There are few car brands that still hold the power to surprise. Beyond the occasional concept car that looks like it’s been designed for interplanetary travel (yes, I mean you, Lamborghini Egoista) most manufacturers bring out evolutions of existing models, with small iterative improvements, tiny changes here and there.
Some manufacturers quietly boost the abilities of their products ahead of the general curve, building some great cars that too quickly get overlooked or forgotten about.
One such company is Skoda. I’d long since lost interest in the Czech company, seeing the cars as being good value everyday motors. It was only when the sharp looking Rapid was launched that I thought I ought to put my indifference aside and look at what they’re producing.
So I headed off for the new Octavia launch, a hatchback that shares a lot of its underpinnings with the new Volkswagen Golf, a car that’s widely accepted as being the best in its class.
Except the Golf isn’t the best in its class. No, that honour goes to its Octavia sibling. Without me noticing, Skoda has produced a car that is every bit as good as Volkswagen’s best, but is producing it for less money.
Then there’s the Rapid. It’s a slightly oddly proportioned car in the metal, narrower than you might expect, but full of neat detail touches that genuinely make life easier. For example, when your car is covered in snow you’ll find there’s a convenient ice scraper hidden behind the fuel flap. Sounds pointless, but if you’ve ever opened the driver’s door of your car to reach for the ice scraper, only to find three inches of snow falling on the seat, you’ll know that’s a smart touch.
As with the Golf-based Octavia, the Polo-based Rapid is not only every bit as good as the car it’s based on, but undercuts it on price by some margin. In the Rapid’s case, it’s also a bigger car.
This week I’ve been driving around in the Skoda Yeti, a Nissan Qashqai-sized car that’s part family hatchback and part SUV. Prices start at just £15,125, some way below Sunderland’s finest, and for that you get a smart looking car that, in my experience, almost refuses to use any fuel.
Yes, I’ve got the Greenline version on test, which adds another couple of thousand or so to the price, but in return Skoda adds a frugal 1.6-litre diesel engine tied in with lots of eco-goodies to keep it purring along while using as little of the black stuff as possible.
When the Yeti was delivered it had, according to the on-board computer, 540 miles of diesel left in the tank. After covering some 90 miles around Cambridgeshire, the remaining range had increased to 670 miles. For a moment I thought Skoda had solved the world’s energy crisis, selling a car that generated its own perpetual fuel supply, but sadly what goes up has to come down.
Not very quickly, though. I’ve now done 432 miles in the leather-clad and climate-controlled Yeti, averaging 61.6mpg. The official combined mpg figure is 61.4 mpg and, while I’ll admit the miles have been pretty easy on the car, I’ve made no attempt to save fuel. This is real-world driving.
Inside there’s plenty of space for a family, especially in the rear, while the boot is also cavernous enough to cope with a week’s shopping with ease. It drives well too, coping with the British potholed roads yet remaining reasonably tactile on twisty bits and compliant on the motorway.
Finding fault has proven tricky. This Elegance spec model doesn’t have sat-nav, which is a bit of a pain, and it’s possible to catch out the stop-start system if you’re a bit clumsy, but that’s about it.
In short, it’s brilliant, showing clearly what steps forward Skoda has made.
Those steps might just be causing a problem for their paymasters at Volkswagen though. By moving the cars slowly upmarket, as they clearly have done with the Octavia and Superb, they’re encroaching on the territory that the Volkswagen Golf and Passat would like to have for themselves.
In doing so, Skoda is also turning a healthy profit, which adds to the issues. How can Volkswagen stop Skoda taking sales away from themselves, without affecting the profitability of the business?
The Group has already said they want to launch a super-budget brand to compete with Dacia, sitting below Skoda’s position in the market, so they can’t really force Skoda back down the ladder, and they can’t climb too far themselves for fear of stepping on Audi’s toes.
Until they figure it out, there is no doubting that Skoda delivers not only fantastic value but also damn fine cars. They may not be the most exciting vehicles on the road, but if they look like a Volkswagen, go like a Volkswagen, but cost less in retail purchase, leasing and company car tax terms than a Volkswagen, then that’s a compelling case.
[button link=”http://www.contracthireandleasing.com/car-leasing-news/skoda-a-problem-every-manufacturer-would-like-to-have/” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at ContractHireAndLeasing.com on 13 May 2013.[/button]