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Skoda Octavia Estate 4x4 2.0 TDI 140bhp DPF

Click to view picture gallery“Skodas latest Octavia 4x4 Estate
  looks like it should cost thousands
  of pounds more to buy than it does.
  With four-wheel drive, a high spec,
  plentiful space and a punchy but
  frugal engine, what
s not to like?

SKODA MARKETS ITSELF AS "THE MANUFACTURER OF HAPPY DRIVERS" a clever strapline but not worth a light if they couldn't back it up with products that lived up to their claim. Fortunately, as an army of satisfied customers can confirm, they can. Take, for instance, the latest Octavia 4x4 Estate we did, for a week. And let's just say that if there had been a way we could have kept it for longer, we would have…

The 'new' Octavia has recently been facelifted — more distinctive front and rear light units, new door mirrors, sculptured bonnet and new grille and an interior upgrade that, amongst other things, adds a new steering wheel, new-look instruments with white LED illumination, new high-tech entertainment system and a touch-screen display.

Visually, the latest Octavia Estate is now a very well-honed package. And, reassuringly, underneath it's still the same well-built and roomy estate. Open a door, settle into one of the shapely front seats and look around: it's a pleasing cabin and could easily be from the class above thanks to the exacting fit and finish and the high-quality plastics.

It's clear that Skoda hasn't cut corners either when kitting out the interior. Standard equipment includes dual-zone air conditioning (with pollen filter), leather-wrapped multifunction steering-wheel, cruise control, a six-disc CD autochanger, four one-shot auto up/down electric windows, electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors, tinted glass, trip computer, 6.5-inch touch-screen display, MP3-friendly radio with integrated 6-CD changer and an SD/MMC card reader plus eight speakers, AUX IN socket for MP3 players and the like, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with rain sensor, front headlight washers and a 'Jumbo' box — an air-conditioned storage compartment beneath the adjustable armrest between the front seats.

Safety is equally well specified with driver and front passenger front and side airbags, a convenient passenger airbag de-activation switch, WOKS whiplash-minimising headrests, four-wheel drive and a host of electronic active safety systems such as the Electronic Stability Programme and ABS.

Externally you get a set of smart 5-spoke alloys shod with 205/60 Dunlop SP Sports, roof rails, large front spotlights, indicators integrated into the door mirrors, raised suspension that gives an extra 23mm of ground clearance over the standard model (163 vs 140mm) and a sump guard.

The advanced 'Columbus' SatNav is an excellent — and aptly named — piece of kit and well worth the extra £1,540 it costs. You can view images in 2D, 3D or even topographically and you only need the very lightest fingertip pressure to work it. Directional commands are also first class, and the other switchgear all feels 'engineered'.

The 4x4 feels relentless
— like those famous
Timex watches, it can
take a licking
and keep on ticking
Travelling in the diesel-powered Octavia 4x4 Estate is a relaxed experience, especially on motorways with less than 2,000rpm required for cruising at the 70mph legal limit. The miles just seem to fly past, helped by the refined cabin ambience (it really is very soothing) and the comfortable accommodation.

The two-tone cloth upholstered front seats are notably good, with ample under-thigh support. Their pronounced side bolsters hold you firmly in place even during spirited cornering and, courtesy of the generous seat and steering-wheel adjustments, drivers will find it easy to achieve a first rate driving position.

The four-spoke multifunction wheel is wrapped in smooth hide and feels good in your hands. Other driver plus-points include crystal-clear white on black dials and the equally easy-to-read driver's information panel between the speedometer and rev-counter.

And there's yet more attention to detail: sun-visors that stay in the exact position you 'park' them and the parking ticket holder in the lower offside of the windscreen. If you've ever tried to get a ticket to stay put on your dash while you shut the door on a windy day, you'll understand why this is so useful.

Throughout the cabin there's lots of well-considered storage: an air-conditioned glovebox, large door pockets, side pockets on the seat base, lidded cubby recessed in the top of the fascia and another at the base of the centre stack, along with a drop down box in the right-hand side of the dash and a 3-cup holder by the handbrake.

