ŠKODA Kodiaq Ready To Bear Arms

Czech brand Skoda is preparing to launch a raft of new vehicles including a large SUV. Based on the Audi and VW versions of the same car, the Kodiaq as it will be called, will be a compact big car and will start at a decent $42990 plus ORC. When I say it’s a compact big car, overall length will be 4697 mm, and will roll on a 2791 mm wheelbase. That’s still shorter than the Audi Q5 at 2807 mm. Height is 1676 mm, including roof rails, which makes it the same height.

At the entry level, Skoda have specified their 1.4L TSFI engine, which is an interesting choice, until you read that the dry weight is under 1500 kilos. The Skoda Octavia AWD wagon is just 1250 kg or so, so there will be a noticeable if not huge difference between the two in performance. There will be five engines on offer; two 1.4L petrol, one 2.0L petrol, and two diesels with differing power and torque at 110 kW/340 Nm and 140 kW/400 Nm.

At the Australian launch we’ll see just one variant, being the 132TSI 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine as standard, developing 132kW of power (as its name suggests) plus 320Nm of torque. The 140 kW diesel will arrive later in 2017. There’ll be three option packs available: Tech ($2500), Luxury ($4900), and Launch, with the first offering Adaptable Chassis Control, auto park assist, an extra off road mode plus more. Luxury gives up ventilated electrically adjustable seats at the front, leather, surround camera system and more. A limited-run Launch Pack will be available for $5900, including all features of the Tech Pack plus blind spot and lane assist, reverse camera, traffic jam and emergency assist, side mirrors with auto dim, plus rear cross traffic alert. Additionally, the Launch Pack adds Triglav alloys at 19 inch diameter.

Outside it’s a set of updated Skoda design cues, with narrower and edgier headlights reflected in a similar design at the rear, said to be inspired by traditional Czech crystal glass art. There’s an improved grille design that flows equally as well with the headlights and the whole body is based on the family group’s modular transverse matrix which builds in hot stamped metal sheeting for a high rigidity factor with improved safety implications.

Check out http://www.skoda.com.au and register your interest there.

Car Review: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Trendline 118 TSi.

VW Jetta 118 Trendline profileThe Volkswagen Jetta has long been regarded as a Golf with a boot. That may very well be the case, but there are a few other cars around that had or have sedan and hatch versions. It’s certainly no less of a vehicle for having a boot, so how does it really stack up? A Wheel Thing tests the Trendline 118 TSI version.

Bottom line: it’s typical VW. That’s neither an endorsement or condemnation, it’s an observation of what the car is. First up, it drives well enough, it looks nice enough on the outside and in, was economical to a T (around 6.5L per 100 klicks on standard unleaded) and that’s pretty much most people look for. Whilst the SUV onslaught continues, it’s still nice to know car companies haven’t given up on sedans. Let’s take a look at the entry to a five model range…

VW Jetta 118 Trendline engineUnder the bonnet is the VW family’s 1.4L TSI engine (There’s also a 2.0L TSI and a same sized diesel in the range, plus a six speed manual or 6 speed DSG). Turbocharging and supercharging gives it plenty of torque, 240 Nm of it, from a handy and useable 1500 revs through to 4500 revs. Peak power is decent enough, with 118 kw on board (5800 rpm) but it’s a figure few will really ever take advantage of. VW recommends that the Jetta drink at least 95 RON, (preferably) or 98 Premium Unleaded from its 55L tank to extract the best performance from the 1337 kg (plus passengers and fuel) sedan.

VW Jetta 114 Trendline cabinTransmission was the well sorted 7 speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) from the VW family; it’s good, in the Jetta, really good. Smooth, crisp changes under acceleration, barely noticeable shifts in day to day driving (or, in other words, working as designed), only occasional stuttering in slow motion traffic.  Naturally there’s manual shifting, (transmission selector only, no paddles) which was only called upon in certain downhill situations when the DSG would hold gear (generally third) and the preference wasn’t for the one chosen.

