I feel quite old when I tell people about the time when skoda Octavia used to be the car to buy. Most millennials may not remember, but the Octavia did take the Indian market by storm. The sturdy, premium and fun to drive car was aspirational and almost an unchallenged (largely due to lack of competition) hit. But that was 2002-03 and the years that have gone by haven't exactly been kind to the Octavia and skoda as a brand too. skoda India seems to be intent on reversing that and have quite a product offensive lined up, starting with a face-lifted Octavia.
Most car models these days get a face-lift within the 2nd or 3rd year of a generation change. skoda has waited almost 4 years, since the current gen Octavia launched in India, to bring this face-lift and if you are looking for major changes, I would suggest try harder. The front is the one which gets the maximum changes is new Quadra LED headlamps, new grille in piano black, a reworked bonnet which looks a little more muscular, chrome strip running across the front bumper, LED fog lamps which also act as cornering lights all good stuff up front, I say. The profile and the rear are largely the same, barring a new alloy design and LED is for the tail lamps.
The interiors are a different scene though and skoda has done a pretty good job here. The way the touchscreen is laid out makes more of a difference than one would expect and gives the centre console a really neat look. The 8 touch screen is now surrounded by touch buttons, instead of physical buttons in the previous Octavia, and is extremely easy to use with an impressive touch response. As with most modern cars, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link are on offer but keeping in mind its core audience, those who like the Octavia for its rear seat comfort skoda has gone a step up and offers what it calls BossConnect. A clever, albeit heavy, app which lets you control music and navigation from your phone. On the top variants, there is also ambient lighting with 10 colors which adds to the premium feel of the car.
Safety also gets a leg up in the higher variants with 8 airbags, while the base variants will continue to get dual front and side airbags. An interesting feature that makes its debut in the Octavia is Multi Collision Braking, where in the event of a collision if the driver loses control the system will apply brakes as needed to prevent the car from crashing into more objects and reducing the impact of the accident.
There are no mechanical changes, except the rear track has increased by 30mm on the 1.8 TSI variant and 20mm on the 2.0 TDI. I chose, wisely I feel, to drive the 1.8 TSI and the engine is still the free revving hoot it always has been. 180 hp in a car that weights only 1,375 kgs can only mean fun, right? The 7-speed DSG with paddles is happy to play along, when you want to, though I did find shifts on the limit to be slightly harsh. The 1.8 TSI is still the only Octavia to get a multi-link independent rear suspension and it does give you more confidence.
Overall, it is a step in the right direction from skoda. The Octavia feels more premium, has clever and useful features, time tested engine options and looks good too. Unfortunately for them, the competition has pretty much the same to offer but the impending GST may prove to be a boon for skoda. I expect the car to be priced competitively, with a slight premium on the current car but offering a lot more. skoda also says they have been working on changing the perception about cost of ownership and maintenance, which has been a cause of concern in the past. A change of face might just be their ticket to higher sales, I guess.