The new Skoda Octavia scores with its freshly chiselled looks, space and comfort.

The first Octavia, launched in India in 2001, was the car that defined the Skoda brand and established it as one of the prominent players here. The Octavia II, quizzically named the Laura here, saw success too, but not in the same measure.

Now Skoda has yet another shot at success with the new Octavia III. Skoda is planning more powerful and updated versions of the 2.0-litre diesel and 1.8-litre TSI petrol, and this time around, the range will include new, smaller engines like the 1.4-litre TSI. And that could mean a competitive starting price of something like Rs. 12.5 lakh (ex-showroom).

Its clean-cut looks certainly are a good starting point.

Designer Jozef Kaban’s bold, clean strokes and spot-on proportions help give it a stance that is difficult to fault. And that’s despite the bulk of the car. The focus of the design, of course, is Skoda’s new ‘butterfly’ grille, with its 21 high-gloss slats and two-tone flying arrow badge standing proud. Chiselled headlamps and a square jaw make up the rest of the nose. Detailing on the remainder of the car is minimal. Still, a BMW-like flick is visible at the base of the C pillar, and a black splitter adds definition to the rear of the car.

On the inside, the car is more practical. The design of the dash is neat and minimalist, with large chamfered surfaces making up the various layers. The vents have a flick in them that mirror the C pillar kink, and the wide centre console has been tilted back at a jaunty angle. A large colour touchscreen takes pride of place on the centre console and Skoda has used plenty of black lacquer-like plastic around it. A generous amount of aluminium has been used on the doors and around the gear lever too, and a smooth velvet-like finish has been employed for some of the larger swatches of plastic on the dash. Also adding substantially to the neat and crisply ironed look of the cabin are the white-on-black dials.

There’s no shortage of space, however. The new Octavia is clearly larger on the inside. The wheelbase is a massive 108mm larger than the Laura, and the cabin feels noticeably wider too. The seats match the rest of the cabin, and are large and remain comfortable over a day behind the wheel. Skoda has even provided plenty of cubbyholes and storage areas, be it bins for larger bottles or space for essentials like phones. Boot space is a very generous 590 litres. Fold the rear seats and you’ll get a full 1,000 litres more.

The doors feel lighter to shut and the cabin lacks the heft and solid build of the earlier car. Despite being larger, the use of high-strength steel has resulted in a weight saving of approximately 70kg. And this is good for performance, efficiency and tailpipe emissions.

The new Octavia, the first of many MQB cars to be sold in India, is also lighter to drive than you’d expect. It’s easy to guide this 2.0 TDI with nothing more than your fingertips, and the electric power steering system also makes the car decently accurate.

What’s also familiar is the diesel motor under the hood. This 2.0-litre unit is probably the VW Group’s most popular motor in India, and here in updated form (now called the EA288), it puts on a good show. There’s plenty of punch in the mid-range, and it gathers pace briskly all the way up to speeds as high as 160 or 170kph. It’s not the most silent diesel around though, and it does tend to sound a bit gruff when pulled hard. And, at lower speeds, there is a bit of turbo lag that you need to drive around as well.

This diesel, however, comes with a non-independent rear suspension. So, while straight-line stability is impressive and confidence from behind the wheel is good, agility isn’t great.

The level of agility is much higher on the 1.8 TSI-powered version. Skoda says cars above a certain horsepower will get an independent, multi-link rear suspension and that makes a huge difference to the way the car drives. On a suitably fun road, the 1.8 TSI will have enthusiastic drivers beaming. It feels light, agile and very modern from behind the wheel. What ups your confidence is the truly great set of brakes. It even rides better over poor patches. The electric steering system does not give enough feedback about the terrain you’re travelling on but the rest of the car is so good, you actually tend to forget the steering and enjoy the drive.

What’s even better is the updated and uprated 177bhp 1.8 TSI direct-injection, turbo-petrol motor. Under the hood of the Superb and the Laura, this is already one of our favourite engines, and now with more power and torque and greater responsiveness, it feels even better. It’s really smooth and it integrates so well with the twin-clutch gearbox that it’s an absolute joy to pull up and down the rev band. And it’s punchy too.

What Skoda has on its hands is a potential winner. Its freshly chiselled looks will appeal to most, space and comfort are from a segment above, and the cars are likely to be well-specified and priced as well. The 1.4 TSI (not driven here) is likely to start at Rs. 12.5 lakh (ex-showroom), the 1.8 TSI will cost a bit more, and you should be able to get a decently specified diesel for Rs. 14 lakh. The clever bit is that the diesel and petrol versions each have different characters, perfectly suited to their use. All Skoda India has to do now is make sure it improves its aftersales service experience.