The dynamic Sportline version of the Octavia looks good. It combines attractive sporting extras with the wide range of engines and comfort of Škoda's favourite model. After 5,000 kilometres behind the wheel of the Octavia Sportline during the Rallye Monte-Carlo, however, we can say that in addition to its great looks, it's also a car that's great to drive!
Let me start with a brief explanation of the photos. Of course, the article could have used some nice photos from the Col de Turini, the port of Monte Carlo or the beautiful curves before Entrevaux, but unfortunately the reality of the rally didn't allow that. In fact, during the transitions between the stages you often drive through gravel sections, park in designated meadows or drive on roads full of mud from agricultural equipment, and so in just a moment the beautiful red Velvet metallic transform itself into a dull muddy brown. That's why we've photographed the thoroughly cleaned car on our return, so you can see the attractive combination of black accessories, typical of the Sportline trim and red bodywork. Looks great, doesn't it? But now let´s talk about how the Octavia Sportline drives.
Night journeys through Europe have a special charm. In the quiet of the night, with minimal traffic and no trucks, you can briskly steal hundreds of kilometres from your route; just you and your car. After many trips with supercharged two-litres, we were curious to see how the smaller 1.5 TSI engine mated to a manual six-speed gearbox would handle the challenge of Germany's unlimited-speed stretches. And it did surprisingly well. The 150bhp output easily pulled even the rather long sixth gear holding the revs down nicely at higher speeds, so even the brisk motorway pace was no problem for the fully loaded car and the journey went by very pleasantly. Also worth mentioning is the great setup of the adaptive LED Matrix headlights, which minimally trim the light just right to give you maximum visibility and not dazzle other road users. They work wonderfully.
Our car was fitted with the base chassis without the DCC variable damping stiffness adjustment. It's a good compromise between comfort and precision. Even at higher highway speeds, it can keep the movements of a fully loaded car in check and the car doesn't sway unnecessarily.
The challenges of the Napoleonic road
The legendary Route Napoleon, which runs from Grenoble to the Côte d'Azur, presents the perfect test for any car. This year we drove it between Gap and Monte Carlo a total of three times during the competition. Most of it, that is, because due to the finish in Monte Carlo, we turned off the last part of it towards Entrevaux and started in Nice instead of Cannes. Even so, it was always a punishing 200 kilometres through the heart of the Provençal Alps. After the engine's performance on German motorways, the biggest surprise in the south of France was the brakes. They handled the long descents before Digne-les-Bains or further up the N202 sinewy with complete ease, and we were often weaving through really heavy traffic. Simply accurate and durable even in serial version, as it should be. And then there's the perfect balance.
Finnish driver Toni Gardemaister once said that the Octavia WRC was his favourite competition car because of its great balance with its long rear overhang. That has stayed with the Octavia. The weight behind the rear axle beautifully helps you fold the car evenly into corners, like good carving skis. And there's no better place in the world to find out than the N202 around Annot; a wonderful combination of fast and tight corners, where the Octavia folds from one corner to the next as if it was born here. The magic of the corners here is that even when you're going at regulation speed, it's actually a very dynamic drive. When you're also following a competition Fabia, which has a lot more grip thanks to its sharp geometry and racing tyres, it's even more of an experience. Pepe Lopez, driving in front of us in the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, was quite surprised that we were able to keep up with him in the serial car in this passage. Good steering, positioning behind the wheel and a degree of information about what's going on under the wheels are other strengths of the Octavia that helped it stand up to the Napoleonic challenge, in addition to its great balance.
One class larger space
And then, of course, there's interior space. This is strength of all Škoda cars and the Octavia is no exception; four guys in the interior with luggage for a nearly week-long adventure at the Monte Carlo Rally, including equipment for photo shoots and filming. The Octavia's boot just looks like a bottomless place that could perhaps fit the complete equipment of a hockey team, including the mascot. Even with the front sports seats and comfortable driving position, the crew still has plenty of legroom in the back. Inside, a number of sporty touches such as a perforated steering wheel, aluminium pedals and side door and dashboard décor add to the great interior feel.
The Octavia Sportline 1.5 TSI is a very good travelling companion. It looks great, it's comfortable, spacious and even with an engine that's more in the middle of the range in terms of performance, it's a great ride. And hand on heart; sometimes it's nice to be reminded of that DNA Motorsport isn't it?