The necessary grunt is missing in the 1.6-litre Skoda Octavia, but the new 1.8 gives it exactly 50 per cent more power and all the oomph you will need
Eats groceries and rivals for breakfast Skoda Octavia

WE HAVE always thought that the 1.6-litre Skoda Octavia makes a great family car.

It provides ample room for five, boasts excellent ergonomics and has class-leading boot space.

Moreover, based on the Volkswagen Mk IV Golf platform, the Czech-born Octavia has a lot in common with the Volkswagen Bora, except that it is some 30-grand less painful on your wallet than its German cousin.

One problem that both cars share, though, is that neither is a competent performer in terms of acceleration, with the Volkswagen- derived 1.6-litre engine they both use.

Yes, the standard Octavia will take you from point A to B without much fuss, but forget about driving excitement, because the necessary grunt is just missing.

The Octavia always feels a little sluggish and down on power. And that, we should point out, is when only the driver is aboard.

However, things are looking up for potential Octavia owners in a hurry with the arrival of the new 1.8-litre turbocharged variant.

The engine is the same five-valve-per-cylinder unit that the Volkswagen Group uses in everything from the Golf GTI and Passat 1.8T to the Audi A3, A4, A6 1.8T, and even, once a few tweaks to give it more power have been done, the TT.

With this versatile 1.8-litre under its bonnet, the Octavia's maximum power is 150 bhp at 5,700 rpm, making it exactly 50 per cent more powerful than the 1.6-litre version.

A torque peak of 210 Nm that stretches from 1,750 rpm to 4,600 rpm gives it as much pulling power as a BMW 320i, too.

In four-speed automatic guise, Skoda claims to be the faster. The Octavia clocks 9.9 seconds for the benchmark sprint to 100 kmh from standstill (13.8 seconds for the 1.6 auto), and is capable of a 215 kmh top speed (182 kmh for the 1.6 auto).

Because the turbo is a relatively small, light-pressure unit, there is little lag in initial power delivery, although the engine does become lethargic at high revs, in this case, above 5,500 rpm.

On the positive side, engine noise is subdued most of the time, perhaps more so than in an Audi A6, but what you will appreciate most is its responsiveness and flexibility during in- gear acceleration.

The rear brakes have been uprated from drums to discs to cope with the extra power, but the chassis is left untouched, surprisingly.

Not that it matters, because the Octavia has no difficulty handling those additional horses. And even though it is shod with energy-saving tyres, too, it manages - impressively - to stay neutral most of the time around bends, unless you enter way too fast.

Even then, it will correct itself from understeer as soon as the throttle pedal is eased off.

All that performance comes at a price, of course. The Octavia Turbo costs about $24,000 more than an automatic 1.6-litre version.

Are the extra horses worth the money?

We think so, considering that, priced at $115,999 with COE, the top-of-the-line Skoda is about $5,000 cheaper than the entry-level Volkswagen, the Golf 1.6.

Apart from that, there are also few sedans in its price range with that kind of power.

As we said earlier, the Octavia is great for families, but with the Turbo version, the driver feels rewarded, too.

FAST FACTS

Skoda Octavia 1.8T Elegance

Price: $115,999 with COE

Engine: 1,781 cc, four cylinders, 20 valves, double overhead cams

Max power: 150 bhp at 5,700 rpm

Max torque: 210 Nm at 1,750 - 4,600 rpm

Top speed: 215 kmh

0 - 100 kmh: 9.9 seconds

For details: Contact JTA Motors on 741-7119