I bought this bargain Octavia to find a better balance of all the things I wanted in a car. It has more boot space than my old ride, almost as much passenger space and a much, much nicer engine. But, after paying about £3000 less than market value and being saddled with a cambelt that was four years overdue a change, what has the first month of ownership taught me… and how much has it cost?
Come on, I don’t really need to argue this point, do I? We all know it: as surely as the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, boost is awesome. It’s not like I didn’t know it already, but the reminder has been brilliant.
My old diesel car had 148bhp and 229lb ft versus Dave the Octavia’s 197bhp and 207lb ft. Dave revs so much more eagerly, though, spinning his turbo for longer and with a definite smile on his newly re-number-plated face. Fundamentally, despite the torque deficit it feels loads quicker. A K04 turbo from the Audi S3 might somehow find its way in at some point, for greater boost at higher revs.
When I bought Dave I switched out of a very pleasant and very solid Toyota Avensis diesel estate. It was comfy, smooth (for a diesel) and well-equipped. I don’t need to tell you, though, that I’d swap all that for a decent petrol engine… because I did.
The instant and massive improvements in smoothness, warm-up times and sound have instantly made my world a better place. The EA113 engine in this early MkII has a decent slice more character than the later, chain-driven and generally smoother EA888, which, without special tuning, always seems to sound a bit boring. The EA113 is a really lovely motor, and more charismatic than I was expecting.
Even though I took a spanner-handy friend and spent plenty of time around the car, there were things I missed. I didn’t clock the duff engine thermostat until the drive home, and thanks to a general parts shortage I haven’t been able to get it changed yet.
Then there’s the 6CD autochanger in the boot. It’s not getting any power (or it’s just totally buggered). We never thought to actually try it at the viewing, and the CD player in the dashboard works, so it’s a low-priority problem to fix.
When the interior door handle comes off in your hand (twice) as you try to close the door, you know your car isn’t quite at Rolls-Royce levels of build quality. It’s a poor piece of design; the selection of small clips just aren’t up to the task of jerking a heavy door closed, but I’ve learned to pull it progressively rather than yanking.
There are one or two small creaks and rattles that I want to track down and kill, but they’re no biggie. Overall it has nothing like the sense of solidity that the old Toyota had, but that’s a sacrifice I was, and still am, willing to make.
It’s hard to believe, as we sit here in 2018, that a mildly sporty, mid-sized, flagship estate car could have had so little equipment just 12 years ago. Its kit list was emptier than a supermarket bread aisle after a heavy snowfall. Semi-automatic air conditioning and the CD multi-changer were the extent of the highlights.
As I understand it, even the rear electric windows were optional, but those have at least been added to this car. By modern standards it’s a pathetic lack of equipment. The current Octavia vRS is just about drowning in relative luxuries by comparison.
Back in 2013 the kind soul who owned the car paid out to have two really useful pieces of kit retro-fitted. A row of parking sensors was put into the rear bumper, and the fitter has done such a stellar job that you’d never know they weren’t original. In operation the stereo volume drops so that you can hear the beeps, so it’s as good as a factory installation.
Secondly, a proper Parrott Bluetooth kit has been hard-wired in. Again, the integration is seamless with great call quality both ways, automatic stereo override functionality and, if you like, you can even programme it to say the name of the person who’s calling. It’s superb.
Not so good is the mobile-charging solution. I’m using one of the windscreen-mounted magnetic mounts you can buy in the CT shop (and yes, I paid for it myself). While the mount itself is super solid, having never fallen off once and having never even allowed the phone to slip, let alone drop, it does wobble a bit more than I’d like on rough roads. The cable routing is a tricky one, too, because nothing short of glues wants to stick to the dashboard trim to hold the cable in place. More thought needed.
Given the popularity of EA113-engined cars I thought servicing would be chips-cheap. Err, no. The bill for the new cambelt, water pump and a full service, including spark plugs and wholly genuine Skoda parts throughout, was £595 at the excellent Total Quattro Care, a VAG specialist in Stoke-on-Trent. Luckily I sold my old car for more than I expected.
The old belt, if you’re wondering, did have me clenching when I had a look at it. At eight years old it had doubled the recommended change interval, and it was about to snap. When folded and squeezed between my fingers, I could see the material cracking. Gulp. The Audi-trained mechanic at TQC bluntly said: “It was ready to go, mate.” I don’t think he meant it was dressed for its dinner date, and I might just have dodged a bullet, there.
This was the bit I was dreading. I’d already decided I wanted the car at this point so I was just braced for the hit, giving my credit card the pep-talk I thought it would need. I called Direct Line expecting to have them laugh at me down the phone, before counting how many zeroes the premium had.
In truth I was actually just swapping the policy from the Avensis, so I knew it wouldn’t be that bad, but I was expecting a big hike. Nope: £12 was all it cost to swap from the old man’s Avensis to the hot-hatch-engined Octavia. I’ll take that, thanks!
If you asked me to be honest, I’d happily tell you that the Avensis was comfier, more solid both in its materials and its ride, had a better driving position, was more economical, cheaper to tax, and had vastly more equipment. Cruise control, climate control, sat-nav, full leather and electric seats, for starters, plus automatic headlights and wipers, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and more.
Have I missed it? Once; the first time I hit the motorway and regretted not having cruise control (which I’ll try to retro-fit myself this summer). After that, though, no, I haven’t missed the Avensis at all. Dave the Octavia gives me more of what I really want, and I couldn’t be surer that I did the right thing. Life’s too short not to own cars that make you smile.