It’s an economical package as well, with the readout showing 6.5L of 95 RON petrol consumed for every 100 kilometres. Bearing in mind that the natural environment for the Jetta is urban, that’s a pretty damned good figure. Even better, it’s nearly the same figure VW says is a combined consumption number, with highway rated at 5.3L and urban at 7.7L…That’s potentially helped by that relatively low weight.VW Jetta 118 Trendline frontStyling wise, there’s a clear resemblance to the Audi A4 sedan, which is no bad thing. Apart from the Scirocco and perhaps the Golf R, it’s hard to say that any VW vehicle is truly stylish but there’s nowhere near a need for a paper bag either.  It’s not especially compact with a 4659 mm length, 2651 mm wheelbase (good interior room, as a result), stands just 1453 mm tall and is 1773 wide, yet clever packaging manages to make the Jetta look a smaller car than it is.

There’s the familiar VW corporate look at the front, being uncluttered, clean, easy to look at. There’s bulb lit driving lights, no LED’s, a simple creaseline along the side drawing the eye to the rear and it’s as simple and clean and uncluttered as the nose.

The aforementioned “Golf with a boot” scenario? There’s a massive 510L with the rear seats folded up which jumps to a (cough) “decent” 1858L seats down.VW Jetta 118 Trendline boot VW Jetta 118 Trendline rearA Wheel Thing presumes that’s good enough for most people. Speaking of the boot, the section (naturally) houses the tail light cluster, which is also clean and uncluttered in design.VW Jetta 118 Trendline rear cabinThe interior is very much along the same design philosophy; the seats were black coth,most of the plastics were simple in print style, there’s the monochrome centre of dash display, dot matrix radio screen and simple to follow aircon controls. The seats themselves were supportive, manually operated and comfortable. All controls on the steering wheel where black and white in plastic and labels, again in keeping with the overall theme.VW Jetta 118 Trendline consoleVW Jetta 118 Trendline dash

Ride and handling is more than competent for a car this size and in its class. Acceleration is startling and gives the 205/55/16 tyres cause for concern off the line. There’s little choppiness over bumps, it sits flat and taut on the freeway and off camber turns are dispatched nonchalantly, with no hint of the chassis becoming unsettled enough to fire you off into the bushes.VW Jetta 118 Trendline wheel

Steering is precise, measured, with no sense of the front wheels not going exactly where your mind thinks they should be. In slow traffic, there’s a deftness to the steering; in freeway traffic, it’s light enough to require only a brief expenditure of thought and effort. It’s a very well weighted and sorted package. Having a nice to hold tiller helps as well.

Naturally there’s all of the safety features expected along with a well weighted pedal feel for braking. EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) is on board to allocate braking force where required, there’s six airbags as standard, Brake Assist and Hill Start Assist (holds the brakes momentarily when in Drive, on a hill, when pressing the accelerator) whilst the body is also engineered to provide crumple zones and a you’ll get a 12 year perforation warranty, should a stone nick the paint enough to expose bare metal. There’s the ISOFIX mounts for junior occupants, reflectors inserted into the doors for night time safety and auto door locks which engage once the car is in motion.

The Wrap.
Jetta is more than just a “Golf with a boot”, it’s its own car in its own right. It’s economical (tick), comfortable to be in and has plenty of space(tick),has unconfusing controls (tick), drives well and handles well (tick), looks fine enough on the outside with true European styling (tick) and isn’t expensive to buy at around $22K starting price (tick).
Factor in the quality build and warranty/service factors and the Jetta deserves a higher spot on your cars to consider ladder. Head over here: Volkswagen Jetta range and information for all you’ll need to know.

 

2015 Skoda Yeti Active: Car Review

Some years ago, here in Australia, we could buy an icecream called a Yeti. The catchphrase in the advertising was “Did you get a Yeti yet?”. Sure, it’s an odd way to introduce the Skoda Yeti but appropriate. Why? Barring a couple of things, it’s a pretty decent car for what it is.Skoda Yeti profile

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The Yeti provided is the entry level version; there’s a 1.2L, petrol fuelled, TSI engine from Skoda’s owners, Volkswagen, a six speed manual, 77 kW and two wheel drive. There’s a 1.4L (petrol) and 2.0L diesel with a 4×4 Skoda Yeti enginevariant. Torque is 175 Nm, from 1550 to 4100 rpm. Skoda quotes zero to one hundred as 11.4 seconds. Economy is quoted as (manual) 6.0L per 100 kilometres on a combined cycle from the 55 litre tank. It’s a figure very much in line with what A Wheel Thing achieved.

