

A couple of other features that appear to detract from being 'Simply Clever' - a key fob with flippy key (how about touch start for at least the top-end model, Skoda?)...

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05327k300.jpg

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05328k300.jpg


...and a yawning gap in the manual seat height control lever in the Ambition trim level.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05326k300.jpg

The Elegance trim gets electric seat adjustments with 3 memory positions...

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05341k300.jpg

...BUT... the front passenger seat has no seat height adjustment at all (in any trim level), and extremely poor under-thigh support. With an awkward seating position, my sciatic nerve decided that this was as good a time as any to to start a painful protest! I decided to take Ardy's seat back from him all too soon, and some adjustments later, I was perfectly comfortably seated again. It was Ardy's turn to complain about how uncomfortable the front passenger seat really was (did you miss lateral support, Ardy?).

Two interesting colours - Rio Red (for the younger buyer, and IMO, for those who suffer midlife crisis pangs when buying a nice car), and Race Blue - were not on display and are to be introduced a couple of months after launch. So also the base trim (Active) - for the moment, Ambition and Elegance trims are what you get.

The guy who can afford the top-end trim and bigger engines - the 1.8 TSi and 2.0 CR in Elegance trim - would be knowledgeable enough to drive an automatic. That's at least what Skoda thinks. In their infinite wisdom, they decided not to allow customers of their highest-end Octavias to drive a manual transmission.
If I can afford that bigger price tag, I can also afford a chauffeur - and it's tough to find a chauffeur in this country who's habituated to automatics! They ask for a bigger pay packet to drive an automatic car too. And DSGs do have an adverse reputation in the Indian market, as well as on Team-BHP (DSG Mechatronics Failures: Are we driving them wrongly?).

Give us the freedom to choose, Skoda - 2.0 CR/1.8 TSi in Elegance trim MUST have the manual gearbox as an option!

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Old 9th September 2013, 12:51   #5
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Default re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

I take a peek under the bonnet of the diesel. No hydraulic lifting arm, and the bonnet is heavy. Good exercise for arm muscles. How clever is that? Naah, you, dear owner, do NOT open the bonnet of this car. Even if you somehow manage to, everything is well hidden away from your sight.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05340k300.jpg

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05339k300.jpg

This looks like someone took under-bonnet design cues from a burqa. Everything is black and veiled.
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05337k300.jpg

Here's Ardy lifting the veil and revealing just a little bit of the car's secrets!
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05338k300.jpg

Oh, okay, the NVH levels really need to hide, don't they? I don't get to indulge my voyeuristic tendencies and peer at leisure into where the interesting parts are, though. A few pics, and Let us go, Sir. Please follow the lead car.
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05350k300.jpg

Time to relax and enjoy the drive. This is a road I have driven umpteen times on, and traffic can be unpredictable at the best of times. The rest of the Experts are already raring to hit the red line.

And then it starts to drizzle.
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05349k300.jpg

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Old 9th September 2013, 15:54   #6
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Default re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

The convoy of cars, comprising 5 new Octavias (all of them CBU imports), with a couple of Superbs, an Yeti, and a Rapid, move up towards Shimla, and stops to refuel. I am a little bothered about how well these vehicles would handle the fuel quality prevalent on our highways, especially the TSi engines (both 1.4L and 1.8L); at least the sticker inside the fuel filler lid says that these cars will accept 91RON petrol, and that's reassuring.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05468k300.jpg

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Time for some favourite music, but then, a quick search reveals that there is no USB port where I can plug in my pen drive. I can see a 'media in' plug below the right aircon control knob, and an SD card slot in the 6-CD changer sitting inside the glove compartment - but no USB slot. The company has thoughtfully provided a CD with music that's not all quite to our taste, and the radio has already been preset to certain channels. The big 5.8" screen is quite nice to look at, with minimum glare even in the dark - and I am left wondering if it would have cost an arm and a leg to incorporate a satellite navigation system in at least the cars with Elegance trim. Now THAT would have been simply clever! The sound quality seems quite good to me - but then I am no audiophile - though I suppose it could do with some more bass.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05347k300.jpg

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05376k300.jpg

It appears that a separate cable is supplied with the car, which plugs into the 'Media In' slot, and the other end can take a USB pen drive, a micro USB phone, or an iPhone. The demo cars did not have the cable.

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Old 10th September 2013, 00:30   #7
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The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05373k300.jpg

Driving a torquey common rail diesel uphill is always great fun. More so if you have manual control over the gears. Even more so if the gearshift does not involve using a clutch pedal. 'Drive' and 'Sports' modes are for the uninitiated.

