In September 1996, exactly 20 years ago, the iconic Skoda Octavia went into production in the company’s newly built plant in Mladá Boleslav, Czech Republic. Since then, the car’s name became synonymous to the Skoda marque itself; the Octavia is the brand’s global bestseller with more than five million units sold in the following two decades. In India too, the Octavia was quite a saviour to a largely unknown European brand that entered a market it had no idea about.
The car was a runaway hit when it was launched in 2000, and went on to establish a competitive executive sedan segment here that lasted for almost a decade. Why was it successful after all? The Octavia stood for quality, was well-built, had impressive and efficient diesel engine. It’s muscular design was something we Indians have never seen before. Skoda also offered both petrol and diesel variants at the same price initially, which helped it gain numbers in terms of sales.
And a bit of elitism worked in favour of it. At that time, for those buyers who wanted an upmarket, posh car in the entry-level sedan category for a bit of extra premium, there were few cars only. The then lavish Opel Astra and Mitsubishi Lancer were pricey for what they were, and Octavia grabbed that spot very soon. The car’s perfect rivals were not in good shape either – Honda Accord and Ford Mondeo were way costly, and Opel Vectra suffered from twilight of its brand in India. It was only the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla later that bargained quite heavily with the Octavia buyers.
Now that I look back, the first-gen Octavia was one of those cars I venerate the most. As a car-crazy teenage boy back then, I adored its sold muscular styling with wider and shorter attitude on road, its longer bonnet and that coupe-like rear end that stood so high unlike any of its counterparts. I loved the early Skoda’s face with boxy headlamps and quadrilateral grille so much that I even ached for a similar Fabia (first-generation) for India. And not to forget its clever ‘liftback’ tailgate that gave excellent practicality to access its massive 528-litre boot – I even awed at it so naively as I have never seen such a setup before! Even now, the Octavia models never miss to catch my attention whenever I spot them on my drives.
Later in 2005, the company adopted a two-model strategy in India, making the old Octavia to stay further while the second-generation model was brought in as more luxurious and pricey ‘Laura’. Well, the name wasn’t that popular, but the car certainly was. The estate version of the Octavia named ‘Combi‘ was also launched – one of the large and impressive station wagons we have ever seen even today. Again in 2013, the fresh third generation Octavia drove into our market, replacing the Laura model.
Revisiting the car’s global past, the development of the new Octavia began in 1992, shortly after the Czech brand went into the hands of Volkswagen Group. Although the term “Octavia” may have been derived from Roman history, the car was actually named after an earlier Skoda model from 1960s. The new car was based on VW’s completely new Group A4 platform, which was also shared with other models from the group – Audi A3/ S3, Seat Toledo, Seat Leon, VW Golf and VW Jetta. The car featured robust body structure, catchy design using latest CAD (Computer Aided Design) technology, punchy 4-cylinder petrol and turbo-charged diesel engines, and best-in-class active and passive safety including side airbags.
The next-generation Octavia was unveiled in 2004, now built on a slightly upgraded VW Group A5 platform with increased ride height and wide engine options. The current third-generation Octavia entered production in 2013. This time the car was entirely new – is now based in VW’s MQB platform (that also underpins the just unveiled 2017 Skoda Kodiaq SUV), also adopting a refreshingly new design sculpture.
The Octavia is now more upmarket than it was initially, especially with the arrival of Rapid models globally. In its 20 years of existence, the Octavia model has seen number of derivatives including Octavia RS (sporty petrol-turbos), 5-door Octavia Combi, and crossover-styled Scout versions. It got all-wheel drive systems in select estate and liftback variants. The car also tasted motorsport sometime in ETC championship and WRC. And, its production was expanded to other countries including Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, and India.
The Octavia is extremely popular wherever it was sold across the globe, and Skoda admits that the car is at the heart of the brand even today.