The Suit.
It’s certainly less funky and somewhat divisive that the original design. The nose is almost pure Skoda Yeti frontVW Polo with Skoda’s trademark inverse moustache grille, a more refined, four door, profile without the quirky window line design and a straightforward looking liftback rear. The Yeti featured clover leaf style 17 inch alloys with 225/50 Pirelli tyres.
From the rear, there’s a hint of (don’t laugh) Great Wall’s X240, with the hightower style tail lights, capped with two roof rails. A full length glass roof can be fitted as well.Skoda Yeti rear

On The Inside.
It’s a mix of blandness, some average ergonomics and design engineering, comfortable seats and Skoda Yeti front seatsgood viewing. Being a manual, there’s the forward throw of the gear lever, a smooth and non notchy one at that. The problem here is where the top of the lever ends in the throw; with hand on top it’s right next to the rotary dials that Skoda has chosen for the Yeti, which allowed, all too often, the hand to brush against those dials (air direction, fan speed, temperature) and move them. All. Too. Easily.Skoda Yeti console
The Yeti’s main claim to fame is the rear seat row being configurable. That may be the case but I had trouble moving one and couldn’t move another. The cushioning itself was finely balanced between support and comfort. It’s surprisingly spacious as well, with a decent sized cargo area of 377L with the seats up and over 1200L folded.Skoda Yeti cargo

The dash layout is generic, with a small LCD screen displaying an unusual look to the radio stations in the console; it also appears that this car’s GPS wasn’t either enabled or configured for Australia. Maps brought up a blank screen while Navigation was in all languages and areas bar Australia. The aforementioned issue with the dials is easily addressed by using buttons, it would certainly alleviate the inadvertent moving.
The dash screen itself is, not unusually, pure VW as well.

On The Road.
It takes a bit of time to get going but once spinning at around 2500 the Yeti moves along smoothly and without fuss. Overtaking needs a change of gear (or two, or three) as does climbing the two roads at the base of the Blue Mountains, in Sydney’s west.
Ridewise it’s well proportioned, in that the front and rear feel equally sprung and the tyres add a good measure of compliance for a somewhat plush feel, given its basic orientation. It’s also well weighted in the steering, given a feeling of confidence and not overly assisted. There’s a small measure of tyre squeal whel pushed into certain roundabouts but the Yeti never feels as if it will lose traction. Overall, it’s a confident chassis to drive.

The Wrap.
Compared to the VW Polo tested the week before, the manual Yeti seemed a bit less powerful but made up for it with a better suspension setup. It’s “new tech” by having a keyless start and “old school” in some basic ergonomic failures.
It’s roomier, both for humans and cargo and will be ideal for a small family and sole business owner.
For more details and pricing head to http://www.skoda.com.au.

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Volkswagen Polo 81TSI Comfortline: Car Review

Small cars divide opinion; are they safe, are they slow with people in them, are they really that economical?
Volkswagen offers drivers a choice of two small cars, being the up! and the Polo. A Wheel Thing trundled around in the Polo 81TSI Comfortline with these questions being asked. And answered.VW Polo Comfortline front

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It’s a miniscule 1.2L engine, turbocharged but with some impressive numbers: 81kW from 4600 through to 5600 revs and VW Polo Comfortline 85 TSI engineplateau flat torque from 1400 to 4000 revs. The twist is 175 Nm between those numbers, offering rapid acceleration and flexibility once on song. It’s bolted next to a 7 ratio DSG gearbox and this is the car’s biggest weakest link. I’ll explain further down.

The Suit.
It’s the now recognisable, across the VW family, squared off and angular front end and neon look style tail lights. A generation or two ago, the corporate look was a slightly blobby, rounded look; it’s been edged off, the headlight clusters have a clear delineation between the main lights and indicators and parkers whilst driving lights are now pushed out to the bottom corners.
In profile it’s clearly a small car; 15 inch alloys sit underneath a compact and unoffensive body. It’s compact, to say the least, at 3972 mm in length, rolling on a 2470 mm wheelbase. It’s 1682 mm wide, whilst standing at 1453 mm it won’t trouble too many people trying to look over the top.
The headlight cluster on the car tested is slightly different from the other (entry level) model by having a chrome look as opposed to black chrome.
Tyres are Continentals, 185/60 in profile, wrapped around 15 inch alloys.VW Polo Comfortline profile

