The Skoda Octavia's facelift makes it look a little like a Rover, but only from the front. It's good value and a lot of metal for not a lot of money
A liftback disguised as a sedan Skoda Octavia Ambiente 1.6

IT LOOKS like a Rover, said one acquaintance, thoroughly destroying the notion I had that this face-lifted Skoda Octavia had shed its slightly frumpy image.

He was right, of course. The shape of the grille and headlights, and even the creases in the bonnet, are very similar to those of a Rover 820.

Still, it is only from the front that this mistake could be made, despite the new clear-lens headlights which had me thinking that the Octavia had acquired a much more modern look.

Otherwise the styling of the Octavia is a little more distinctive, if a bit square. It does a good job hiding the fact that it is not a sedan at all but a five-door liftback dressed to look like one.

The benefit of this design is a cavernous boot, but the drawbacks are wide C-pillars creating big blind spots and a steeply-raked rear glass that does not offer a great amount of rear vision either.

However, the boot is not the only load space where room is plentiful.

The cabin is much the same, offering a surprisingly generous amount of space.

The new Octavia features more room for rear passengers, and while legroom is a little tight for those over 1.8 m tall, there is head-and-shoulder room to spare.

While a little spartan looking, the cabin features decent quality plastics, though one ill-fitted trim piece in our test car did let the tone down.

Still, it is a comfortable place to travel, and despite the austere design, there is enough equipment to keep most passengers happy.

Electric windows, electric exterior mirrors, a CD changer and twin airbags are all standard equipment.

Under that Rover-like bonnet is an engine sourced from Skoda's parent company, Volkswagen.

The 1.6-litre four does a reasonable job motivating the relatively big Skoda, though performance is better described as adequate rather than sprightly.

The engine lets itself down by being harsh when worked hard, and the automatic transmission is too reluctant to shift down.

Those after more performance might do better choosing the manual version, which shaves 2.3 seconds off the 0-100 kmh time and $5,000 off the price tag in the process.

Or for those in search of even more performance, there is now a 1.8-litre turbo Octavia, albeit with a higher trim-level and a $23,000 premium.

For that money, though, you are buying a sophisticated engine which also powers the Volkswagen Passat, and in tuned-up form, the Audi TT.

The facelift brings with it a re-designed dashboard, not that there was much wrong with the old one.

The dials are laid out neatly and easy to read, and nestling between the main ones is a new trip computer displaying the usual fuel mileage functions as well as gear selection for the automatic.

Quality-wise, the galvanised sheet metal is as good as it can get, imparting a solid feeling of quality and making my acquaintance's next question an easy one to answer.

When asked whether the Octavia is good value, I had to say "yes".

It might not be the fastest car on the road, and it might be noisier than it should be, but it is certainly a lot of metal for the money, and well put together metal at that.

FAST FACTS 

Skoda Octavia Ambiente 1.6

Price: $96,999 with COE

Engine: 1,595cc OHC 8V in-line four

Power: 101bhp at 5,600 rpm

Torque: 145Nm at 3,800 rpm

Gearbox: Four-speed automatic

0 - 100 kmh: 14.6 seconds

For enquiries: Call JTA Motors on 741-7119