Skoda is leaving no stone unturned, thus you get 3 engine options to choose from; 2 petrol (1.4L, 1.8L) and 1 diesel (2.0L). On paper, the displacement looks similar to the Jetta & Laura’s motors, but make no mistake, these are all new powerplants. They are designed for use on the MQB platform and cannot be retrofitted on the older PQ35 platform. TSI stands for Turbocharged Stratified Injection. This is VW speak for direct-injection turbocharged technology that brings higher levels of performance to small displacement petrols. The only other manufacturer to offer this tech to the mass market is Ford (related link
The 1.4L TSI Petrol (6-Speed Manual)
The 1395 cc turbo-charged motor is from a new EA211 family of VW petrols. This engine has been developed for the MQB platform and has seen quite a lot of changes. For one, the engine is rotated by 180 degrees in the engine bay, with the exhaust side now facing the firewall. This positioning is standard for all petrol/diesel engines designed for the MQB chassis. The exhaust manifold is integrated onto the block to bring the engine up to operating temperature quicker. On the intake side, the intercooler is integrated with the manifold. The crankcase uses diecast aluminium (vs cast iron) for weight saving purposes. There is a healthy bump up in power compared to the older EA111 1.4L engine of the Jetta. 138 BHP (4,500 - 6,000 rpm) and 250 Nm torque (1,500 - 3,500 rpm) from a 1.4L engine are impressive numbers. The 250 Nm of torque particularly stands out as it is the same as the larger 1.8L TSI.
Fire up the engine and it settles into a very refined idle. The clutch isn't the lightest, but it’s precise unlike the Laura 1.8 TSI which was easy to stall. That said, you need to get the revs up to get going. Low end torque is mediocre till ~2,000 rpm. While driveability isn't as bad as the Civic, it's no Altis either. Turbo-lag is noticeable and you'll need to downshift frequently in the city. If you have a sedate driving style, driving around town won't pose a problem as long as you are patient. Just don’t expect to pull off a quick overtaking manoeuvre or quickly close a traffic gap without dropping a gear (or two). Past 2,500 rpm, there is a nice push and the Octavia 1.4L moves smartly. Mid-range performance is the engine’s forte. Progress is brisk and the 1.4L likes to be revved. If you can keep the engine in the power band, you will be rewarded with sprightly performance. It is decidedly superior to the Jetta 1.4 TSI & outright pep more than meets the need for most buyers, including those who frequent the highway. Driving through the hills though reveals a weakness typical of turbocharged petrols. The only usable gears are second & third, as you need to keep the turbo on boost to be able to climb up. The 6-speed manual transmission is slick. I didn't miss a single shift and got used to the gearbox within minutes of driving. The throws are on the longer side, but the gates are precise. Thanks to the 6th gear, expect this engine to be a good long distance cruiser.
A well priced Ambition 1.4L TSI with adequate performance & efficiency may just click with price-sensitive customers who have low running and don’t see the need for a diesel.
1.4L block in the large engine bay looks rather small, leaving some pockets of empty space:
The Petrol doesn't need any sound damping under the hood. Lack of gas struts is surprising as the bonnet is heavy!
Interestingly, the air intake has tubes of varying length. My guess is, these are tuned for different frequencies to reduce the intake sound:
Smaller battery of the 1.4 leaves an empty void at the front:
The 1.8L TSI Petrol (7-Speed DSG)
The flagship engine for the Octavia is undoubtedly the 1.8L TSI petrol. As I mentioned earlier, all engines are brand new. This EA888 motor shares the same model number as the earlier 1.8 TSI, but is now in its 3rd generation. It too has the exhaust manifold integrated onto the engine block itself. For improved NVH levels, this motor uses balancer shafts with low friction bearings.
The 1.8 TSI sees a power increase of almost 20 horses to 178 BHP (5,100 - 6,200 rpm). Torque remains the same at 250 Nm (1,250 - 5,000 rpm). The torque has probably been restricted, as the Octavia 1.8L TSI is only available with the 7 speed dry clutch DSG gearbox (DQ200). This gearbox can handle a maximum torque rating of 250 Nm.