On The Inside.
Naturally, unlike the TARDIS, it’s small on the inside because it’s small on the outside. Rear leg Polo Comfortline rear seatsroom, when the front pews are occupied by normal adults, is almost negligible, even for smaller family members. Entry and exit is easy enough but there’s no way that this car could be considered a five seater.
The overall presence is one of blandness; it’s black upon black, for the most part and nothing Polo Comfortline dash and seatsthat stands out as visually exciting or appealing.
It’s cloth trim, with VW’s oddly chosen tartan style weave, coating the snug and reasonably comfortable seats. The driver faces a simple and clear dash, in glorious black and white, bar red needles and the red line for the tacho. Ergonomically it’s pretty spot on.
Two small buttons on the outer lower part of the binnacle offer info options. It’s a left hand VW Polo Comfortline dashoperated indicator, controls for lights and audio plus aircon are efficient and ergonomically laid out, with the audio quality a touch unbalanced, even after adjusting the levels. The compact body doesn’t allow a lot of rear cargo space, being barely enough to hold a average weekly shop. Cleverly, though, there is a second level, access by simply lifting the visible floor, allowing a bit more storage for squashable or flat items.Naturally, there’s plenty of safety, with airbags and electronic aids, including a form of crash avoidance; a small icon lights up on the (black and white) dash screen if the system detects the Polo is getting close to the vehicle ahead and is under acceleration. It’s unintrusive and a simple reminder for the driver not to get too closeVW Polo Comfortline cargoVW Polo Comfortline cargo second level

On The Road.
It’s unbalanced in the suspension; the front is too soft, Polo Comfortline consolescraping on kerbs and the give in the rear isn’t enough. It’s disconcerting, especially with the speed bumps that infest our cities, feeling the front sponge over then the rear jolting. This provides some interesting driving moments in hard roundabout turns, with the nose tucking in whilst the tail feels to slightly ride high.
It’s also an interesting drivetrain combination, with a seven speed DSG (double clutch auto) and the light switch engagement it has; from Reverse to Drive, there’s a noticeable pause as the systems organises itself, then suddenly engages and launches the car forward. It’s the same when you’ve come to a halt at a stop sign or red light, as the transmission takes itself out of Drive, then lunges forward when the accelerator is pressed. A local intersection is a T junction with an almost blind curve coming in from the left, which makes trying to get under way with a transmission like this a touch dangerous as there’s the time lag between asking for go and getting it.
Under way, however, it’s a different and more enjoyable story, as that torque comes into its own and allows the Polo to roll along with alacrity. The number isn’t huge, at “just” 175 Newton metres, but the range at which it’s available VW Polo Comfortline wheelmakes the driving part a doddle, with low revs moving the Polo along just as easily as 4000 revs.
A major positive is its frugality. Being a small car, there’s no room for a big fuel tank with this being 45 litres. Even with four aboard, the engine doesn’t seem to struggle, with economy hovering between five and six litres per 100 kilometres covered. There was still 1/4 of a tank indicated with 565 kilometres driven on handover.

The Wrap.
I don’t think the Polo Comfortline is a family car; it’s too small to always comfortably deal with two adults, two children and a load of shopping. Two people and an occasional guest? For sure. The DSG issue is one that plagues this kind of transmission; it’s not fun and can be dangerous in certain locations. It’s devilishly cheap to run, though, it can be fun to punt once under way and has that bluff, no compromise interior look that doesn’t confuse with too many buttons or colours. You do get a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty plus capped price servicing. At Just over 22K, it’s unlikely to break the bank as well.
Head here for details: http://volkswagenaustralia.com.au/PassengerVehicleVariants/vehicle/polo
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2015 Skoda Octavia RS Wagon review.

Octavia profileThere’s something to be said for being the “little” brother or sister, in that unused and brand nwe stuff comes your way. With Skoda becoming part of the VW Group in 2000, the door was opened to taking advantage of the family lineage and sourcing from the parts bin, both brand new and “hand me downs” that are virtually brand new. Skoda’s undergone a resurgence, as a result and one of the key parts to that has been the Octavia. It’s a been a delightful week with the top of the range RS wagon, now in its third iteration. A Wheel Thing goes one on one with the Skoda Octavia RS wagon to find out of RS really does means rapid shifting

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Turbos and four cylinder engines go together like whisky and ice. Skoda’s married a turbo to a 2.0L powerplant to get a 162kW/350Nm belter, with pull from 3000 rpm like a shuttle launch. There’s a six speed double clutch automatic transmission attached and is programmed for Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual settings, accessible via a Octavia enginebutton in the centre console and shown on the touch screen in the dash.

