When the Skoda Superb left the Diesel Car fleet, I spoke of the build quality of its interior and reliability. However, the Superb’s replacement is proving a somewhat less bulletproof proposition. It’s not that the Octavia has broken down or gone into limp mode, like the Peugeot 508 we ran last year did, indeed, the mechanical components seem every bit as solid as expected, but the electrics are a different matter.
I didn’t really notice anything amiss until the clocks changed and driving through the darkness became a little more common. One evening, while I was cruising along the kind of farm track that passes for an A-road in deepest, darkest Devon, I noticed the driver’s side rear courtesy light had illuminated for no apparent reason. Reaching back, I managed to switch it off, only for it to come back on a moment later. This game of whack-a-photon carried on for a good few miles, before the light in question eventually behaved itself.
The following afternoon, I started the car and was immediately greeted with an amber warning light and a deep bong. The digital instrument cluster told me the Front Assist safety system was out of action. No matter, I have eyes and brakes. Once I’d made it to Sainsbury’s, the system was also complaining of issues with the parking sensors (slightly irritating – especially considering the Octavia doesn’t have a reversing camera) and the system that warns you if you’re about to open your door into an unsuspecting car or cyclist (less of a concern).
Ever since, the car has had intermittent issues with all these things. Sometimes it’s just one system, other times it’s several, but it’s usually only a minor irritation. That is until last week, when I was plodding along the M5 on a damp, miserable evening. I had settled into a 90-minute journey, eating the miles with the help of some podcasts and the Octavia’s ridiculously efficient engine, but my peace was shattered by what I now call ‘The Bong Of Doom’. Front Assist had packed up again.
This wasn’t a great worry, as the cruise control still worked, as did my eyes and my right foot, but then the light went out. Then it came on again. Then it illuminated again. This tiresome, bong-ridden pattern of misery continued for about two junctions. Just as I was ready to pull over and go all Basil Fawlty on the Octavia’s bonnet, it stopped.
Not only are these issues a pain in the backside, but they’re colouring my view of what is unquestionably a brilliant car. The Octavia is roomy, comfortable and good looking. It’s frugal, too, and it’s even reasonable to drive fast – I’m really looking forward to playing with the vRS version.
But all these technical issues are turning me against a car I’d otherwise adore. Aside from the fractional gutlessness of this low-powered 2.0-litre engine, the marginally excessive price tag, and the slightly odd gearing, it’s the perfect family car. Think of something you’d use a car for, and you’ll probably find an Octavia that fits the bill. I’m just worried that these electrical niggles suggest the company’s build quality isn’t what it once was.
Skoda clearly is too, because it’s on its way to take the car back to its headquarters in a bid to find the cause of the issues. Let the courtesy car roulette commence.
Date arrived 10th September 2020
Economy (WLTP combined) 55.4-62.8mpg
Economy (On test) 62.4mpg