The Octavia 1.8 isn't the quietest when fired up, with a faint whine heard on the inside. You really have to pay attention to notice it though. Slot the gear lever into D and a slight dab on the accelerator is enough for you to realise there is something special under the hood. Engine response to your right foot is instantaneous. It’s easy to be in "D" mode and not realise the speeds you’re doing. Acceleration is brutal from a standstill, and the motor revs up to its 6,500 rpm redline effortlessly. The engine note is so addictive that you can’t help but floor the accelerator whenever you see an empty stretch, ending up with a huge grin plastered across your face
. Adding to the fun is the high pitched turbo whoosh at high revs. Performance is easily the best in class, and beats all cars from a segment up too.
Unlike the smaller 1.4L, the Octavia 1.8 is a breeze to drive in the city. Torque delivery is strong and the car pulls well in higher gears too. With the lighter steering & automatic gearbox, the 1.8 TSI is an effortless urban commuter. The gearbox is quick to upshift and will engage 6th gear even at speeds as slow as 60 kph. While this is good for mileage, it can get irritating in traffic, because the box then has to downshift 2 (sometimes 3) gears when quick acceleration is required. 1st gear in the DSG appears to be extremely short, whereas 2nd seems taller. The DSG is reluctant to shift into 1st and prefers to slip the clutch in 2nd many times. I tried using D mode in the hills and realised that the engine can get bogged down in 2nd gear at low speeds. The DSG refuses to downshift to first, so you just have to wait for the turbo to kick in. Once it does, there's ample power on tap.
While "D" mode is good for the city, Sports mode is where all the fun is. In Sports mode, the gearbox holds onto lower ratios longer and will not upshift easily. Depending on how heavy you are with the right foot, you can hold the gear till the redline (after which it automatically upshifts). Sports mode is also very eager to kick-down and will drop a few gears at the slightest tickle of the accelerator. There’s much more engine braking on tap in Sports mode, with the ECU even blipping the throttle nicely when downshifting. The only fly in the ointment is again, the reluctance to drop down to 1st gear, unless you floor the pedal.
Unfortunately, the Octavia 1.8L isn't equipped with paddle shifts. Majority of the time, I was using Tiptronic mode as, up the ghats, you only need 2 gears (2nd and 3rd). Going downhill, manually changing gears in Tiptronic mode provides the best engine braking. Each time you tap the gear lever to downshift, the ECU will blip the throttle to rev match before dropping a gear.
I know many purists think the fun-to-drive factor has been diluted by the DSG, but I’m a sucker for quick shifting automatics. Give me the DSG over a manual any day. I just hope that the gremlins of the DQ200 have been sorted. Skoda says that the software has been modified to fix the earlier issues. Nevertheless, DSG reliability problems remain fresh in our heads (related thread
New 1.8L EA888 Gen 3 motor is a tight fit in the engine bay:
No damping for the 1.8L means you can hear it sing:
Massive Airbox. Notice that the intake is at the front, and the exhaust side at the back, for the MQB platform:
You can barely see the turbo down there. Space is truly at a premium:
MQB has universal engine mounts for both, petrol and diesel engines:
battery in a felt cover:
The 2.0L TDI Diesel (6-Speed DSG)
The engine that will constitute a majority of sales will naturally be the 2.0 TDI diesel. The new EA288 family of diesels is specific to the MQB platform, but goes a step further in modular architecture. VW calls this the MDB or Modular Diesel Engine System. VW has 2 engines with this architecture, a 1.6L and this 2.0L. Both can be customized by bolting on components, depending on the target market’s emission requirements (i.e. EU4, EU5 or EU6). EU4 markets get a catalytic converter that is placed closer to the exhaust manifold. The EU5 version gets a DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) while the EU6 engine gets a NOx storage catalytic converter / SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) system. Apart from the exhaust treatment, the intercooler has been integrated with the intake manifold as a single module. Where the petrol engines had to be rotated by 180 degrees, the diesel remains the same as the intake was already facing the front in earlier applications. For improved NVH levels, this motor uses balancer shafts with low friction bearings.
All of this translates to 141 BHP @ 4,000 rpm and a hefty 320 Nm torque from 1,750 - 3,000 rpm. The 3 BHP increase over the Jetta & Laura isn't too much. Internationally, this engine has an output of 148 BHP; it appears that the Euro 4 variant is slightly down on horsepower.
