(Pocket-lint) - Electrification is the future. Policy makers as well as car makers have asserted that. So while the revolution's wheels begin to turn, there's a good interim point to jump in - a hybrid plug-in, such as this, the Skoda Octavia iV.
The "iV" part of the equation is what tells you this is a plug-in vehicle, as the Octavia is also available in straight petrol or diesel, including a beefier vRS model.
But here it's all about that plug-in option, which we lived with for a week to see whether it's worth the circa-£8K price jump, plus whether Skoda's all-new 2021 interior updates are the future, or feel more a step backwards.
Design & Interior
You can no longer say a Skoda isn't distinctive - but whether you think that's in a good way or a bad way is a whole other matter. As we said of the excellent Superb iV Estate, when reviewed back in 2020, it's to the point where Skoda is extra proud - even spelling out the full name across the rear of each Octavia.
It's the front of the Octavia iV that will garner greater attention though, given those slitted headlights, which deliver LED technology as standard (Matrix LED is an extra option and cost). It's edgy and angular and stands apart from what else you'll see on the road.
Pop open the door, however, and it's inside where the 2021 Octavia showcases Skoda's latest interior. You can choose from black or beige finish options - we'd definitely avoid the latter - and, as a place to sit it's really rather comfortable.
That's perhaps the biggest take-away of the Octavia: it's just effortless to sit in, heated seat cranked up, the upholstery kind of cuddling. Certainly preferable to our freezing cold winter office anyway.
The interior layout adopts what most car-makers are going with too: more touchscreen, fewer physical buttons. Which, in the case of the Octavia, we actually think puts it back a step compared to the last-gen interior.
The Octavia doesn't have a mechanical gearstick, for example, it's gone with a little push/pull paddle instead. It functions fine enough, but not all modes are accessed from here. There's no dedicated EV/Hybrid button to be found, despite there being heaps of space for it, which feels lazy in a car with a focus on electrification.
Instead, you'll need to find the Mode button on the dash, press that, then select from the on-screen options of E-Mode or Hybrid Mode. The former is pure electric, the latter uses a combination of electric and combustion. By default the E-Mode isn't activated, so we never had a silent start-up.
This 'hiding' of controls continues elsewhere: the Climate button activates that selection on screen which, again, is difficult to adjust when you're driving around - and, let's face it, that's when you'll be making adjustments.
Not even the slider control to the south of the main screen is especially intuitive, despite being new. It sometimes gets touched by accident, making adjustments you didn't know you wanted.
Infotainment & Technology
Those screens do house a lot of technology though. By default the Octavia iV comes with an 8.25-inch main touchscreen, upgradable to 10-inch with that slider control (as per this review) in the correct package options. Beyond the steering wheel there's the Virtual Cockpit system, another 10.25-inch arrangement, digitally handling various at-a-glance information.
The screens line-up more than the earlier iterations in Skoda's range, as the main display has been raised higher towards the dash - meaning its top edge also protrudes, more tablet-like, bringing it into a position of greater focus. Again, we preferred the lower screen position and additional button controls to keep peripheral distractions at bay.
All Skoda Octavia models feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (via Mirrorlink) by default, according to the specification, although we never managed to get Android Auto to activate for some reason unknown to us. Maybe an issue with the USB-C to USB-A converter - as there's two USB-C ports (the smaller ones) up front, next to a handy inductive charging pad (if your phone has wireless charging aboard).
Another comment about the whole tech setup is the speed at which it loads. It just, well, slow. The start-up time lags and navigation is often blank for a number of seconds. Once things get running everything is fine, but from a cold start you'll be hanging about a bit before entering that post code.
Beyond infotainment, Skoda's range of driver assist safety features is vast. What you pick should reflect the way in which you will use the car - if it's just short commutes then some of the assist packages, such as lane keep assist, might not be as useful as for someone who's going to be up and down the motorway on repeat.
The adaptive cruise control is - if you pay for it - an advanced one, able to keep distance, lane keep, and auto-brake to a stop. In certain scenarios it'll prove a life-saver - not just literally, but just from a comfort point of view.
Drive & Range
And so to the main reason to be looking at a plug-in car: added efficiency and lower emissions - both of which can save you on fuel costs and tax. The green credentials, at this stage, are fairly minor in the bigger overall picture - but it's a step in the right direction.
The Octavia iV has a 13kW battery built-in, delivering over 30 miles of pure electric range - we could get around 32 miles - plus decent efficiency and regeneration when in hybrid mode. Skoda quotes 37 miles in E-mode, based on WLTP standard, so our achieved figure isn't too bad relative to that.
A number of plug-ins that we've driven fail to offer an all-electric option - the Volvo XC40 being one such example - while mild hybrids (without a plug-in solution) tend to offer almost zero potential on electric-only travel. So it's reassuring to be able to use an Octavia for, say, the school run entirely in electric mode without limitation to your driving.
Recharging is possible via the Type-2 charger to the front left of the car. We plugged in at home and refilled once successfully, but were met by an error message at around the 80 per cent mark on recharge attempt number two. A glitch in the system, it seems, and certainly a surprise.
Should you want to drive with no thought about range, then Sport mode - activated by pulling the drive paddle down a second time into 'S' - gives a little extra pep to the drive, but typically regenerates the battery quicker through more applied braking. Not that the Octavia is 'sporty sporty', but it's got enough get up and go thanks to a total combined output of 204bhp from that 1.4l engine and 13kW electric motor combination.
The Skoda Octavia iV plug-in hybrid might not be a super exciting car, but it's got some super aspects about it: it's roomy, it's comfortable, there's a lot of tech options, and the electric-only range is practical.
The new interior sometimes feels like a step backwards, though, given how it 'hides' settings within a more touchscreen-focused operation. And, in our use, we had glitches with Android Auto and recharging that couldn't be explained.
Overall, if you're looking for a practical family hatchback then Skoda sits well among the VW Group's price listings. The iV model adds an inevitable premium over the petrol/diesel-only selection, but with genuine practicality added as a result that'll pay its worth back for the right kind of owner.