Rear seat passengers enjoy ample room in all directions and four adults can travel pleasantly in the airy cabin with room to spare. Rear passengers also get practical door pockets, their own A/C vents — the air conditioning, by the way, is brilliant and does genuinely 'icy' cold if that's what you want! — outer armrests and a flat and usefully wide centre armrest (there's also a load-through facility).

It has to be said: in the nicest possible way, that the Skoda has one hell of a big boot: a very accommodating 580 litres. Drop the 60:40 split/fold seats and this shoots up to 1,620 litres — enough to make the Octavia Estate one of the best load carriers in its class.

The large tailgate opens with minimal physical effort and swings up unassisted. The boot is deep and intrusion-free, with two spacious lidded side bins, six lashing eyes, a folding bag hook, twin boot lights and a power socket.

Other nice touches include the neat luggage blind that runs in side tracks so it doesn't flop about and which latches/unlatches without any fuss; the anti-slip strips on the load bay floor; and the full-size spare under the boot floor with a stay hook to hold the floor panel up while accessing it. It's always the attention to detail that makes a car liveable and the Octavia 4x4 Estate has a lot of these small but significant touches.

In the nicest possible
way, the Skoda has
one hell of a big boot
But this Skoda is not just somewhere nice to sit; it's also more than satisfying to drive. The six-speed manual 'box has a light, positive action, the steering (rack-and-pinion with speed-sensitive electro-hydraulic power assistance) is accurate and nicely weighted and the brakes (discs front and rear; ventilated at the front) are reassuring and immediately responsive.

While speed humps can cause a jolt, the ride is comfortable everywhere else and you can feel the 4x4 grip keeping it firmly planted — a reassuring sensation of security that's even more palpable on twisty lanes and in the wet. Even in the pouring rain it feels reassuringly agile and lets you make quick and safe progress despite the trickiest weather conditions.

Another very enjoyable aspect of the 4x4 Estate is the powerplant under the bonnet: the 140bhp 2.0-litre TDI. A VW Pumpe Duse injected unit, it's strong and punchy, noticeably so low down and particularly mid-range — thanks to peak torque being available from a lowish 1,750rpm. And, courtesy of its linear power delivery and muscular 236lb ft of torque, overtaking manoeuvres are fast and totally fuss-free and, thanks to the 4WD, the car always feels stable and poised when pressing on.

Performance is more than adequate, with 0-62mph coming up in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 123mph. Fifth and sixth are amazingly responsive and serve up impressive pick-up even when cruising at 2,000rpm at the motorway limit in top gear. The only problem is that the Octavia 4x4 lopes along so eagerly that you really do need to keep a close watch on the speedometer!

It also manages to be pretty frugal. Officially it returns 44.8mpg on the combined cycle, with 35.3 and 53.3mpg respectively in urban and extra-urban conditions. A week's hard testing over a variety of roads saw a very healthy 45.6mpg overall figure that most owners should easily match.

Drive it hard and you quickly realise that it feels relentless — and you just know it will effortlessly rack up the miles like those famous Timex watches whose jingle was "takes a licking and keeps on ticking".

The Skoda's four-wheel drive system is totally automatic and operates without any driver intervention whatsoever. It uses a Haldex system that, in most conditions, sends 96 per cent of power to the front wheels. Naturally the allocation constantly varies according to available grip. For example, in the dry with good traction the front wheels each get 48% of the drive, with both rear wheels each getting 2%. Bad grip for all four wheels sees each getting 25% while poor grip at the front wheels has both rear wheels each getting 45% with each front wheel receiving 5%.

As we said at the beginning of this review, Skoda's latest Octavia 4x4 Estate looks like it should cost thousands more to buy than it actually does. With four-wheel drive, a high spec, plentiful space and a punchy but frugal engine, it's an appealing and practical car. On top of that, Skoda has been in the top five in the JD Power Survey of Customer Satisfaction for the past 14 years and is the first brand to knock Lexus off the top spot in the Auto Express Driver Power Customer Satisfaction Survey (2009). But don't just take our word for it; book a test drive and see for yourself. —

Skoda Octavia Estate 4x4 2.0 TDI 140bhp DPF
| £19,450
Maximum speed: 123mph | 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 45.6mpg
Power: 140bhp | Torque: 236lb ft | CO2 165g/km | Insurance group 10E