THE new, fourth generation Skoda Octavia has added to its already impressive awards tally.

Alongside 2020 Auto Express Car of the Year, What Car? Best Plug-in Hybrid & Estate, and Car Buyer Best Family Car and Estate, it has added two UK Car of the Year titles. Both hatch and estate were recognised as the best in their sectors. The UK Car of the Year Awards is a wholly independent organisation that aims to highlight and advise on the best new cars on the market.
Gone are the days of Skoda jokes and the poor man’s car image, replaced instead with a reputation for high quality and value for money motoring. The Octavia is now Skoda’s best-selling car ever. Engine choices in the new line-up include ultra-economical petrols and diesels, a plug-in hybrid, and a hot hatchback.

I asked Shona Mulholland, Sales manager at John Mulholland Motors Randalstown, what she thought made the Octavia an award-winning car.
“It is of absolutely no surprise that the new Octavia has won this prestigious accolade,” she said. “The car has undergone an impressive overhaul and has been brought bang up to date with its super stylish looks, class-leading infotainment systems and now, impressive alternative fuel options including the super sport VRS option.”
The Octavia boasts a following from petrol heads seeking a thrilling and dynamic drive, to families motivated by value for money and practicality. The Octavia has always been popular amongst business users, large fleet owners and taxi drivers, but given the hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric options now available, demand for the vehicle has soared.
The car I tested was an automatic 2.0 TSI, delivering 242bhp (six-speed manual is also available). It is a wonderful car to drive. The suspension is superb, and the steering precise, providing great feedback to the driver, and when you select the ‘S’ button the performance is exhilarating. Yes, there are faster cars out there, but remember, this is a family sized hatchback.
The automatic gearbox is superb either in automatic or when using the gearchange paddles on the steering wheel. The paddles gearchange is instant, with no loss of forward motion. The engine is so quiet I strained to hear it, as were the gear changes.
The seats were comfortable and at 6 foot 3 I had ample leg and headroom with plenty of space left for the rear passengers. On the motorway the car was smooth and quiet and had great all-round visibility. In town it was nimble and easily manoeuvred. The hi-tech interior is easy to master and the digital dash accompanied by the large screen infotainment unit provided all the information a driver could need – and more.
I’ve talked about SUVs over the past few weeks and have extolled their virtues, but the estate version of this car could beat most in everything except ground clearance.
A big thanks to Shona at John Mulholland Motors Randalstown for the test vehicle.

A Monster of a bike...


PRODUCTION has begun of the new Ducati Monster (right), available in all Ducati dealerships  from April 2021.
The new model is inspired by the original 1993 philosophy: a lightweight and essential sport with a frame derived from the Superbike and a powerful engine that is at the same time perfect for road use.

The new Monster is an ideal motorcycle both for those approaching the world of two wheels for the first time as well as more experienced motorcyclists – and it’s ready to provide fun to new generations of motorcyclists thanks to its easy-to-manage performance from its 937cc L-twin engine producing 111bhp at 9,250 rpm.
It has extremely low weight, a nimble and intuitive chassis and state-of-the-art electronic equipment.
The ergonomics of the bike have also been improved by moving the saddle closer to the handlebar, which allows the rider to maintain a more upright position with less load on the wrists and greater control over the bike. The new Monster is equipped with three riding modes – Sport, Urban and Touring – that make it possible to shape the character of the bike according to tastes and needs.
To encourage the entry of young enthusiasts into the world of two wheels, the bike is also available in a depowered version for A2 licence holders and prices start at £10,295.

When a car is not just for driving


SOME weeks back I wrote about people buying campervans to use as home and mobile offices. Now a survey of car users has found that four out of 10 households have used their car as an additional space to work, as a place to relax or even to catch up on TV shows during the pandemic.
The findings come after the government announced a roadmap to easing lockdown, with all restrictions potentially removed as soon as 21st June.
The study of 2,000 drivers by Peugeot UK found 41 per cent of households with four or more people said they had started to use their car for purposes other than driving during Covid-19 lockdowns. With home schooling and remote working now the new normal for many, cars have taken up a new purpose, ranging from providing a relaxing refuge to acting as a remote office space.
When asked which activities drivers had turned to in their cars during lockdown, more than half said finding a quiet place to relax away from others including their spouse, partner and/or the kids, while for 47 per cent their car became a place to catch up on TV shows, and 43 per cent used their cars as a place to just simply sit and read.
A third of respondents, meanwhile. said they have used their car as a remote office for work.
With 58 per cent of respondents struggling to find time for themselves during lockdown, the car has become a place of peace and quiet, according to the research. Peugeot UK also found 37 per cent of households said they would be more likely to use their car in this way if they owned a zero emissions-capable vehicle that did not emit fumes when turned on, allowing them to keep warm or stay cool without idling an engine.
I have spoken to friends who said they would take a laptop or tablet out to the car to watch movies, box sets or series whenever there was over demand on TV time in the house.