. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The New Skoda: Sleek Looks, Noisy Engine

Turn back the clock 10 years and a new Skoda had little chance of setting the motoring world alight -- until the Volkswagen Group waved its corporate checkbook.

Now VW holds 70 percent of the Czech car-maker, and Skoda is on the verge of creating a whole new image for itself with a new mid-size family hatchback, the Octavia.

Lining up in showrooms across Europe from this month onward, the Octavia takes Skoda into brand-new territory. Not only is it bigger than anything the company has built in recent history, it will also be more expensive.

Detlef Wittig, VW Group board member responsible for Skoda, hailed the Octavia as, "offering Western quality and technology at Far Eastern price levels." But that certainly doesn't mean bargain basement. Prices are expected to start at just under $16,500, with top models likely to cost as much as $22,500.

As the first Skoda to use a Volkswagen Group platform -- until now only engines and some components have been used -- the Octavia shares some 50 percent of its parts with the Audi A3 and the still-to-be-seen, next generation Golf.

But it's a bigger vehicle than these compact hatchbacks, despite having a comparable wheelbase. With exterior dimensions slightly larger than those of a Mondeo, Skoda is confident the overall package will attract buyers who would otherwise opt for a smaller car.

Five engines, all of them already proven in other VW Group cars, will be offered in continental markets. Two 1.6-liter gasoline engines, with 54kW (74bhp) and 73kW (100bhp) respectively, power the entry-level models. There are also two diesel engines -- both 1.9-liter, one of them turbocharged -- and at the top of the range a 1.8-liter, 20-valve gasoline engine.

The Octavia represents the new face of Skoda in more ways than one. It sports a large chrome grille, complete with Skoda's winged arrow emblem, which will be a design trademark on the company's next generation of cars. Rover and Lancia spring to mind as possible influences.

Overall, the Octavia's design is clean and very easy on the eye. The look is certainly not revolutionary, but it sits easily as a Skoda. The fact that Octavia is a modern, class-competitive machine is reinforced from the moment you settle into the driver's seat, with its multi-way adjustment. The steering wheel adjusts in and out as well as up and down, and an uncomplicated, functional facia layout with user-friendly controls completes the picture of a pleasant driver environment with plenty of room. Safety features are fully up to date, and there is a decent level of standard equipment.

There isn't as much space in the rear, but it's still not bad, and headroom is actually very good. The airy feeling continues further back, with a generous-sized trunk.

After 10 minutes at the wheel, you certainly feel at home. The Octavia is an honest, unpretentious car, very much in the Skoda tradition in fact. Test drives of models at either end of the range proved the car competent in all the important areas on the move -- bar one.

Handling is neat and tidy, and responses, while far from razor-sharp, are well-suited to the car's nature. The Skoda accelerates at a fair pace, the gear change works easily enough, and it stops well, too.

It doesn't respond to being driven really hard, but that's not what the Octavia is about.

The main gripe is that of the three test cars tried, two were unreasonably noisy at speed because of engine noise booming in the cabin. The only positive thing that can be said is that one car, while still very far from perfect, was quite a bit quieter, suggesting that questionable quality control rather than design is the culprit.

Ivor Carroll is a writer for Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this column to The Moscow Times.