The cars we loved.
The Czech Republic like many Eastern European nations has struggled to make the transition to a free market economy. What was OK before was suddenly cast aside by more modern Western competition when consumers were offered a choice. VW Group’s Czech based subsidy Skoda was one such manufacturer who made great strides in shedding its former reputation for being a builder shoddy little cars.
Skoda started its march West in 1996 with the new Octavia. The Octavia is considered a large car based on a mid-sized platform shared by the VW Group’s Jetta and Audi A4 (among others). Designed around a slightly stretched chassis, the Octavia had the ride qualities of a larger car for less. The Octavia’s main competitors were the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra, cars that it fared well against as a low cost alternative while topping them in interior attention to detail. Old notions of poor communist era quality eventually faded as gradual improvements in quality with VW’s help lifted Skoda to a #2 ranking in Britain where it tied with Honda in 2007. The car was so popular, that when a face lifted 2000 model arrived; the original car (now called Octavia Touring) was still being sold as a lower cost alternative model. So there were actually two popular Octavia being sold in tandem in many parts of Europe, even as a second generation car appeared in 2004.
The Octavia range included economical engines similar to VW’s Golf and Jetta lines. At one time the front wheel drive cars were joined by an all-wheel drive wagon using the same drive system as Audi’s A4 (they could not call it Quattro). Engines typically ranged in size from 1.8 to a 2 liters. A broad range of 4 cylinder engine types were available in turbo, diesels and naturally aspirated inline configurations. Standard Octavia’s were fitted with 5 speed manuals or 4 speed automatics. The sportiest versions usually used a 6 speed manual setup. The wide range of engine options meant that there was a Octavia for nearly every public or private use. As the 90’s progressed the Octavia became the preferred police car in many parts of the United Kingdom.
Part of the reason for the popularity of the Octavia as a police car started with the limited edition vRS in 2002. It featured a 1.8 turbo engine similar to what was used in early Audi TT coupes which produced 180 hp. The first vRS was essentially a replica of Skoda’s WRC car complete with decals, xenon lights and heated front seats. The cars came only in white and featured 18in wheels and a dual exhaust system, distinguishing them from later vRS cars. The vRS was more than just a looks package as Skoda claimed that it produced more torque than a Porsche Cayman S. The 0 to 60 numbers in the low 7 second range might not have been impressive, but the top speed of 149 mph was. Only 100 replica vRS cars were built. Many of the replica car’s features would end up in later vRS cars, especially those adapted for police duty.
The 2009 model year brought about more major changes with a facelift that gave the Octavia more personality and less design inspiration from its German parent’s other products. Great attention has been paid to the interior details to match the quality, look and feel of more expensive cars. This has further propelled the popularity of the Octavia to markets beyond Europe. It’s unlikely that the Octavia would be sold in the US, especially now that the new Jetta is about the same size (filling a gap that the Octavia could have filled between the Jetta and Passat).