Diesel clatter is well-controlled on the inside, and refinement levels have improved, yet you’re always aware that there is an oil-burner under the hood. Rev hard above 3,000 rpm and you can hear the diesel thrum inside the cabin. However, at cruising speeds, refinement is top class. In “D” mode, I found the diesel better off the blocks than the petrol. The diesel is immensely practical for urban commuting, with ample torque available at low rpms. To maximise fuel efficiency, the DSG shifts up quickly and reaches top gear at speeds as low as 60 kph. Shift quality is smooth & seamless. Plus, due to the additional torque, downshifts aren't as frequent as in the 1.8L petrol. This 2.0L is a known workhorse and delivers respectable fuel-economy under most driving conditions. The all-rounded nature makes it one of the most popular motors in the VAG group.
The diesel is free revving and will easily hit its redline of 5,000 rpm. The torque available gives you a proper kick and you’re pushed back into the seat. On the highway, the engine + gearbox combination shines. You simply don’t realise the speeds you’re doing! Expressway performance & cruising ability are of a very tall order.
“D” mode offers no engine braking, with the box shifting to the highest gear the minute your foot comes off the accelerator. “S” mode is the best if you're in the mood to play. The DSG holds onto gears longer and will downshift to rev match as soon as the speed reduces...even if you’re not pressing the accelerator pedal. I didn’t use Tiptronic mode a lot in the diesel, as it wasn't as much fun as in the petrol. You can’t help but compare the 2.0L DSG diesel with the 1.8L DSG petrol. The 6 speed wet clutch DSG is effortless, yet not as quick to shift as the petrol's 7 speed box. Downshifts from high speed (for a quick overtaking move) are especially delayed. The DSG is no doubt superior to any of the other auto boxes out there. However, downshift response time in some situations remains its Achilles' heel.
New EA288 series diesel engine fits snugly inside the engine bay:
Diesel gets sound damping under the hood:
Notice the engine mount on the left. Identical to that of the petrols:
A view of the tight packaging:
The 2.0L TDI Diesel (6-Speed Manual)
Good news for manual transmission addicts. Where the Laura 5-speed MT was only available with the 108 BHP / 250 Nm lower spec diesel, the Octavia 6-speed MT gets the full 141 BHP / 320 Nm treatment. The gearbox ratios are perfectly matched to the engine and offer an ideal balance of driveability, performance and fuel-economy.
The first time that you drive the Octavia MT, you will
stall the car. I'm willing to bet on it. In fact, you'll go on to stall the engine a couple of times, before getting a hang of its behaviour. Unlike the Yeti that used to stall only when moving from a standstill, the Octavia stalls (completely without warning
) even if you drop the revvs too low on the move....say, while crawling over a rumble strip in 2nd gear. It should take a while to get used to. We found ourselves stalling the Octavia MT after 500 kms with the car! Remember to give it extra revvs when starting from 0 kph, and don't let the rpm needle fall too low when driving.
In-city driveability is excellent. The absence of lag means the Octavia makes light work of city traffic. The 2.0 diesel has sufficient grunt at lower revvs, meaning you don't need to downshift too often. What also helps is the responsive nature of the engine and how quickly its revvs climb up. On your daily drive through rush hour crowds, you'll only need to give the engine light accelerator inputs. While the Octavia is impressive within the city, it really comes into its own on the highway. The engine is incredibly free revving and will cross 5,000 rpm in the lower gears almost like a fast petrol (though you shouldn’t upshift anywhere over 4,500 rpm
). The mid-range packs a solid punch; drive with a heavy right foot and you'll frequently be pushed back into the seat. Overtaking fast traffic is quick and easy. Most times, you don't even need to downshift. When you do drop a gear, the car simply leaps past the vehicle ahead. The revv-happy engine and manual transmission make for an enjoyable combination on your favourite driving road, torsion beam rear suspension notwithstanding. The Octavia is an outstanding long distance tourer. That 6th gear ratio (missing in the Laura MT) results in relaxed cruising ability. At 100 kph, the motor is spinning over at a lazy 1,600 odd rpm, thereby maximising fuel economy and reducing engine noise to the bare minimum. At 120 kph, it's still under 2,000 rpm! We had a fairly quick 200 km highway drive which saw an average of 18 kpl, thanks to generous usage of the 6th gear.