This is a DSG, and in manual mode there's very little else in that price band that can bring a smile to the face. Except two things:
1. There's no paddle shift on the steering wheel, and the left hand has to be off the steering to make those shifts; and
2. Like any other European car, the headlight and turn indicator switch stalk is on the left.

Between the two (gear shifting & headlight/indicator operation), the left hand has too much to do on the busy highway - and that takes away a bit of the pleasure.

Some of the contestants reported a lag in gearshift times when driving in manual mode - happened to me too, until it dawned on me that I wasn't lifting off from the accelerator pedal when shifting. The ECM then decided to do its own engine rpm adjustments to prevent over-revving between / after shifts, and this took a bit of time. Lift off from the throttle like one shifts a manual gearbox, shift, and floor the throttle again - the quickness of the shift cannot obviously be matched with a manual 'box.

Through the high-volume traffic on NH22, the Octavia's free-revving diesel responds exactly how you want it to. Point the nose into a gap, downshift to 2nd gear, floor the A-pedal and the car rockets into the gap well before you'd expect it to. The rev counter is redlined at 5000 rpm, but I never hit the rev limiter - the torque let me carry through into 3rd and 4th after 4000 rpm. Pointless to rev beyond this.

Truth be told, I hadn't taken an ESC (electronic stability control) equipped car into the mountains before this. Yes, I know how it works. Yes, I expect it to keep the car on the road. Yes to all the advice. But one needs to feel it to be impressed. Right around tight bends, the car held its line at 70 km/h, over rough patches that would make a non-ESC vehicle skitter sideways. Over slush where I was expecting the inside front wheel to spin out some of the power, it refused to. This is one exemplary stable car on twisting roads, rough patches or not.

Turning off ESC is not through a simple push of a button - you need to go to the Car menu on the infotainment system, and deactivate it from there. Given how the car handled with ESC on, I wasn't interested to test it with ESC off.

The only grouse I had was that the rear suspension felt rather jittery and harsh. The tail held its line alright, but it thrashed over potholes and imperfections. I figured out the reason the next morning, while driving the 1.8TSi on the return journey (now that's a whole different level of experience - I'll describe it as we get to that stage).

The diesel (and the 1.4L TSi, which I didn't get to drive) gets a solid torsion beam rear axle on coils as seen in the picture below.
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05463k300.jpg

The 1.8 TSi, on the other hand, gets independent multilink rear suspension on coils (pic below), and this has far superior comfort and stability.
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05464k300.jpg

Skoda engineers (or accountants) in their infinite wisdom (or cost-cutting endeavours) have decided that when this car has an engine below a certain power level (150-160 bhp), it gets the torsion beam. The diesel is almost as fast as the 1.8 petrol, the car is a tad (~20 kg) heavier, and the less competent suspension certainly makes one feel a little shortchanged.

One more surprise element. At 155 mm, I thought the ground clearance would be a handicap on the roads we were driving on. Thanks to a stiff suspension, neither Ardy nor I managed to get the underbody to take a hit anywhere (not that we tried THAT hard! ). All versions get 'Underbody Protective Cover' and 'Rough Road Package' as standard, but don't ask me how effective they are - we hadn't deployed them!

205/55R16 Goodyear NCT on all versions and trim levels (the base Active trim will have 5-spoke alloys instead of the ones you see below) - and 55 profile IMO is not the best thing to have on the roads we travelled. A part of the harshness of the suspension can definitely be attributed to this, and I'd actually love to check out how the car feels with (perhaps) 65 profile tyres on 15" wheels.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05329k300.jpg

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Old 10th September 2013, 00:48   #8
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The sun set well before we reached Shimla (it was 8:30 PM when we drove into the Wildflower Hall), and the adaptive bixenon headlights were tested. If you drive with an adaptive headlamp system around mountain hairpins, there's nothing else you'd want so badly. As the steering turns, so do the beams - and that is something one can only wish for in regular headlamps!

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05370k300.jpg

The puddle lamps built into the underside of the ORVMs are not too bright, and one wishes these had been more powerful. The ORVMs automatically fold in when the car is locked (and fold out when the key is turned in the ignition), but I couldn't figure out how to fold them in when negotiating tight spaces. Bigger ORVMs would have helped too - the rearward view through both the ORVMs and the IRVM (which has an auto-dipping feature) is somewhat restrictive.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05368k300.jpg

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Old 10th September 2013, 11:01   #9
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Default Re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

The Wildflower Hall is an iconic hotel. This is where we stay for the night.

