Group test: Hyundai i30 v Skoda Octavia v Mazda 3

Group test: Hyundai i30 v Skoda Octavia v Mazda 3
Group test: Hyundai i30 v Skoda Octavia v Mazda 3

Can mid-life update keep Skoda Octavia ahead of all-new Hyundai i30 and cheaper Mazda 3? Here, they battle it out in our three-way family car test

The Skoda Octavia has long been one of our favourite family cars, not least because it offers a bigger cabin for less money than rivals. Now it’s had a mid-life facelift, complete with a fresh face and more advanced infotainment system – but its pricing structure has had an overhaul as well, meaning it’s not quite the bargain it once was.

Hyundai’s latest i30 compares well, with equally modern infotainment, more standard safety equipment and a cheaper price, while Mazda’s sharp-suited 3 – which was revised late last year – is well kitted out and efficient.

Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI 150 SE L

Skoda Octavia

Engine: 1.4-litre petrol, turbo
Price: £21,405
Power: 148bhp
Torque: 184lb ft
0-60mph: 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 136mph
Fuel economy: 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 121g/km

We test the £21,405 Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI 150 SE L against the £20,395 Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDi 140 SE Nav and £20,845 Mazda 3 2.0 120 Sport Nav to find out whether the Octavia is still the one to go for.

Driving experience

On the road, the 1.4-litre turbocharged Hyundai and Skoda have the measure of the non-turbo 2.0 Mazda from 0-60mph, and their extra pep is especially noticeable over their rival here in their brisk acceleration from just 1,500rpm. All the cars boast relatively slick six-speed manual boxes, and the Mazda and Skoda have a more positive clutch action than the Hyundai.

The Mazda 3 isn’t as fine handling as some of its stablemates, with inconsistently weighted steering in fast corners and a lack of feedback about approaching grip levels. You might need the assistance of its electronic driving aids… It’s less predictable and grippy than the Hyundai, which corners securely even if its steering lacks involvement. Our Skoda’s winter tyres weren’t best suited to our warm test conditions, but despite having the most body lean in corners its steering is the most accurate and feelsome. The Octavia also rides the best here, even if none is perfect. The Mazda’s firm suspension highlights unwelcome lumps the most.

Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDi 140 SE Nav

Hyundai i30

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

Interior

Inside, the Skoda is still the roomiest contender by a considerable margin, especially for six-footers travelling long distances in the rear. They get less legroom in the Hyundai and a more claustrophobic feel in the sombre-trimmed Mazda. The Octavia also has the longest and tallest boot. All cars have standard-fit 60/40 split-folding rear seats, and the Skoda’s can be enhanced with £90 optional release handles set just inside the boot entrance.

The driver’s seat is multi-adjustable in all three cars, and all have adjustable lumbar support, too. The prize for classiest cabin goes to the Skoda, thanks to its fine-grain leather-covered wheel and more soft-touch materials than in the Hyundai, which is otherwise pleasantly textured and solid feeling. On the other hand, the Mazda feels disappointingly low-rent.

The i30 gets a logical, responsive eight-inch touchscreen, plus Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless charging. The sound quality could be better though. At seven-inchecs, the Mazda 3’s screen is smaller as well as less sharp, and the standard Bose stereo doesn’t sound as good as we expected, but we do like the rotary dial provided to complement the touchscreen controls.

Spend an extra £1,050 on your Octavia and you will get the 9.2-inch Columbus touchscreen in place of the SE L’s standard eight-inch Amundsen unit. Both have an intuitive and quick interface. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard fit, as is a wi-fi hotspot. The £500 Canton stereo sounds impressive.

Running costs

Despite its highest list price, the Skoda is cheapest to buy after dealer discounts. It’s cheapest over three years if you buy outright, too, as it holds on to its value the best and is the cheapest to service. The Hyundai has the heftiest depreciation, with the most expensive PCP (personal contract purchase) cost over 36 months. The Skoda is the cheapest, at £286 a month with a £2,500 deposit. Contract lease fees are similar for each car, while business buyers will do marginally better for benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax with the Mazda.

Mazda 3 2.0 120 Sport Nav

Mazda 3

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

The 3 is the most generously kitted out, with keyless entry and start, heated front seats and front parking sensors (all three contenders get rear sensors). Only the Hyundai doesn’t include climate control and LED headlights as standard.

Verdict

While the Skoda Octavia’s facelift may not have included any mechanical tweaks or engine updates, it’s only served to improve upon was already a brilliant family car. It’s still roomier than any rival, good to drive, classy and very well equipped in SE L trim. A price rise and relatively costly insurance don’t stop it being superb value and still the best car in this hotly contested class.

The new Hyundai i30 edges it close, however, with its punchy turbo, comfy driving position, user-friendly infotainment and generous safety gear including lane-keep assistance. There are plenty of things to like about it, but unfortunately its high list price and finance costs, plus its stingy kit list, aren’t among them.

We can’t deny that the Mazda 3 is incredibly well equipped for the same finance price as the Octavia, but its drive disappoints, as do its low-rent cabin, noisy cruising manners and inflexible engine. It comes third here.

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