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Octavia's best foot forward

Latest version of Skoda's legendary workhorse is a real head-turner - though Campbell Spray didn't find the drive so good for his ankle

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Looking good: Even on a wet day at the Hole in the Wall car park at Phoenix Park, the new Octavia stands out

Looking good: Even on a wet day at the Hole in the Wall car park at Phoenix Park, the new Octavia stands out

Looking good: Even on a wet day at the Hole in the Wall car park at Phoenix Park, the new Octavia stands out

We were just coming back from our walk through the Furry Glen in Dublin's Phoenix Park when we saw a family group standing near our car.

"We were just admiring it," said the more senior member. "It looks very good. I have the 192 model, but this seems more attractive. It's rather like a Volkswagen now, with those sweeping lines."

Yes, the new Skoda Octavia is a head-turner, especially in the long-sweeping hatchback form I was driving over the Christmas. The Octavia is a serious player in the Irish market, both new and second-hand, and is a staple of the taxi fleet. Even the outgoing model was in seventh place in sales last year - OK, down from equal fourth in 2019, but still selling more than 2,000 units.

Seven million Octavias have been produced so far and 65,000 have arrived in Ireland since 1998. It makes up 30pc of the Skoda volume here and contributed to the Czech marque - which is under the control of the VW group - being the fourth-biggest player behind Volkswagen, Toyota and Hyundai. It has been mainly a diesel workhorse and the new model is likely to continue that but the emphasis is slightly changing, with 54pc expected to be oil-burners and 40pc petrol, plus 6pc coming from the new plug-in hybrid.

The admiring glances for the new Octavia hatchback are helped by it being 19mm longer and 15mm wider than the existing range. More startling is that its aerodynamics have radically altered, dropping to 0.24 from 0.28, which was only 0.03 less than the launch model in 1998.

The extra dimensions mean more internal space and an extra 10 litres luggage capacity. We were grateful for this when inter-county travel restrictions were lifted just before Christmas. I'd been storing used newspapers since February, when we delivered a boot full of them to the Ash Animal Rescue Sanctuary in deepest Wicklow.

A quick call to the sanctuary before Christmas ascertained they still needed more - so we packed 23 bags into the Octavia and rushed down the 71km. They do such great work at Ash and anything we can do to help feels worth it. There was a fox for our two dogs to admire at the sanctuary and a host of dogs waiting for kind homes.

The car handled a lot lighter and faster on the return. The new Octavia comes with assistance systems, infotainment portals and well thought-out features.

The starting price of €23,950 for the Octavia in Active trim is a price jump of €1,925 against the previous generation - but it includes an extra €3,200 of equipment.

The Active trim isn't available in diesel form and the price for the six-speed manual 115bhp 2.0 TDi is €28,750 (Ambition) or €30,850 (Style). There is a 150bhp diesel automatic Style model at €35,250.

The petrol models are better value, with the 1.0 TSi 110bhp six-speed manual going up to €27,850 (Style) and what looks like an especially tasty mild hybrid petrol version at €28,250 (Ambition) and €30,350 (Style).

At this you are getting a very high-specced, roomy, solidly built car that will not only turn heads with its coupe-like profile but fulfil a normal family's needs in a very comfortable environment touching on luxury. The Combi versions are another €1,500.

This fourth generation model shows a great depth of engineering innovation to give a real step up in quality. There are lovely touches, like ambient lighting inside, and excellent little extras. It may be a bit less Skoda than before, but is very acceptable as a totally confident drive with good consumption and plenty of agility. Going down to the Ash sanctuary we felt safe and cosseted on some pretty tough roads.

There were two minor bugbears. One was the climate system. It had a total mind of its own and needed a lot of work to keep it in check - rather like our dogs!

Secondly, the Octavia was a delight to drive, except for the fact that every time I got out, it took a while for my left foot to walk normally.

For some reason, using the clutch in the Octavia meant my foot was at an awkward angle. I mentioned this to my Furry Glen acquaintance. He agreed it was a problem in his model as well.

To be fair, it's not the only car I have the problem with. It's the same when driving my wife's Hyundai i10 and it's a legacy of some issues I have had for years with my left foot.

All of which pushes me increasingly to automatic transmission - and I see that the country is moving that way, too. Just under 41pc of all new cars bought here last year were automatic. This is no doubt helped by the rise in sales of EVs, plug-in hybrids and full hybrids.

Summing up the Octavia I would say it is a totally competent, attractive car with some very fine touches. It is well priced, the company comes out well in quality and reliability surveys, and the car will nicely bridge the gap until you have to buy an EV - of which Skoda has the very tasty Enyaq SUV coming later this year.

I am pleased that due to the new lockdown I have got the Octavia for a bit longer and more exercise is being done to help the ankle and clutch have a better relationship.

*******

As I was going into the Phoenix Park last Tuesday I saw my first 211 model - a Kia XCeed, looking particularly fine dressed in a tasty red.

I couldn't make it out at first and thought it might be a Merc. It's a very good car and I have recommended the XCeed to a few people already. The plug-in hybrid version could make a lot of sense.

The following day I was sent a link to the launch in Seoul, South Korea, involving thousands of fireworks and 303 pyrodrones of Kia's new logo and brand messaging: "Movement that inspires."

The event is now in the Guinness Book of Records for the Most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Launching Fireworks Simultaneously. Perhaps they can also fix ankles?

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