Simply Clever

At first sight the title of this blog may seem slightly bewildering …

To an extent, this is an update of my blog in May when a comparison review of three cars from the VW Group stable was undertaken. This is a more in-depth look at two of the vehicles whilst the third is recently new to the market this year. The cars in question are the replacement Škoda Octavia and the all-new Audi A3 saloon whilst bringing up the rear is the Volkswagen Jetta, often seen as a booted version of the Golf.

All three of these vehicles are very similar in size and in many ways look similar to each other despite all being unique models. This rather illustrates the fact that computer-designed cars aimed at achieving maximum energy efficiencies all emerge from the design board looking very anonymous and manufacturers are left with detailed styling tweaks to try and make them stand out from the crowd.

The latest version of the Škoda Octavia has moved the model somewhat upmarket. It is larger overall than the model it’s replaced as the manufacturer introduced a new mid segment car called the Rapid some twelve months ago. The Rapid competes more equally with the likes of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra and with the introduction of yet another derivative under the Rapid banner in the shape of the Spaceback, the model should have a considerable impact upon that market segment.

In order to differentiate their model lineup, it was necessary for Škoda to increase the size of the new Octavia which is now closer in size to a Ford Mondeo than the previous model. So back to the blog header of Simply Clever .. it’s the tag line of Škoda and for very good reason as will be seen from reading on!

All the cars being compared here resemble a conventional saloon (or sedan for readers in the United States!) However the Octavia is in fact a hatchback which offers many advantages when it comes to versatility and luggage capacity. Whilst all models have a starting price at so-called basic level, the comparisons here are based on the higher specification models from all three manufacturers but all powered by the same 1.6 TDI 105PS engine.

For a car as large as the Octavia one might imagine an engine of 1.6 litres struggling but for everyday motoring performance is more than adequate even though it requires relatively frequent gear changing at low speed. The ride is generally comfortable and the driver has reassurance from the grip the front wheels provide. A slick gear change offers accurate selection and apart from some wind noise at high speed, the car is generally quiet even with the diesel engine. One of the Octavia’s highlights is the build quality of the cabin which is a match for the VW Golf, always renowned for its finish. Standard safety features include seven air bags including a knee airbag for the driver, five star Euro NCAP rating, electronic brake force distribution, stability control and a hill hold braking function.

The dashboard layout is clear and functional rather than a remit for the whims of designers and incorporates one of the best touch screen infotainment systems currently available. All the car’s functions can be controlled from this unit ranging from fuel consumption data to telephone connection and satellite navigation. Seats are quite supportive with lumber support available for the driver and front seat passenger. There is adequate room for 6ft adults both in the front and rear. The boot is simply cavernous providing 590 litres with the seats up and no less than 1580 litres with the rear seats folded.

Even the entry level Octavia is equipped with alloy wheels, manual air conditioning, DAB radio, Bluetooth and a multi-change CD player all for a starting price of £15990. The comparison model here boasts dual-zone climate controlled air conditioning, engine stop-start technology, front fog lights, rear parking sensors, all electric windows, cruise control, satellite navigation, automatic lights and wipers, and part leather upholstery … all for an on-the-road price of £21090!

Next we have the new Audi A3 saloon that is an addition to the established A3 range of hatchbacks and cabriolet. Whilst most models are powered by high performance engines, the manufacturer has not forgotten the cost-conscious driver, hence the availability of the 1.6 TDI unit. The standard specification for the car is with sport suspension which by definition provides a firmer ride all round but customers can opt for a no-cost standard suspension configuration. As is to be expected from a quality front wheel drive car, road grip is good although road noise can penetrate the cabin. Safety features include stability control, front, side and curtain airbags and the maximum five star Euro NCAP rating.

The quality of the cabin is first class although it isn’t as simple in design as that of the Octavia. A novel feature is the slim infotainment screen that pops up from the upper part of the dashboard. The multi media interface offers control of most of the car’s main functions via a control dial and a few buttons. Note that the Octavia’s infotainment unit is touch screen operated and as your hand approaches, a menu pops up! The front seats are both supportive and multi adjustable allowing most people to get comfortable behind the wheel. Boot capacity is 425 litres which can be increased by folding the rear seats flat but access is restricted owing to the saloon design.

The A3 saloon is available in two trim levels with standard specification including dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and sports seats. However, in order to bring the specification in line with that of the Octavia, extras costing £3240 will be needed bringing the on-the-road price to a staggering £25520!

Finally a look at the Volkswagen Jetta. In essence this car resembles a mini Passat which is no bad thing although it looks fairly staid and anonymous. As with the other vehicles reviewed, the Jetta comes with a choice of engines but again for comparison purposes it is the frugal 1.6 TDI model that is being costed. This unit is both fuel-efficient and a willing performer, providing plenty of pace and good acceleration when overtaking. Road holding is reassuring as is to be expected from a proven front wheel drive unit and the steering light yet positive. There is some slight wind and road noise at speed. All the usual safety features are on offer including front, side and curtain airbags, stability control, and a five star rating from Euro NCAP.

Whilst this model is a derivative of the Golf, the build quality of the dashboard doesn’t appear to match that of its stablemate. This may be because the car is built in Mexico where quality control standards are not quite as high as those in Europe. However, the car will readily accommodate four adults on well supporting seats as this model grew in size from the previous generation Jetta. Boot space is remarkably generous offering 510 litres with the rear seats in place. This can be enhanced if the 60-40 rear seats are folded down.

The base model with air conditioning, full electric windows and remote central locking will set one back £19315. However, to have a comparably equipped car to the Octavia, it will cost £24079 which includes £2844 of extras on top of the Sport trim which offers alloy wheels, cruise control and automatic headlights as standard.

The diesel engine referred to in this review offers fuel consumption in excess of 70 mpg for the Octavia according to official tests. Personally I think that is extremely optimistic although careful driving should yield in excess of 55 mpg on a regular basis. Both the Octavia and A3 have Euro V CO2 exhaust emissions of 99 g/km meaning they currently fall into the zero road tax bracket whilst the Jetta emits 109 g/km putting it into the £20 road tax bracket. For those fortunate enough to be able to afford a new car, both are attractive propositions; at some point in time we all need to take positive action to help our environment rather than selfishly driving around in fuel guzzlers that pollute the planet!

Time now to summarise. The biggest car of the three reviewed is the Octavia although only by a narrow margin. With the largest wheelbase, it doesn’t compromise on interior space and also provides the largest luggage capacity. The practicality of the car is further enhanced by the hatchback styling. From a visual perspective, the A3 undoubtedly wins but at a hefty price. Whilst offering reasonable value for money, the Jetta really doesn’t cut the mustard as it is lacking in so many respects at base level. As reviewed, the A3 costs £4430 more than the Octavia and the Jetta £2989 extra. This brings me back to the title of this blog .. namely that Škoda live up to their promise of being Simply Clever!

And to reiterate that fact, you’ll find neat little touches in the Octavia such as a multi media holder, waste paper bin and ice scraper behind the fuel flap. Simply clever!