Is a mid-life facelift enough to keep the Skoda Octavia at the top of its game?

The Skoda Octavia has long been among the best real-world family cars you can buy. Big, able and bargain-priced, it’s seen off all comers up to now. However, a recent facelift may have upped the onboard infotainment, but it has also pushed up prices, so the Octavia is no longer quite such a great bargain.

Rival Hyundai has also introduced a competitive new i30 hatch, a model that has more safety kit than the latest Octavia, yet costs around £1000 less. Mazda too has revised its Mazda 3 hatchback to add another challenger to the Octavia’s reign at the top. We bought all three together to find out which is the champ in 2017.

One thing becomes clear straight away: modern downsized turbo engines easily outdo older, larger, non-turbo engines. Both the Skoda and the Hyundai have a 1.4-litre turbo, which prove faster and more flexible than the 2.0-litre non-turbo Mazda. If you don’t rev the Mazda, it feels extremely flat, whereas the others pull from just 1500rpm. They all have decent gearboxes but the Hyundai has a vague clutch.

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The 3 doesn’t claw back points for Mazda through the corners either. It lacks feel, loses grip suddenly and can feel twitchy in extremes. Much more settled is the predictable Hyundai, although it’s not very exciting. Neither is the Skoda, although it does have the most grip and confidence. The Skoda has the best ride too, marginally bettering the Hyundai. Again, the Mazda loses points for its lumpiness.

Things don’t improve for the Japanese car inside, due to its sombre, claustrophobic-feeling interior and cheap-feeling dashboard. The Hyundai actually has a little less space than the Mazda for passengers, but it feels so much nicer. Neither car can match the Skoda for quality and robustness though, and the Octavia easily leads the way in terms of space. It’s huge for adults both front and rear, and its boot is way larger than the others as well.

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The Skoda has a very good infotainment system, with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Hyundai has such connectivity too, and its screen is logical, albeit slightly angled towards the driver so passengers see it less clearly. Bringing up the rear is the Mazda’s smaller, blocky-looking display that lacks both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Mazda does find a bit of favour with standard equipment. It gets keyless entry and start, heated front seats and bolsters the rear parking sensors of all three cars with standard front parking sensors. The Skoda has a decent kit haul as well, making the Hyundai look the mean one by not including climate control and LED headlights. There seems to be no haggling at dealers over the i30’s list price either: although it’s the most expensive, you’ll find it easier to get money off the Octavia.

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Retained values don’t suffer because of this, as the Octavia holds onto the most money over three years – the i30, in contrast, suffers hefty depreciation. This is perhaps why it costs £35 a month more than the other two on a PCP scheme, although they’re much more closely matched in terms of leasing costs.

By now, one thing is obvious: the Mazda brings up the rear. It’s very well equipped, but that’s about it. The drive is disappointing, its engine is aged and the interior is cheap. It’s an also-ran. Much closer to the Octavia is the new i30, which has a great engine, decent infotainment system and lots of safety equipment. It’s high prices, low equipment levels and uncompetitive PCP rates that let it down here.

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Which means the facelifted Skoda Octavia continues its reign at the top – perhaps by an even bigger margin than before, thanks to the well-targeted tweaks Skoda’s brought in. The latest infotainment systems are excellent, for example, and the new nose is distinctive.

It’s a marvellous all-rounder, with an excellent drive, good-quality interior and, most notably, a mass of space for both passengers and their luggage. Add in superb value and you have a clear winner.

1st Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI 150 SE L

Engine size 1.4-litre petrol, turbo
List price £21,405
Target price £19,472
Power 148bhp
Torque 184lb ft
​0-60mph 8.7 seconds
Top speed 136mph
Fuel economy 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions 121g/km

2nd Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDi 140 SE Nav

Engine size 1.4-litre petrol, turbo
List price £20,395
Target price £20,395
Power 138bhp
Torque 178lb ft
​0-60mph 8.6 seconds
Top speed 130mph
Fuel economy 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions 124g/km

3rd Mazda 3 2.0 120 Sport Nav

Engine size 2.0-litre petrol
List price £20,845
Target price £20,221
Power 118bhp
Torque 155lb ft
0-60mph 9.9 seconds
Top speed 123mph
Fuel economy 55.4mpg
CO2 emissions 119g/km

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