0-62mph 9.9 seconds
Top speed 128mph
Eco score ★★★★☆
I’ve never been one of those people who mix up their lefts and rights. But today I’m struggling. I’m sitting at the wheel of a beautiful yellow Skoda 422. It was made in 1929 and is the kind of motor you imagine you’d arrive at the opera in and step out wearing tails and a neatly waxed moustache. But the car was, in fact, the smallest and most affordable car to drive out of the Mladá Boleslav factory gates. Life must have been very grand back then. It has a 1.2-litre engine that generates just 22hp, a three-speed gearbox and a top speed of 47mph. But, and this is where it gets confusing, its pedals are in the wrong order – the brake and throttle are reversed. And it’s quite hair-raising to step on the brake and find yourself speeding up…
The 422 is part of Skoda’s heritage fleet, which includes everything from the Popular of 1940 to a rare and stunning 1100 Spider, insured for £3m. But the pride of Skoda’s historic car collection is its range of Octavias. This year the car celebrates its 60th anniversary. Since the first model rolled on to the streets of what was then Czechoslovakia, the Octavia has become the brand’s runaway bestseller, shifting almost 6.5m worldwide. Most are still built in the original plant in Mladá Boleslav, but there are also production lines in China, India, Russia, Kazakhstan and Algeria.
We Brits have had an enduring love affair with the Octavia. More than 500,000 have found their way into appreciative hands in this country. As well as finding fame as a rally car, becoming a favourite of the police and emergency services, and acting as a loyal servant of minicab firms the length and breadth of the country (I always think if you want affordable, economical, reliable and comfortable, just have a look at what is parked outside your local minicab office), the Octavia’s highpoint came in 2011 when an Mk2 built by Skoda UK set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, USA, of 227.080mph.
The name is derived from the Latin “octavia”, meaning “eighth”, as the car was the brand’s eighth model after the Second World War. It was pretty basic then, but its ethos was the same as it is today – to bring affordable, quality motoring to as many people as possible at an unbeatable price. Six decades later, the range includes nine equipment levels, 14 engine and transmission options and two body styles. The entry level saloon kicks off at £18,610 rising to high-performance vRS that is £29,380.
Most of you will be aware that Skoda is a junior member of the vast Volkswagen family. In many ways the Octavia is a “budget Golf”. But don’t think that you are being short-changed. The Octavia comes with a raft of clever extras, such as adaptive lighting, panoramic sunroofs and a virtual cockpit. Connectivity is as you’d expect from a modern car, but how about a removable LED torch in the boot and an umbrella holder under the passenger seat? There’s also park assist and pedestrian protection. Enginewise you can take your pick from a small 1.2 litre petrol (the same size as the very first) up through a brace of 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol and diesels.
It’s solid, reliable, commendable and unshowy, but no one is going to be hugely impressed you are driving an Octavia – except yourself. And that’s who really matters.
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