It’s an immensely usable combination, moves quickly and quietly through the gears in normal mode however the DSG’s mechanism does make shifting into Drive from Reverse a “wait for it” proposition. In Sports mode it opens the aural taps, allowing a growl from the engine to complement a more immediate response. However, even on a straight and long back road to allow a good clip, it required a manual shift from fourth into fifth and sixth only to have the computer to bring it back to fourth. Economy suffers, as a result. Skoda claims 6.6L per 100 km and that’s not unachievable if driven in Eco mode.

The Suit.
It’s an evolution of the previous design, with a somehow more integrated look. It’s a more tapered roll off for the roof Octavia frontOctavia rearon this RS wagon, looking less slab sided than the previous model, thanks to a creaseline along the flanks and in the lower doors, folding slightly inwards.

The wagon looks sleek, sitting low at just 1465mm and it’s 4659mm long and 1814mm wide, providing a huge amount of cargo andOctavia wheelarm/leg space thanks to the 2686mm wheelbase, maximising internal room. The reverse moustache grille sits nicely between the edgy headlights, themselves supported by thin lines of LEDs. It’s angular, handsome and in a Stormtrooper combination of black and white, carries a subtle air of menace. Panel and shut lines are tight and there’s a reassuring “thunk” when closing the door. Roof rails complete the picture, one that would look well suited to your garage.
Alloys are unusual and a matter of personal choice, with brake dust quickly dulling the sheen. Rubber is Bridgestone 225/40/18s.

On The Inside.
588L of cargo room sit nicely within the wagon’s shapely rear with seats up. The lower stance of the wagon makes loading it up a breeze, along with the high opening tailgate. There’s a plastic strap hanging down, a surprisingly Octavia cargo hatchuseful item yet looks oddly out of place as well. The passenger side part of the cargo space has the subwoofer unit for the excellent Canton audio system; it’s clear, punchy and well defined in its quality.

Seating is fantastic; driver and passenger get sports bucket seats, with a red highlight and RSOctavia rear seats embossing, Octavia driver seatwhich are immensely supportive and not once felt uncomfortable. The black leather is enhanced with red stiching; it looks great and of a good quality.

Getting into the right seat position to drive was easy; once done the driver is greeted by the classy looking monochrome info screen, a nicely sculpted steering wheel and the presence sensing touch screen forOctavia front seats navigation, sound and the RS options. It’s a beautiful workspace and roomy enough given the Octavia’s dimensions.

There’s plenty of tech to play with; the RS button glows red when pressed, there’s parking assistance and collision avoidance noises as well. It’s also, naturally, loaded with plenty of safety features such as airbags (almost, it seems) in every corner and electronic driving aids.

The Drive.
Suspension wise, it’s a ripper. There’s enough sportiness with a dash of compliance to suit most drivers that would buy the RS, it’s wonderfully damped and handled all speed bumps and off camber corners equally. It’s deft, adept and fun to drive. Torque steer is minimal but you can feel the front wheels loading up at times, mostly when coming Octavia dashinto a tight turn but there’s never a feeling of breaking away underneath. It’s a confidence inspiring chassis, as are the engine and transmission.

It’s an almost perfectly balanced Octavia bootcombination, bar the turbo lag in normal mode and the schizoid desire to hang on to fourth in Sports. When wound up, especially in the Sports mode, the Octavia RS wagon, hoists its skirts, changes them magically into a red cape and flies. That metallic roar from the front excites and titilates, adding to the presence of the Octavia when used in anger.

However, that delay, sometimes, in selecting Drive when moving from Reverse, can spook the computer, especially when rushed and it’s an uneasy sensation, not one you want to experience when you’re in a hurry thanks to oncoming traffic. Economy was decent, ending up at around 7.5L per 100 kilometres.

The Wrap.
At just under $44K, with great luggage space, easy to access fun and a spirited engine/gearbox to motorvate you. Fit and finish is high, it’s a comfortable workspace and isn’t too hard on the eye as well. Skoda is on a clear winner here, thanks to big brother (or sister) Volkswagen.
For information on the Octavia and other great Skoda cars, head to http://www.skoda.com.au and for A Wheel Thing TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6krT9Q_8_tg&feature=em-upload_owner

The Car: Skoda Octavia RS wagon.
Engine: 2.0L petrol, tubrocharged.
Transmission: DSG, double clutch automatic.
Power/Torque: 162kW/350Nm, @ 6400/1500-4400rpm.
Fuel: 98RON unleaded.
Tank: 50L.
Dimensions in mm (L x W x H): 4685 x 1814 (excl. mirrors) x 1452.
Weight: 1458kg (dry).
Economy (claimed), combined/urban/highway, litres per 100 km: 6.6, 8.3, 5.6.
Tyres, wheels: 225/40, 18 inch.
Cargo: 588L/1716L (seats up/down).
Price: $43940 (auto).

