So, Farewell Then

I used to have a cat called Kick. I loved her. She… Well, the best that could be said of her was that she tolerated me. She hated pretty much every other living, breathing being on the planet. She was a skilled killer and thief. She once had a slice of pizza from my wife’s fingers halfway between her plate and her gently salivating mouth. One day she was off her food and the next she was very poorly indeed. I took her to the vet who kept her in for tests and observation. The vet called me a couple of hours later to say that her kidneys had failed and that dialysis wasn’t really an option for cats. I picked her up from the vet’s surgery and took her home. Later that afternoon, the vet came and put her to sleep. We spent a couple of hours sitting quietly together on the sofa waiting for the vet. I had that quiet, heavy dread you only get waiting for something truly awful to happen.

I had something similar in kind if not in degree to that yesterday. A very nice man from BCA came to collect my Octavia. I took it out for a last trip around the block. I gave my wife a lift to the bus stop where she heads off to work then took it to Tesco one last time. I had planned to wash and vacuum it myself this morning but I couldn’t face it. I had the valet people in the Tesco car park give it a once over. They’re very good. The rosso brunello paint shone, the alloys sparkled, I rediscovered that the carpets are actually black and not dark grey. Then I drove home and waited with a falling heart for the driver to come. I was flicking through Car Fever by James May without really taking it in. I’d been looking at another James May book on that other terrible day. Funny, that.

In the past three years I’ve covered roughly 90,000 miles in two Octavias, this one and a blue one I swapped with my colleague when I was piling on the miles too quickly to my red one. I much preferred my red one. My colleague’s blue one was rear-ended outside his house and it just didn’t feel as together as mine. It was light on its tyres, averaged well over 50mpg, was quiet and refined on the many, many motorway miles we shared, was reasonably well-equipped, the boot was truly gigundous and I think it was handsome in a low-profile sort of way.

I can only really report two faults. I came out on three separate occasions to find all the windows wound down. I am thankful that it happened on outside my house on each occasion and not in one of the less reputable locations I had to park it over the years. It flattened its battery once when I had to leave it outside my house for over a week one winter when I had a dose of flu and was  unable to drive. Other than that, I suffered an occasional numb buttock but I had to have been in the driver’s seat for more than eight hours for that to happen.

I’ll miss that Octavia almost as much as I do grumpy old cat. Whoever buys it next is in for a treat. It still feels tight at just under 90,000 miles. I hope it doesn’t end up as an urban minicab somewhere. I’d rather think of it spending the next few years gently wending down country lanes in a leafy part of the country. So long and farewell. It’s been wonderful.

Octaviaaaaaaaaargh, Part 2

At least my Octavia doesn't have this much trouble slowing down

Okay, stop sniggering at the back there. The fastest two litre, forced induction production car in the world is a Skoda Octavia vRS with the mother of all turbochargers, scaffolding in the back and a set of moon discs on the wheel. evo journalist Dickie Meaden drove it to a two-way average of 227.070mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats last Friday, 19 August. Well done, that man.

Well done in fact to everyone involved in the project. Skoda says they did it to mark 10 years of the vRS in Britain. I think that’s not a reason so much as an excuse. It’s just a really cool and completely pointless thing to do. Anyway, hats off to Skoda. You done a good thing.

Rotter, The Driving God Of Low Tyre Wear.

Everyone* remembers Richard Hammond yelling “I am a driving god!” when being more than usually exuberant in a Bowler Wildcat. He was hooning around somewhere. It might have been a quarry. Whenever the Beeb does anything with stretches plausibility, there’s a quarry involved. Okay, it’s usually a Dr Who set and there really isn’t the budget for proper SFX but my point stands. Richard Hammond as a deity of any kind is as likely as an alien invasion somewhere where they used to blast big bits of rock out of the ground. It’s just about possible, but unlikely.

Having said all that, I’m now going to say “I am a driving god!” Hammond made his spurious claim on the back of conducting a very silly off-roader stupidly quickly. My own claim is because the front tyres on my Skoda Octavia have finally been changed at 38,600-odd miles after just over a year of driving. I am therefore the driving god of tedium. I’m not proud; I’ll take that. Thank you. Kwik-Fit did the business for me yesterday at the third time of asking having turned me away at 19,000 and 32,000 miles  respectively because the tyres weren’t quite worn enough. I have a feeling that had I been paying for them instead of the lovely people at Lex, I wouldn’t have made it out of the service centre on the second occasion at least without forking out some cash, but there you go. I am so light on my feet that I can do roughly three times the average annual mileage on one set of front tyres before I need to replace them. Jenson Button could take lessons from me.

Oh, and the rears still have 6mm of tread and haven’t been changed yet either. This miracle rubber comes from Continental and isn’t some horrid, hard compound. The car grips nicely and is as responsive to steering inputs as you’d expect a sensible Czech car for sensible people to be. The road noise is acceptable. The tyres were so good that I wanted another set just like them to go back on the front but I have Bridgestones now. I hate the tyre tests Autocar and evo do each year so I’m not going to go on about them much more.

If I were a proper car bore, I’d have noted the exact spec of the tyre so I could tell you. I’m not. We driving gods don’t bother with the details. That’s for the little people. We’re just here to give you the big picture in broad brush strokes and in this case I have to admit to greatness. Skoda and Continental no doubt played small parts, but the credit is mostly mine. Obviously. Also, it’s pissing it down now and I’m not going to go out in the rain just to take down the details of the tyres. Life is too short to spend any of it caring about tyres when you could be bragging about how long you got a set to last.

