Sunday 4 December 2016

Skoda Octavia: The little petrol that could save you plenty

Skoda's tiny tot a non-diesel option

Published 25/09/2016 | 02:30

Skoda Octavia
Skoda Octavia

It's all about numbers with this week's car. Numbers can change opinions and alter viewpoints. Which is why I wanted to see how a new little 1-litre petrol engine in the Skoda Octavia would fare in our 'mad-about-diesel' culture.

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The Octavia is a big motor and putting a little 'three-pot' petrol under the bonnet looked a risk when I first heard of it. The danger was it would struggle and thereby entrench the belief that you need diesel for larger motors.

I've already driven the 3cyl briefly abroad but, as you know, there is nothing like testing a car and its components on our own roads. And I used some of the best around on my 500km trip to Ennis and back.

Before getting into detail, let me tell you why I think this engine - and a growing number of others like it - is potentially so important.

Emissions and consumption rules will tighten fiercely for all fossil-fuel engines. Diesel has been picked out as the biggest devil of them all. That's partly thanks to the cheaters in Volkswagen who tried to fool Uncle Sam and partly due to NOx emissions, which have been found to be a danger to health.

So you don't need me to tell you what's going to happen. Unless carmakers use cleaner power sources and get lower emissions levels, they will be hung out to dry.

Diesel technology has made enormous strides over the past two decades but it has been stretched hard to meet existing and impending limits. It will be stretched further as the years go by. Petrol technology, on the other hand, is something of a latecomer and has more in the tank.

Diesel will be around for a long while yet, don't worry, and petrol is only a partial answer. But it is becoming a genuine option: something it hasn't been for a long time, in Octavia-sized cars especially. Putting a 1-litre 3cyl petrol engine in such a car would have been more token than realistic until recently (Skoda had a 1.2-litre but diesel dominated). Now that technology makes it feasible, the numbers stack up more favourably.

Anyway, we set off for Ennis just after 6am as the weather rapidly deteriorated into strong wind and heavy rain.

I chose the round trip to see how the engine fared at constant motorway speeds. Some of these smaller engines can be grand around town at low revs and speeds but I've found that to travel with pace over longer journeys you have to drive at much higher revs (3,000rpm+). That soaks up the juice.

My on-board computer calculated I drove at an average speed of 97kmh on motorway and dual carriageway. I was impressed that the revs never exceeded 2,500rpm. Fair enough, 2,500 was a good deal higher than a bigger diesel would work at, but the 1-litre compensated a bit on subsequent shorter town drives.

On my long drives, it had plenty of pulling power across the gears and was not just quiet but smooth (0-100kmh: 9.9 secs; top speed: 202kmh).

We had a bit of a tail wind on our return journey (and a hot, roast-beef 'dinner' at Barack Obama Plaza) but I'd have to say there was absolutely no hint of the engine being under pressure at any stage; 115bhp isn't mega but it never felt underpowered.

If you were with us, I don't think you'd have noticed anything different; certainly nothing to prompt a question about the engine's size.

I got an average of 6.1 litres/100km over the 500km. Not madly wonderful, but decent. The official figures show it at 4.5l/100km. They also show the 1.6-litre diesel at 3.8l/100km. I suspect the 0.7l/100km difference in the diesel's favour would transfer to real-world driving too. Maybe a bit more. But even allowing for that, it's still not a huge gap.

There is only a tenner of a difference in road tax (€180 diesel v €190 petrol). And, of course, diesel is cheaper at the pumps, too. But then the numbers get interesting. The 1.6 TDi diesel 5spd (Active trim) costs €23,085; (Ambition) €25,235; (Style) €26,585.

The 1-litre 3cyl petrol costs from €22,880 (in Ambition trim) and €24,235 for the Style-specced test car. That's a price difference of €2,355 in the petrol car's favour (Ambition).

Skoda now reckons you could be waiting up to eight years to get back the difference in price on fuel bills alone.

For some, those numbers still won't add up; possible higher diesel resale values would be a factor. But for anyone doing around 15,000km a year, the petrol makes a real case.

Paying more for a diesel car to cover 300km a week is a waste of money. You don't need it now that there are some real alternatives.

Facts and Figures

Skoda Octavia 1.0 TSI 3cyl petrol, 115bhp, 103g/km, road tax €190; 4.5l/100km (62.7mpg).

My 'long run' test: 6.1l/100km (46.3mpg). Equipment/spec: electric/adjust/heated door mirrors, front fogs, spare wheel, electric windows, front seats' lumbar support, 8 speakers, auto wipers, aux-in, USB, SD card slot.

Test car's optional Sport Pack (€1,495) included bi-xenon lights, 17ins alloys, sports interior/seats. From €22,880 (Ambition); €24,235 (Style). Three-year warranty.

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