Czech Mate: Skoda’s Octavia Ambition Plus.

Octavia frontOctavia: younger sister of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus. Skoda: younger sister of the automotive giant, Volkswagen. Together they’ve come up with a surprisingly capable vehicle with a definite Ambition to be seen. A Wheel Thing says hello to the Czech based manufacturer for the first time and likes the first impressions of the Ambition Plus sedan.

Physically it is a decent sized vehicle, it’s just shy of 4.7 metres in length with a 1.8m width and stands just under a metre and a half tall. Octavia engineUnder the test car’s bonnet is a seemingly small 1.4L turbocharged petrol engine, Octavia consolewith 103kW and 250 Newton metres of torque. It’s this figure that comes into play with a weight of just 1340 kilos (dry) to move. Putting that grunt down to the front wheels (225/45/17) is the job of a seven speed DSG; the close ratios have the Octavia motivating quickly, especially once the stutters of first and second are out of the way. A good prod of the go pedal sees the numbers change quicker than a blink, with the DSG ‘box sliding home gear after gear seamlessly, providing a wave of get up and go, belying the size of the engine. It’s that torque, available from 1500 revs through to 3500, with the tacho flicking up then down on changes, through to the peak power point of 5000rpm keeping things bubbling. Being front wheel drivem it’s partial to the occasional snort of the tyres when provoked yet torque steer is noticeably absent.

Octavia rearThe exterior is familiar yet new, with Skoda’s design team stamping their own mark on the VW based chassis. Audi-esque tail lights bookend a smart looking front end, with a chin mounted grille framed by driving lightsOctavia wheel underneath the moustachioed main intake grille and slimline, slef adjusting headlights. There’s (in the case of the Ambition Plus) a radar sensor smack bang in the lower middle grille; get too close to a vehicle in front without you using your brakes and wham! the Ambition Plus will take you by surprise and brakes itself. Hard. It’s a smooth, clean sheetmetal with the Octavia, with a well balanced profile and a single crease line at the bottom of the doors. There’s a kickup on the rear seat passenger windows whilst the wheels are trim and tidy looking five spoke alloys.

Octavia dashThe interior mix is an oddity; it’s a feeling of mod-tech and 1970s hotel; Octavia seatingthere’s the presence sensing touchscreen for entertainment and engine/gearbox setting changes, parking assistance and sensors butting up against a somewhat dated plastics look on the dash and door trims (piano black and dull, lustreless very dark grey) with the dash itself the old style block design, with no real amalgamation into the doors and a “beige” look to the seat trimmings, being a mix of black and patterned cloth. The seats themselves were comfortable without being spectacular, fully manual in adjustment and had the odd feeling of being seated higher than they looked. The position certainly provides good all round vision, except the wing mirrors are too small for true safety. Cargo space is huge, with the liftback providing both easy access and a cavernous amount of room at well over 500 litres.Octavia left rearOctavia cargo spaceOctavia rear

There’s a neutral feel through the tiller, with enough subtle feedback to provide road information to the driver, with the steering ratio just a couple of turns or so lock to lock. On the road the suspension is initially compliant, absorbing most smaller ripples and undulations and there’s a definite sensation of tautness underneath, allowing the Octavia to be thrown around without feeling perturbed. On tarmac it feels planted but did seem somewhat twitchy in a cross breeze and coming into an unsealed surface road it understeered dramatically and braking did not really help. The brakes themselves have a good bite, early in pedal travel without feeling grabby and provided a good level of confidence. In profile the Ambition seems to sit high with the 17 inch wheels not looking as if the wheelarches are filled but there’s little noticeable body roll regardless. Acceleration, as mentioned, is rapid once the turbo has spooled up bhowever the DSG ‘box did tend to hold fourth in certain driving conditions and was somewhat buzzy while doing so. Economy is quoted at around 5.9L/100km and A Wheel Thing saw little that would dispute that claim.