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05377k300.jpg

The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05379k300.jpg

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Over dinner, we meet Mr. Sudhir Rao, the Managing Director of Skoda India.
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05384k300.jpg
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05385k300.jpg

Do you want to have a group discussion with him? Oh yes!
The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert-dsc05386k300.jpg

And thus began an illuminating discussion with a very receptive person heading Skoda.

How did you find the car?

The new Octavia is definitely a brilliant little piece of engineering, whatever little quirks there might be. It is out-and-out a driver's car, and is a joy to be at the wheel of - much like most other Skoda products. This was the unanimous opinion of the group.

Would you recommend the car to your friends & associates?

The reservation against recommending a Skoda wholeheartedly, was evident in the faces of all present. What held us all back was the poor reputation of Skoda when it comes to service and maintenance of their cars.

Is Skoda service really that bad?

Skodas in India are painfully expensive to own, and service centres have a reputation, built up carefully over the years, of cheating customers. The initial reaction by Mr. Rao seemed to me, to be one of trying to dissociate the marketing and sales arms from the service and customer care aspects. But then, more discussions seemed to hint at the fact that there is large-scale soul-searching happening inside Skoda.

So how do you propose we handle the service aspects better?
There were Skoda owners there, close friends and relatives of Skoda owners, and non-owners who aspired to own one but were scared to take on the heavy burden of maintenance costs. One of the suggestions put up was that Skoda start something similar to BMW's Service Inclusive plan. Mr. Rao wouldn't commit, but I think his enigmatic smile and guarded response gave away some little secret. The need of the hour would be to wait and watch until Skoda comes out with an announcement.

Should I be easily approachable for unhappy customers or not?
Mr. Rao is scared that he would be swamped by nasty, irate, unhappy customers with broken down Skodas wanting him to redress their grievances personally within the next day. Obviously, that is not going to be a pleasant experience for him, and Mr. Rao wouldn't allow that to happen if he can help it! However, our suggestion was that he should at least have a mechanism in place for escalating major issues directly to him.

You people are suggesting that I take the bull by the horns?
Frankly speaking, Mr. Rao, a big YES! After speaking with you, all of us had nothing but positive vibes to take away. We understand how keen you are to improve Skoda's position in India, and we understand that you may have certain limitations in changing promises to reality.

The final verdict is that a great car marred by poor after-sales support doesn't get a big market share. Some Skodas are already cult cars - the Octavia vRS, the Superb V6 - yet their maintenance issues and spare parts sourcing is taken care of to a large extent by independent garages and importers. We love our cars, Mr. Rao, and we love the warmth that Skoda has shown to us (in fact, having been a part of the first Skoda Unofficial Experts Drive during the launch of the Rapid too, I can vouch for the fact that Skoda's approach this time has been much more warm and thoughtful). It would be wonderful if this warmth and care can be taken forward to each customer of the company. For now, we'll wait and watch how Skoda India evolves under your leadership.

The next morning, Ardy and I will drive the 1.8TSi DSG to Chandigarh via Chail. But in the next post, I shall talk about the next few hours at the hotel...

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Old 10th September 2013, 11:50   #10
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Default Re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Test-Drives Section.

Thanks for sharing, rated 5 stars!
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Old 10th September 2013, 12:42   #11
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Default Re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

Much awaited one! And the review is brilliant!! Thanks a ton.

The car per se is fantastic. I have a hunch that it would not be reachable to the masses as the previous gen Octy (read Laura) , which looks much inferior in comparison was poking INR 20 Lakhs OTR.

I wish Skoda to price this beautiful car sensibly.
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Old 10th September 2013, 12:54   #12
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Default Re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

A fantastic read and a well deserved 5 stars!! Exceptionally exhaustive and informative and i look forward to reading more!!
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Old 10th September 2013, 13:07   #13
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Default Re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

Hey wonderful! Congrats on winning the contest . And thanks a lot for the compact yet very informative review. Nice pictures. I really loved the diesel engine bay. Very well arranged & perfectly covered. Looks elegant - but will be hard to work with on our own probably. Thanks again!
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Old 10th September 2013, 13:42   #14
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Default Re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

Thank you for a wonderful write up. It does look like Skoda is serious about correcting their after sales service.

Being a Skoda owner, I can see a change where I get calls from their Mumbai office after every visit to their service centers for feedback.

On the car itself, I'd love to upgrade, but only if the pricing is within what I would want to pay. So all decisions held off till the 18th of September!

Karthik
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Old 10th September 2013, 13:53   #15
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Default Re: The 2013 Skoda Octavia | Views of an Unofficial Expert

Waiting for more. I hope he has taken all your sane advice positively and act upon it. keeping fingers crossed
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