Skoda Octavia Ambition

Out with cheap and mean, in with true value

BARRY PARK

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

FOR A brand seemingly built around a value-for-money proposition, the entrylevel Octavia has been a conundrum, given it reeked of cheapness, rather reeked of cheapness, rather than value. The Ambition lacked cruise control, wore plastic covers over steel wheels and didn’t even have a centre armrest between the front seats.

But Skoda has had something of a wake-up call, largely thanks to the Skoda Superb. People didn’t buy the cheap version of Skoda’s large hatchback and wagon, instead preferring to fully load a mid- or high-spec model with tech convenience and bling packs.

Recognising this, Skoda has hit the reset button with its mid-life refresh of the Octavia. The price of the base Ambition jumps by $500, but the standard level of kit lifts exponentially.

Added as part of this upgrade are range-wide autonomous emergency braking and active cruise control – until now unseen at this price point in this class.

Buyers also gain a reversing camera with sensors, a 6.5- inch multimedia screen, eightspeaker audio system and better smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Oh, and that centre armrest.

The Skoda Octavia is built on the same MQB platform as the much-lauded VW Golf, but unlike that car, which uses a multi-link rear suspension, the base Octavia sticks with a torsion beam. All other versions of the Octavia get the multi-link. It’s the only glaring bit of cost-cutting that’s carried through to the new Ambition.

The 110kW/250Nm turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the bonnet of the Ambition carries over from the pre-facelift model. It’s strong, willing from low revs and happy to spin hard when asked, but under a sensible throttle it’s also frugal – we recorded less than 6.0L/100km for a mix of mainly highway running with some city commuting thrown in.

Our test car was also paired with the seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission, a $2300 option that replaces the default six-speed manual gearbox. Apart from some low-speed shunting from the DSG, the Octavia Ambition’s cabin ambience is pretty good.

Ride comfort on the 17-inch Bridgestone rubber is well-sorted, although the suspension gets a little busy at higher speeds, while the electrically assisted steering has enough bite to feel engaging.

The previous Octavia’s other main flaw – unacceptably high levels of road roar – appears to have been partly addressed: it seems quieter than we remember.

Skoda’s Octavia suddenly has something it has lacked for some time – a real sense of value for money. All it needs needs now is a little more polish. inly me

PLUS & MINUS

Still slightly noisy inside; ride a bit fussy; DSG’s low-speed shunting Decent value; reasonable driver involvement; class-leading safety; frugal Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Skoda Octavia Ambition 1395cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 110kW @ 6000rpm 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1234kg 8.2sec (claimed) 5.3L/100km $25,290 Now

Controlling the cruise

The Octavia’s active cruise control is a big daily-drive bonus, as it will bring the car to a complete stop. But unlike other systems that will hold the car and wait for a touch of the cruise control switch or a nudge on the throttle to resume the commute, the Ambition sounds an alarm and hands control back to the driver with a warning to put a foot on the brake, requiring a manual reset. Annoying, but you can live with it.