Expect to hear a lot more noise from the ''quiet man'' of the Volkswagen family from now on.
Having had little on launch in the past few years, Skoda is undergoing a significant model refresh at the moment and everything seems to be arriving at once.
Hardly has the new Rapid small car settled in than the focus has switched to a new Octavia, which has arrived just as Skoda New Zealand has been taking the wrapping off the facelifted Superb large car.
More deliveries are due: there is another version of the Rapid en route - that's the Spaceback (which, despite the name suggesting otherwise, is smaller inside than the current liftback) - and, next month, the Octavia family expands to include an RS sports model.
It is fine timing, for Skoda has been quietly building up its status here over the past few years to good effect. This year's sales count to the end of August was 449 cars, a 15% improvement on the tally for the same time last year.
Now, Skoda is planning to be more upfront and bolder about chasing volume.
The Rapid, by slipping neatly above the Fabia small hatch and below the new-generation Octavia, is something we have not seen before but also something we should be seeing a lot of. It is charged with achieving a full 20% of Skoda's volume here.
Regardless, the Octavia will remain the key car here. The first Skoda on the new ''modular'' chassis (debuted by the VW Golf 7) is setting out to be even more of a genuine competitor for the likes of the Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo and Mazda6 in the medium segment and will surely win attention for its new styling, improved specification and some useful price reductions, which average out to a $2300 decrease.
Importer European Motor Distributors wanted to make the Octavia media event a tasty day out in more ways than one. Thus, the drive programme took us from Auckland to Raglan and lunch at the home of 2013 Kiwi MasterChef Aaron Brunet.
It was outwardly simple fare: a starter of marinated snapper, vegetable soup, followed by bread, ham and cheese then an icecream and crumble dessert, but each dish had a story and was truly local. The connection? Well, his talent and the Superb estate parked in his driveway were the giveaways. The car was the biggest part of a rich prize package for winning MasterChef NZ, which Skoda supports.
Brunet is a firm believer in simplicity; it shows through in his greatest enjoyment, bread-making. He says it is what you do with the base and clearly basic - flour, water and salt - ingredients ''that makes it special''.
You might well say the same of the Octavia. In addition to taking that latest VW platform, it also dips into the parent's stock of drivetrains, comfort and safety technology. It's how these are used that's different: Octavia's standing as being almost a Passat-sized car with a Golf-sized price tag is out of step with overall brand convention.
As before, the Octavia comes in two body formats and multiple trim-powertrain choices, but look at the range. The liftback is offered in nine variations and the station wagon in 10.
All engines - petrols in 1.4, 1.8 and 2-litre and a pair of diesels, with the larger in two states of tune - are from the Golf range. All drive through six- or seven-speed direct-shift gearboxes; most are front-wheel drive but there are some four-wheel drives, too.
Yet, just because the Octavia is German in mechanical content, do not think it lacks for identity; visually, it is a Skoda, one that is a lot more modern and handsome than its predecessor. That is as you would hope given that the old Octavia had been in production for the best part of nine years.
Still, you do not buy this brand to win a fashion contest. Skoda is primarily about refined functional neatness, not just on the outside but also within, and that is what you get in spades. It is also larger than before, though not oversized.
Standard to the cloth-trimmed starter Ambition are 16-inch alloy wheels, rear-parking sensors, Bluetooth, climatic air conditioning and start-stop cruise control. The next level Elegance goes to 17s and adds front park aids, auto-dimming mirrors, climate control a/c, voice-controlled Bluetooth, an electric tailgate on the wagon and cloth/leather trim.
The RS models (here from November) have sat nav, 18s, more airbags, a sports differential, bixenon lights, heated front seats, a driving-mode selection with eco, comfort and sport settings, and facility to adjust the power-steering assistance. There are all sorts of options for all levels, including a lane-keep assist. An abundance of clever touches, from bins to a reversible boot floor and even an ice scraper hidden inside the fuel filler cap, reflect Skoda's sensible side.
A bent for practicality is reflected positively by the generously sized boots (the new liftback's 590-litre's capacity is just 15 litres shy of that of the previous wagon). Occupants also do well: good rear legroom is a standout feature.
While the petrol and diesel wagons I drove on the day were hardly sporty, the chassis displays an easy-going confidence, with little body roll in cornering. But these were models with a multi-link rear suspension; those with less than 110kW get a torsion beam rear suspension set-up that might not have the same deftness. The diesel is louder than the petrol and there might be some issues with road noise over coarse-chip surfaces. The prospect of a RS petrol capable of 0-100kmh in just 6.8 seconds is intriguing.
There was no time to cast anything more than a quick look over the updated Superb; it has taken a fresh face and new tail-lights, gets some extra equipment and a drivetrain remix and sharpens in price, with stickers falling around $7000 on average, so now the sedan line ranges from $43,900 to $59,900 and the wagon goes from $46,900 to $62,900.
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