Should I Buy a Skoda? Is there an Octavia Lag Problem?


From: Michael

Hi John, I have recently had the opportunity to drive two new Skoda Octavias, the 103kW and the 132kW - both are turbo'd and have the 7 speed automatice DSG gearbox.  The appearance is very Audi-ish - much as you'd expect given the vehicles' family ties. Plenty of useable space and utilitarian but functional. I've never driven a turbo vehicle before and was looking forward to the drives. Generally I found them both to be quite torqy from low speeds up to the legal road range limit. 

The main criticism is that from a standing start when you planted the foot the car was sluggish for the first few seconds (seemed a lot longer) before it behaved as I would have expected. My wife noticed this first in both vehicles but it appears more pronounced in the larger 132kW engine. I did a little research and note that it has been explained away as an issue with the DSG gearbox.

There didn't appear to be much concern expressed about it otherwise particularly with reviewers. I live in Canberra and I know you're familiar with the roads here, and there have been occassions where I have committed to taking off at a roundabout only to have someone come ripping out of the blue at speed and all I can do at that point is tromp it to try and get out of an unpleasant situation. At this point those few seconds of lag can be pretty worrying. 

In all other respects I enjoy this car but I shouldn't have to slip the gearshift into 'tiptronic' and manage the gearbox manually from a stop to avoid this 'lag'and potential worry. 

Have you driven these cars? Have you heard anything else on this vehicles? They attract me (aside from the look) because of price, economy and the (otherwise) responsiveness and power in a useable band. 

We have also test driven the Hyundaid i30, i40 and will be trying out some Kia's soon. The Hyundai's are nice and well appointed, but to this point I was really keen on the Octavia, so now I'm having to review my position on it. Am I overreacting/over critical? I'd be grateful for your thoughts on this.


Volkswagen/Skoda persists with the DSG gearbox despite its obvious flaws. Typical German arrogance...

DSGs were developed because they're a great concept for performance driving. The next gear is pre-selected in parallel, so when a shift is required it's fast. Great for racing. Great for having a fang on a bit of back-road.

Unfortunately, the nature of engineering compromise means that these gearboxes are always awful to drive when you're not fanging/racing. It's not just Volkswage/Skoda - the DSG in the Hyundai Veloster (the atmo one) is likewise awful. In fact, I can't think of a case where the DSG isn't awful for normal driving - which, let's face it, is 90 per cent of driving. (It would be great if 90 per cent of driving was dodging kangaroos in the Brindabellas, but in reality it's driving down Northbourne Ave at 0850 every morning...

So, yeah, the DSG is pretty much a joke - and the automation of the clutch from takeoff is appalling. As you said, sometimes you need a speedy getaway, and the vehicle just does not respond.

Peak power isn't everything - almost everyone agrees that the 103kW powertrain is the best one to drive. Basically power equals torque times revs. (It's a bit more complex than that - revs have to be converted to radians per second, from rpm - but power equals torque divided by time. Power is Newton-metres per second.) All you need to know is that there's an interplay between torque and revs that yields the power figures.

This means that 103kW at 4500rpm (the 1.4-litre engine's peak power) is pretty similar to the 132kW engine's power delivery at 4500rpm. It has to spin to 6000rpm to deliver the extra 29kW. This means the extra kW are mainly the product of extra revs, not extra torque produced by the engine. (I was an engineer.) So, at 4500rpm both engines are either line-ball or very close indeed on performance. The proof here is: they both develop the same 250Nm from 1500rpm to 3500rpm - so their power production is identical in that rev range, and from 3500-4500 it would be similar.

Since most driving is between 1500 and 3500rpm, you're a goose if you buy the 132kW engine for the extra grunt, because most of the time there won't be any...

The other problem with Skoda is: Volkswagen. Volkswagen is obsessed with being the biggest car company on earth by 2018. It's their only objective. They don't give a shit about their customers.

This objective involves rolling out an armada of new models. It's a real tsunami. Volkswagen sales are way up as a result. In 2004 Volkswagen sold 10,754 in Australia. Ten years later, in 2013, the company sold 54,892 vehicles. Incredible.

Only, the reality of doing that - growing the product range like it's on peptides - means that much of the R&D was done once over lightly. Reliability is crap, and the dealer network is appalling when it comes to assisting customers whose vehicles have become problematic.

According to independent quality ratings agency JD Power, Volkswagen is less reliable than Jaguar, Chevrolet, Ford, Kia, Volvo and Chrysler... (See below.) And yet the common perception is that they are great. Go figure...

As for Hyundai/Kia - these are the same company splitting their R&D down the middle, too. In general, they build only adequate petrol engines, but the diesels tend to be quite strong. An exception is the i30 SR - the best Hyundai car on sale today. Its 2.0-litre GDI engine is a cracker, and the local suspension tuning is excellent.

The other big advantage of the South Korean pair is the warranty - five years and unlimited kilometres.

As to whether or not you are being over-critical: you're not. It's a buyer's market. There are 300 (ish) cars on sale from 60 (ish) manufacturers. Every segment has 20 or 30 competitors (except large cars, which are dead). It's like buying a suit or a Swiss watch, or a Hermes handbag - if it's not exactly right, don't buy it. And, trust me, the Skoda is not exactly right. Don't fall in love with it; it's just a manufactured product.

Drive a Mazda3 SP25 and a Hyundai i30 SR, and get back to me. They're the benchmarks in my opinion.