There was a time when Skoda was synonymous with the Octavia brand in India. In fact, the Octavia was the first car to be launched in the country by Europe’s largest automaker, the Volkswagen Group. But that was over a decade ago when the Indian premium car market was limited both in terms of demand and choice.
Since then, a lot has changed; for instance, India’s GDP has grown 2.3 times over the last decade. This means that there are a lot more buyers in the market looking for premium cars today. At the same time, there are many more manufacturers competing for the market share. That, clearly, is both a challenge and a boon for Skoda, which expects strong results from the new Octavia that is due for launch next month.
The Czech carmaker, which had switched over to the ‘Laura’ brand in the middle of last decade for the previous generation of the car, will now have its task cut out. It has to convince buyers that the reborn Octavia is a better option than rivals like parent Volkswagen’s Jetta, the Hyundai Elantra, the Toyota Corolla and the Chevrolet Cruze.
So, how good is it? Up straight, I was quite impressed by the new Octavia and later in this review I will explain why. I also had the perfect playground to test the newest kid from the Skoda stable—Himachal Pradesh’s winding mountain roads flanked by the majestic snow-capped middle Himalayan range. My drive started on the smooth and wide NH22 from Parwanoo to Chail, before branching off to thinner single-lane roads on the way to my endpoint at Mashobra, a small town near the state capital Shimla. After a night’s rest, I drove back to the starting point at Parwanoo. The drive, with its combination of freshly-laid tarmac and pothole-filled state roads, helped me gain new respect for the Octavia.
While Skoda cars have always been well-built—something that indicates years of German ownership and the engineering precision that comes with it—what was fantastic about the Octavia was the stability in sharp turns and the delightfully accurate steering. These, I believe, are the gains accrued from the Volkswagen Group’s highly modular new MQB platform. One of the first MQB derived products along with the Audi Q3 and the Volkswagen Golf MKVII, the Octavia has shed weight all around, even as it has grown in wheelbase over the previous generation by 108 mm.