Vindis in Cambridge gave the Octavia its second service today and did remarkably little to it. No work needed on the brakes, just a change of filters and fluids. The longest and hardest job they had was probably washing it. I’d left it filthy. I’d forgotten what a nice colour it is too. They needed to do a ‘product enhancement’ thing to it but couldn’t because their magic product enhancing machine was broken and they couldn’t fix it in time. I’ve booked it back in for them to take care of that in a couple of weeks. If I don’t have it done, it’s possible that my horn will fail suddenly. I’m not Italian, so I don’t really care about my horn but I’ll have it done anyway since the nice lady asked me so nicely. She’s nice, that lady.

So, the Octavia rolls quietly and unassumingly on. I still love it to bits and would happily have another when I have to change it in a couple of years. It’s the Tonto to my Lone Ranger but without the accidental racism. It’s the Robin to my Batman without even a moment of comedy homo-eroticism. It’s the… You get the idea. My only worry is that the Octavia might no longer be in production when the time comes for a new one and the next one won’t be as good. VW maybe wouldn’t like it if it continues to be a Golf for even more sensible people. Or for particularly parsimonious driving gods.

*Everyone who’s really sad, that is.

Octaviaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!!

Now that Skoda is no longer the butt of all those old jokes, they’re still left with a bit of an problem. It’s a different one from the one they used to have. They’re now solidly middle class and respectable. The Yeti has made the Qashqai look dated and dour. The Superb was Top Gear magazine’s Luxury Car of the Year in 2010. My own Octavia has covered almost 34,000 miles in a year and still feels tight as a drum. Only some worn aftermarket floor mats and a driver’s seat covered in cat fluff suggest that it’s not a couple of weeks old.

The problem Skoda now has is that they’re not terribly exciting. They have a rally programme in that Intercontinental Rally Challenge thing that isn’t a world championship because the FIA already has the World Rally Championship and nobody else is allowed to sanction a world championship. They went rallying back in the bad old days too. I remember a silhouette racer with an Estelle coupe body but that wasn’t really a Skoda. It was a bit quick, though.

The Octavia in the picture above is also a bit quick. It’s been built in the famous Czech city of Milton Keynes. It’s a vRS on the sort of steroids that’ll get you thrown out of every sporting event bar the World Darts Championship and maybe even that one. The vRS’s 2.0 TSI engine has been rebuilt with a shuuuuuge new Garret turbo and it runs on 120 RON petrol with water methanol injection, whatever that is. Its power output has gone up from 200PS to between 550 and 600PS. They’ve done some jiggery-pokery to the engine management for the new turbo and fuel. It has a modified six speed manual transmission, lowered suspension, and a full suite of safety equipment including a roll cage, parachute and fire extinguishers.

Skoda UK has built it to mark 1o years of the vRS brand in Britain. Officially, that is. I prefer to think they built it because they thought it would be a really cool thing to do. Cool, and therefore very un-Skodaish. Which takes me back to the start of this post. They’re going to run it at the Bonneville Speed Week in August. I hope running it on all that salt won’t invalidate the bodywork warranty. I look forward to hearing how they get on.

Things I Like, Part 1 – A Nice Skoda

I like nice things. I know that sounds daft. I mean, who’s going to admit to liking nasty things? Some women say they like bad boys; that they get a buzz out of the company of a man who treats them like something left on the bottom of a muddy boot at a farm kitchen door. That’s what they say anyway. Dogs like licking their own bollocks and cats, as ever, go one better and lick their own arses with every sign of pleasure if not dignity.

As I was saying, I like nice things. I like Lady Grey tea and M&S boxers and choccie biccies. I like things which make me feel comfortable and at home. I’d rather have a doppio ristretto to get me going in the morning, so I probably understand more than I care to admit about the Bad Boy Effect at least as far as it applies to morning beverages.

Let’s try to drag it back to nice things with Skodas. I have an Octavia and it’s a thoroughly nice car. It’s a 1.6 CR Elegance in a fetching shade called Rosso Morello. It’s quiet for a small diesel hatchback, rides the motorways and A-roads with much less bluster and fluster than the Focus I had before. It has a shoooooge boot which almost matches the Mondeo I had before the Focus. The stereo is reasonable but doesn’t have a proper iPod connection. It has an aux-in which means you sometimes have to faff around with your controls. I thought I’d miss the Focus’ sharper steering and handling but to be honest, I don’t. I spend so much of my time with the cruise control set to 70mph that my Octavia’s fuel economy and serenity count for more to me than control blade rear suspension and back road kingliness. It has dual zone climate control which kept me cool during the summer, the screen clear during the rainy season and nice and toasty during the winter.

It used to be that Skodas were a Commie joke. There were mutterings that they could have been a lot better than they were but that the Russians stopped that. Skodas are now more middle-class, Middle European. They are quiet and sober and dignified with occasional sporty moments provided by rally cars and vRS versions. Sadly, there are now mutterings that they could be better than they are but for the interfering hand of Volkswagen.

My experience tells me that’s mince. It doesn’t need damped door handles. It feels solid and well made and in six months and 19,000 miles nothing has fallen off. The only thing which went wrong was during the worst of the cold weather in December when the windscreen washers froze when the temperature was consistently below -8 degrees C. I’m one of those happy drivers Skoda says it manufactures. I’d love my next car to be a Superb estate or a Yeti but in truth, you don’t need anything more than a nice, sensible Octavia hatch.