Skoda offers capped price servicing, with service intervals 12 months or 15000 kilometres, whichever comes first, complementing the sharp pricing. The range starts at just under $23000 with the Ambition Plus kicking off at $26790 driveaway (at the time of writing) plus $475 for metallic paint. The supplied car came with the optional Tech Pack (push button stop/start, cruise control and more) taking the price to a lick over $31K.
It’s a good car but suffers from being largely unseen on Aussie roads; that’s a shame because it’s roomy enough for the average family, drives well enough for the average punter and is keenly priced with a decent amount of equipment. Go here for more information: http://www.skoda.com.au/models/octavia/
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Hy-Rider: Hyundai ix35.

ix 35 front right profileThe SUV market in Australia has exploded in recent years, with small, medium and large variants available. The looks have improved, build quality has skyrocketd and the feature lists have grown. Hyundai has had fingers in the SUV pie for a while now, starting off with the Santa Fe and Tucson, which has morphed into the ix35. A Wheel Thing takes the series 2 version with the Elite specification out for a week.

ix35 engineix35 steeringSitting right in the middle of the pack, above the Active and below the Highlander (cue Christopher Lambert jokes…) the ix35 Elite comes with a direct injection 2.4L petrol engine, six speed automatic and centre locking differential. It’s 136 kilowatts at 6000 revs and a handy 240 torques at 4000 rpm, with a smooth, linear delivery to that point. It’s a little buzzy past there but it’s rare that, in a normal driving situation, the six speed auto will take you that far. It’s a quick shifter, slick however the gate design is unneccesary, being a convoluted throwback to the “J gate” days. Performance from the ix35 is adequate, with the zip somewhat muted by the near 1600 kilo kerb weight, requiring a firmer than anticipated press from the right foot to get things happening. Brakes are a touch grabby at the top however move into a well modulated setup, requiring only a modicum of pressure initially before squeezing into a smooth stop.
ix35 wheelThe drive itself is through an “on demand” all wheel drive setup; a torque sensor splits drive between front and rear as required while the locking diff makes it a 50/50 split. It makes a difference as the tyres fitted to the test car (Kumho Solus 225/60s on sweet looking 17 inch alloys) lack sufficient front end grip under normal circumstances when pushed, going wide and squealing badly in roundabouts and normal sweeping bends. When locked the nose tucks in tighter and forces the rear end to follow a better line. The McPherson strut/multilink suspension does a decent job of ironing out the road but I did find the Elite quite jiggly and a little harsh over some ruts and bumps, with a sharp rebound rather than a subtle absorption, a touch disappointing given the Aussie input to the suspension.

ix35 headlightix35 left rearThe exterior is an ix35 steeringevolution, not a revolution, with only minimal changes being made, possibly most noticeably (for trainspotters) ix35 dashto the front end; the headlight assembly has the main light cover going square and the driving light surrounds have been modified. ix35 reverse cameraThe interior seems barely touched yet is a comfortable place to be, with a mix of quality look and feel plastics, cloth and leather, a seven inch touchscreen navitainment system dominating the centre dash, (with reverse camera) looking somewhat like, when viewed front on, a helmet from a sci-fi soldier. Music is catered for by radio and Auxiliary/USB inputsix35 front seats (located at the bottom of the centre console) plus there’s a slot for CD and DVD. Sound is solid, with clearly defined midrange but bass is a touch lacking in punch. Switchgear is sensible, basic, uncomplicated and simplistically easy to use plus entry/egress is via wide opening doors. The front seatbelts are adjustable for height, however there’s a slight buzz from the plastic shroud at ix35 bootcertain speeds on the freeway. The Elite comes with keyless entry and push button start/stop plus a swag of safety features including curtain airbags and safety windows, which will lower if pressure from a body part such as an arm is sensed on an upward movement. Seating is, as expected, comfortable with some side support, vital when throwing the ix35 into turns. A split fold rear seat, cargo blind and ample cargo space add to the package.ix35 dirt road

Alongside its sister car, the Kia Sportage, with competition from SsangYong, Holden, Ford, Mitsubishi, VW and Nissan, just to mention a few, the ix35 really is up against it. Given the quality of small to medium SUVs nowadays, with pricing exceptionally competitive, this is really a judgement call for a buyer. With the range starting at $26990 plus ORCs (check http://www.hyundai.com.au for offers though!) and the Elite 2.4L from 36990 plus ORCs it’s good value.