Rob writes: Weird Skience

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Rob is back on PetrolBlog with an update on his Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDi Laurin & Klement

Rob Griggs-Taylor is getting used to life with his new Skoda Octavia. He's therefore penned a few words for PetrolBlog on his latest acquisition.

There are two small pieces of plastic inside the Octavia which neatly represent the attitude of the Skoda team when designing the car. One is transparent, measures about 4cm by 1cm and is used to hold parking tickets against the windscreen so you don't have to leave horrible gluey marks on the glass. The other is about 10cm x 2cm and is mounted discretely above the rear-view mirror. Folding it down blocks the gap between the sun visors and thus stops the sun shining in your eyes.

Two very useful pieces of plastic, demonstrating some careful thought about what's required in a quality car. However they're made of cheap plastic. This balance between care and cost is what made the Octavia such a competitive car to buy. Sometimes though, the balance between the two suggests that there were some design or production conversations that resulted from excessive quantities of Czech beer being consumed. An example.

Skoda Employee 1: "We need to make this new Octavia really luxurious. I think we should encase the handbrake lever in stitched leather to match the seats."

Skoda Employee 2: "But if we do that we can't afford everything else in the interior!"

SE1: "What if we didn't put leather on the steering wheel rim? Would that save enough money?"

SE2: "Ooooh! Good idea! We'll do that then!"

Night shot of interior in Skoda Octavia L&K

And so the car has leather on both the gear knob and the handbrake, but the steering wheel which is arguably the thing your hands are most in contact with while driving, is plastic. I remember a similar thing in a Fabia a few years back which had central locking and cruise control but all the windows were wind-up instead of electric. Strange stuff.

To some extent this level of incongruousness is endearing. It suggests that real, actual people had a hand in this car. And when you throw it into a roundabout and feel the front end actually go where you want you realise that the VW engineers did a great job of translating the Golf chassis into this bigger car. It's very reminiscent of the last model Mondeo insofar as it's genuinely good to drive but overlooked by the bulk of the population because of the badge. Well, more fool them because the lack of demand has made the Octavia very cheap to buy.

And the 1.9TDi engine makes it correspondingly cheap to run. Under the wacky UK car taxation rules the Octavia costs £120 each year on road fund licence. MrsG-T's Ford Puma, which has a smaller engine but is a bit older, costs £220 for the same period. Fuel consumption is similarly appealing. My daily commute is around one hundred miles, mainly on dual carriageway and motorway, and ending with a few miles across town. Including a trip to France with the car loaded up with luggage and bike rack, the average fuel consumption is a whisker over 50mpg. I've seen over 60mpg on the trip computer, but as usual this figure is optimistic.

Skoda Octavia L&K clocks up 142,000 milesIn the 6,500 miles that we've covered together so far it hasn't missed a beat despite having travelled more than 135,000 miles before I bought it. The servicing records that came with it show that it was regularly looked after, again slightly oddly by a Vauxhall dealer in the main. Latterly there have been some unusual parts replaced, like the gear stick. I don't think I've seen that since my mate's 1974 Escort Mk1 gearstick sheared back in about 1986.

On the plus side, the air conditioning compressor and timing belt were done quite recently so they should be OK for a while.

The electric sunroof works perfectly and doesn't leak, as do the electric mirrors and the xenon headlights. However the CD auto changer doesn't, nor does the rear demister or indeed the rear washer. Neither does the drivers door lock. Or rather it didn't. But now it does. Sort of. Perhaps I should explain.

When I bought the car the drivers door lock didn't work when plipping the remote, although all the other doors and tailgate did. I tried using the key in the lock but it just spun round without having any effect. This, it turns out, is a common problem with VW group cars, and the two problems are separate. The manual lock has a kind of paddle based mechanism on the back of the lock and this can break off, which it apparently does with monotonous regularity. The parts cost less than £3 from my local garage but it requires stripping much of the door so the labour makes up the bulk of the cost to fix. I chose to do this, and now I can lock and unlock the car. However, the remote locking is a separate issue and my local VW independent specialist tells me that it could be the solenoid or the wiring. Either way requires more door stripping and plenty of time tracking down the issue, so I haven't bothered.

The other key (sorry!) problem was the stereo. I listen to a lot of music, in the form of radio, podcasts and CDs so the concept of having a cassette player and FM radio wasn't appealing. Then the power button stopped working, so after pausing to celebrate briefly, I went online to reserve something appropriate at a local Halfords store. I did this because I wanted a hifi quickly but it proved to be a mistake. To cut a very long story short, it turns out that Halfords' online stock checker is as reliable as a weather forecast. Despite being able to reserve a decent CD player, it was out of stock. The staff were at least helpful and I managed to do what seemed to be a spectacular deal on a Pioneer DEH-3400UB. Later I found the same set on Car Audio Direct for £5 less than my 'heavily discounted' one. Lesson learned.

It's a great set, although space is a bit tight in the Skoda dash. Easily available plug adaptors allowed me to at least fit the Pioneer in the car park outside the store so I was able to listen to what I wanted on the way home.

Other purchases included a surprisingly expensive, but lovely, powered iPhone dock from ProClip USA in which the power is supplied via the USB port in the CD player, and I transferred the Pure Digital DAB radio from my old Primera, which can be simultaneously plugged in. Now I have the choice of DAB, FM, CD, iTunes, Spotify or podcasts with a few button presses. Pity the speakers in the car are quite poor. We're back to the balance of cost to quality that we started at.

Rear of Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDi Laurin & Klement

So far, then, life with Octavia is pretty good. It still needs a damn good clean inside but I have a horrible feeling that I could spend a lot on an interior valet and it not make a difference in the few parts that I really want it to. New tyres are a must before winter takes hold as the Bridgestone Turanzas are nearing their tread limit. If there's any spare cash, I'd really like to upgrade the speakers too, but it turns out that we've changed MrsG-Ts car too so that may take a little while. But that's another story for another article.

You can follow Rob on twitter @robgt2.