The 6-speed manual transmission is a straight lift from the Jetta. It's a tight short-throw gearbox that's a pleasure to use, complimenting the engine nicely. Too bad we can't say the same about the clutch pedal. It has a fairly long travel range and does require medium-level effort to operate. Not something you'll look forward to in bumper-to-bumper traffic for sure. Also, as is the case with several VW group cars, there is a certain amount of drivetrain movement felt on the clutch pedal. This vibration is directly proportionate to engine rpm and feels crude in an otherwise refined automobile.
Ride and Handling
With the MQB platform, Skoda has taken a different approach to the suspension setups. The 1.4 TSI and 2.0 TDI get a torsion beam at the rear, whereas the 1.8 TSI has a superior multi-link suspension (similar to the Laura and Jetta). I can only attribute this decision to cost cutting, as there is no other reason to have 2 different setups on the same car. Considering that the Octavia is a premium product, it is plain ridiculous.
Ride quality of the diesel and 1.4L petrol is compliant and the suspension will soak up most bumps with ease. At expressway speeds, the cars feels solid and tight, as is typical of the Europeans. Straight line stability is excellent. You never realise the speeds you’re doing until you look down at the speedometer. The ride is flat and the Octavia doesn’t bounce around over undulations like some Japanese & Korean cars. However, the torsion beam setup feels stiffer, and sharp edges do filter through. It isn't the quietest when doing its work either. You can hear the suspension movement over bad roads, with a slight drumming sound (from the back) over uneven patches.
Both suspension systems will do the job just fine and the regular buyer won’t realise what he’s missing out on. That said, when an enthusiast drives both configurations back to back, the difference is clearly felt, especially when pushing the car on imperfect roads. Drive the Octavia through fast corners and you realise which suspension works better. The torsion beam Octavias feel nervous & skittish at the rear on uneven tarmac. A mid-corner bump unsettles the rear, and it might step out when driven too hard. Sometimes, you get the feeling that the rear isn't tightly connected to the front. To us enthusiasts, this could be the deciding factor when cross-shopping between the Octavia and Jetta diesels.
No such problems with the 1.8L TSI. The multi-link displays its superiority not only in handling, but also in ride quality. The Octavia 1.8 takes the worst of roads in its stride and never feels unsettled. The suspension is also far more silent. You feel confident going into a corner at high speeds, due to its surefooted and predictable nature. Because the multi-link feels softer, there is marginal body roll on the limit. Sitting on the rear seat, I was impressed with how absorbent the multi-link suspension is over bad roads. It soaks up all rough sections without any complaint.
The multi-link actually exposes one of the chinks in the Octavia’s armour - the Goodyear tyres. With the performance on tap & superior handling, you hear a lot more tyre squeal in the 1.8 TSI (than in the 1.4 TSI or 2.0 TDI). Petrolheads should upgrade to better quality rubber on the 1.8 TSI straight from the showroom.
The steering is an electric unit which Skoda terms as Electro-mechanical
. It’s light at slow speeds and weighs up nicely as the speedometer needle climbs. No, the EPS isn't as heavy as hydraulic steerings on the highway, but it is better than most EPS units out there. Unfortunately, there isn't much feedback on offer. While the steering is direct, it's not the communicative type that enthusiasts crave for. All-round disc brakes mean the stopping capability is strong. Even with the 178 BHP petrol, braking performance is confidence inspiring. The brakes are sharp and predictable.
The 155 mm of ground clearance means the Octavia is down by 9 mm when compared to the Laura! Still, the stiff suspension and superb underbody protection ensured we didn’t beach the car on the horrible roads from Chandigarh to Simla (via Chail). Some stretches had nonexistent roads, with sharp stones and deep ruts waiting for us. The one part a fellow reviewer did scrape was the bottom of the bumper chin against a pile of rocks. Upon inspection, there was no damage whatsoever. Just some bruises on the plate below.
The 1.8 TSI's superior multi-link suspension at the rear:
Simpler & cheaper torsion beam setup of the 2.0 Diesel & 1.4 Petrol. Empty space due to lesser moving parts:
The underbody protection: