Rocking on about prestige
The top of the range Skoda Octavia evokes thoughts of heavy metal and old prestige for Campbell Spray
NOW, for some readers, mentioning Vanden Plas will only conjure images of very hairy heavy metal sounds delivered in the progressive German way, in other words totally over the top.
During the last 20 years or so they gave an anthem to their local soccer club and then delivered such songs as Das ist fur euch, a concept album based on Dumas's classic The Count of Monte Cristo and their current release is Chronicles of the Immortals - Netherworld. You get the picture.
More of you will have a vague memory of Vanden Plas as the name of coach builders who made special cars for the like of Alvis, Bentley, Daimler, Lagonda and Rolls-Royce before becoming a luxury designation for various subsidiaries of the then British Leyland and Rover Group.
The last car to use the title was the top version of the stylish, much lamented - but, at times, extremely unreliable - Rover 75. It is a car which still evokes a pang of desire when I see one, as I did at the back of our office last Wednesday, driven by the man who was going to repair the lifts.
Vanden Plas branding meant that even some very small cars were coming down in wood and leather which enabled people - like my parents - to hold on to some symbols of the grand life while living in very straitened circumstances. I think there was even a Mini Vanden Plas.
At the other end of the scale, as a child I remember the massive Vanden Plas limousines based around the Austin Princess which seemed to be the chauffeured choice of mayors, lord lieutenants and other local dignitaries.
This little trip down memory lane was prompted by a week testing the Skoda Octavia Laurin & Klement model. The L&K branding aims to offer "the finest of luxury and comfort in what remains our most important model," says the effervescent Raymond Leddy, head of marketing and product, Skoda Ireland, and comes hot on the heels of the Superb L&K. Exterior equipment on the L&K version over and above the Elegance model includes new 18-inch turbine alloy wheels and bi-xenon headlights combined with LEDs, while the interior receives brown Alcantara and leather upholstery with electrically heated and adjustable driver and front passenger seats. A 10-speaker Canton sound system is provided while it also has Bluetooth with voice control, telescopic front headlight washers and cornering front fog lights as standard.
The model will be offered in Ireland with a choice of two engines, the 1.8-litre TSI petrol engine producing 180bhp, and the expected volume seller - a familiar 2.0-litre 150bhp TDI unit that can be coupled to either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed DSG automatic. Prices start at the cost of a coffee and bun under €32k, €13k more than the Octavia entry level and between €2.3k and €4.5k above Elegance levels. There is also the option of four-wheel drive for Combi estate models.
The Octavia is the real workhorse of the Skoda range and has been hugely successful since it was launched in 1998 as a modern car, some 30 years after its forerunner hit the Czech streets. But that was a very different Skoda which became the butt of jokes before Volkswagen took the marque over and made it the great success it is today.
However, I am amazed that there is still such snobbery about the marque out there and people would rather pay much more for a VW than a Skoda when the latter is often an all-round better car with the same quality. The company's sales for the first half of this year are up 25.7pc from 2013 (4,426 vs 3,520), greater than the overall increase in the total car market (23.4pc). It currently sits in sixth position in the Irish car market with a share of 6.75pc.
My son Marcus, who has now bagged a job in Britain after he completes his economics masters next month, was flying home last Monday and has no snobbery or memories of the pre-VW days about Skoda. He was most impressed with the Octavia L&K. But he is in love with the whole idea of being home, wiping the London grime off his hands, and he took in the view of the coast from the roof of Terminal Two's car park as though he had returned after 40 years in Van Diemen's Land. The L&K was stylish without being outlandish and was just the sort of a car with which a father should greet his child - competent, sturdy and with no embarrassing edges. Sam, the dog, loved it too and nuzzled forcefully perhaps his less favourite of my two Irish children.
Whether the car is worth spending another few thousand for is another point entirely. If it is not your own money and is a way of standing out in the corporate car park, I am all for it. There are far too many big cars being driven wastefully when people should be happy with something a bit better sized. However, in a few years when the L&K models hit the second-hand market, they will be really worth picking up.
No doubt taxi men will love them too. The Octavia has the most massive boot, plenty of room for passengers and very frugal consumption. The current generation is now nearly the size of the first generation Superbs.
If you want something a good size bigger than the Golf, I can recommend the Octavia L&K. For what you will pay for a Golf, with all the bells and whistles, you can get a car that is real family proportioned and loaded with tastefully touches; even if I shudder a bit when I read in the specification sheet of "decorative inserts - imitation of wood". Generally it is a good car that drives well, if slightly harshly at times. You'll never be ashamed of it. You might even think of the other Vanden Plas as well.