Unusual accessories make Skoda Octavia pricier than VW rivals
Creative accounting For $86,800, the Octavia feels like a proper premium sedan, with a finishing that is far above its station -- PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

If Volkswagen is Europe's Toyota, then Skoda must be its Daihatsu. The Czech cars are almost identical to its German parent brand's models but cost slightly less.

Take the latest Octavia, for instance, the first Skoda here to feature the VW Group's 122bhp 1.4 TSI power plant and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The smooth and torquey combo is found in the VW Jetta 1.4 TSI. Most people will agree that the recipe is a winner.

For Skoda, it is a huge improvement over the old 1.6-litre eight-valve unit hooked up to a six-speed Tiptronic. In terms of driveability, refinement and consumption, the Octavia (which is technically a facelift) is now far better than before.

The car's demeanour is generally calm, with revs that hardly go beyond 2,000 per minute. Tooling about like this, the biggish sedan is able to keep pace with Singapore traffic quite easily, consuming 8 litres of fuel per 100km.

But the moment it senses urgency from your right foot, the car switches to a remarkably responsive mode. It does so with little hesitancy and without you shifting from Drive to Sport or fiddling with the steering-mounted paddles.

As far as powertrains go, you cannot do much better - except to make it more reliable (the test-car stalled twice). You could also use a 160bhp 1.4 twincharged engine but that would push up the cost.

Already, the Octavia has a pretty high open-market value (OMV, or cost of car before taxes). According to distributor Harvest Automobiles, it is worth close to $28,000, compared with around $21,600 for a VW Jetta 1.4. That translates to a gap of about $7,800 after taxes.

It is easy to see why the Skoda is costlier. It is exceedingly well equipped, with enough premium amenities for it to qualify as an Audi.

These include factory-fitted items that are not standard issue in the Jetta, such as xenon headlamps with cornering lights and washers, front fog lamps (also with cornering function), leather-alcantara upholstery, sound system with equaliser and touch-screen control, Bluetooth connectivity, rear sunscreen (manual), electrically adjustable seats with memory and parking sensors (front and rear) with visual cues.

Hence, the Octavia feels like a proper premium saloon. Despite that, it is priced at $86,800, just $5,500 more than an equivalent Jetta.

Factor in the vast OMV difference and the Skoda will emerge as the vehicle that offers more value.

But is it comparable to the Jetta beyond the equipment level and drivetrain?

Actually, there are some fundamental differences. The Skoda's body is longer than the VW but not as wide. Its extra length does not go to the wheelbase but to the boot. As always, the Czech car has more stowage than you will know what to do with.

This translates into a car that has no problem tackling the straight and narrow, but seems to be a tad less steadfast when powered through the bends.

And as it is about 100kg lighter than the VW, it is slightly quicker. But at the same time, noise insulation is not exactly on a par with the VW.

That is not saying the car is flimsy, as the Skoda Octavia is still clearly a notch above several Japanese models when it comes to solidity of build.

The car would make more sense, however, if it could be priced lower - say, under $80,000 - by removing some frills. Most buyers will be happy to go without xenon headlamps with cornering lights and washers, for instance. And foglamps with cornering function? Totally irrelevant here.