By on March 5, 2015

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I have talked about diesel, manual wagons in this space a few times already, so you probably know that I don’t like them. I don’t like their clatter and I don’t like their limited rev range and turbo surge. I don’t like the massive servicing costs of the common-rail ones, which is the price you pay for the reduction in clatter. And I hate the tons of soot they spit out.

There is one thing, though, at which they are hard to beat. It’s providing a combination of practicality and driving fun combined with fantastic fuel mileage. But hard to beat doesn’t mean impossible to beat. So, let me introduce a car that should, in theory, kick the diesel, manual wagon’s arse at its own game. The Škoda Octavia 1.4 TSI G-TEC.

What it is? In essence, it’s the only car anyone in the world needs. Which is what they say about the VW Golf, and they’re right. But this is also a Golf. Just a bit bigger, and a little bit cheaper. With lots more space inside. The rear seat legroom rivals that of the 5-series BMW, the trunk is huge, and everything is built just a little bit worse than a Golf, to fit in the Sloan’s Piech’s plan of the brand ladder.

Under its hood resides a downsized, turbocharged 1.4 TSI engine, offering a 138hp in its standard form. But this is not a standard car. This one has been factory fitted with a CNG fuel system. Under the trunk floor, there is a huge tank storing just 15 kilograms of compressed natural gas, while the original 50-litre (13.2 gallons) tank kept intact. Together, they offer a range of about 600 miles in normal driving (or 1,000 miles under “economy run” conditions), with 200 miles of those 600 in CNG-burning mode.

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The CNG brings great advantage in running costs – in the EU, it costs about half as much compared to gasoline, mile-for-mile. And at first, there are no significant differences between the ordinary gasoline-powered car and this one. There are sublte details, like the second fuel gauge instead of a water temp gauge in the tachometer, or the second fuel cap under the fuel door. There is also a slightly higher trunk floor, and the lack of a spare tire. Other than that, it’s just like ordinary car. The switching between fuels is automatic, and you won’t even notice it. The trip computer provides info about distance to empty on both fuels together, and each of them individually. Everything is nice and easy.

Under real life European conditions, this car gets about as cheap to run as it gets. With consumption of less than 4kg of CNG per 100km, it is possible achieve the cost of about $0.04 per kilometer ($0.06 per mile). At our electricity prices, about equals the cost of driving a Tesla in the same manner. As a matter of fact, I’m working on getting those two together to perform a real-life running cost comparison test. I have a strong feeling that Octavia may actually win.

At the same time, the CNG powered car still offers the smooth, quiet operation of gasoline engine, as well as its wide rev range. Couple that with an extremely nice interior, great build quality and top-notch suspension (the G-TEC, unlike other lower-powered Octavias, gets a multi-link axle in the rear), and you should have a clear winner on your hands. Even when I take into consideration that no real-life G-TEC will look like my press tester, which came as a top-trim Elegance model complete with navigation, automatic parking, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, heated leather seats front and rear, power everything including seats and tailgate etc., the car that is likely to get ordered by a typical customer (some mid-trim level with only a few options, costing maybe $25,000 with VAT and not $40k with VAT like the tested example) will look and function pretty well for what it is.

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The downside? Lack of power. Turns out there’s more to G-TEC’s modifications than just adding a second system, and it’s not just a different mapping, either. The company doesn’t talk about it much in its PR materials, but the G-TEC engine has a different camshaft and a different turbocharger from the gasoline version, thus slashing both power and torque curves. The result is a car that is, in real-life, slower than the lesser 1.2 TSI version, with power and torque seriously lacking in low rev-range.

Unlike a typical TSI engine, you have to rev it like an old N/A 1.6 four-cylinder. On Czech roads, with lots of corners and heavy traffic, this makes any kind of fast driving significantly uncomfortable – I once had to rush the G-TEC a bit, when I woke up just an hour and a half before I had to appear at lunch, in a town nearly 100 miles away. I made it, but overtaking on country roads was a pain and driving at 100+ mph on the highway required near-constant full throttle. This also meant that the fuel consumption skyrocketed from 4kg/100km to about twice that.

The other downside? The combination of small CNG tank with a sparse CNG station network in Europe. Two hundred miles on a tank is really not much, and with maybe one in 10 or 20 gas stations carrying CNG, you will probably end up running on an empty CNG tank quite often, burning more expensive gasoline instead. But even then, the 1.4 TSI is quite a frugal car, though nothing to write home about. Also, it is quite interesting that even when burning gasoline, the engine doesn’t get any of the lost horses back.

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In theory, the CNG cars combine a gasoline engine’s smooth, quiet power, with even better economy than diesel. And the G-TEC delivers at about 85% of this. As long as you’re leisurely, relaxed driver, you can achieve unparalleled fuel econmy, beating even some electric cars. But if you tend to rush, the car lacks in power significantly. The solution would probably be to offer the G-TEC version of the more powerful 1.8 TSI as well – and we can only hope we will get one, soon. With that, the obnoxious diesel, manual wagon can finally be taken out and shot, as it deserves.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz and serves as editor-in-chief at www.USmotors.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a ratty Chrysler LHS. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photos: David Marek

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18 Comments on “European Review: Škoda Octavia G-TEC Natural Gas...”


  • avatar
    john66ny

    Man that’s one good looking wagon. I so wish that VW would give us the option over here in North America!

    • 0 avatar
      993cc

      I’ve never understood why VW gave us a made-for-U.S. Jetta instead of just rebadging the Octavia for our market… And the U.S./China Passat instead of just rebadging the Superb.

      • 0 avatar
        derekson

        This, 1000 times this. The Octavia as Jetta and Superb as Passat would’ve made perfect sense for the US market, and also saved VW from falling years behind in product development in designing and engineering unique US market models.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I can’t believe they are trying the Bi-fuel option. Fact is that is a huge compromise which ends up creating the low power operation on CNG. An engine that is designed for CNG and only CNG will provide better performance and economy on CNG that one designed for Bi-fuel operation.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Infrastructure. LPG-only car could be viable nowadays, as LPG stations are quite common. CNG-only? No way. No one would buy that. In my hometown (100,000 citizens), there is exactly ONE CNG station. And it’s not even non-stop. Add the fact that with the bulkiness of the CNG tanks, the CNG-only car would still have severely limited range, and you have range anxiety similar to EVs.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    i am an absolute sucker for dark carpet and a light colored interior. plus a 4 spoke steering wheel. sign me up.

    besides that the premise of the article (cng + gasoline) is interesting. i do not think i know of another vehicle that combines those.

  • avatar
    manny_c44

    Agree with Scoutdude, the bi-fuel systems are just a weird compromise. The common rail TDI’s are not much fussier than the TFSI small displacement engines (aside from dpf issues they are more reliable) so what are the complaints about?

    You seriously don’t want gobs of torque with your manual powertrain? You want to have to rev your wagon to get the power? The diesels now are smooth, quiet and linear for turbos. If VAG could bring a manual 3 liter turbo diesel wagon out here in America, it would be incredible.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “I have talked about diesel, manual wagons in this space a few times already, so you probably know that I don’t like them.”

    That’s funny. You just alienated 90% of the wannabe so-called “enthusiasts” on TTAC! You may be banished to the no-class Jalopnik for that.

    You, Sir, are my hero!

  • avatar

    Bi-fuel CNG vehicles don’t make sense in America except in the realm of large trucks. Except in certain regions such as Oklahoma there isn’t enough a price differential between CNG and gasoline to provide for a reasonable payback time. This is exacerbated by the huge premium for the CNG upfitting–see Chevrolet Impala, Ford Transit Connect, or any of the big 3 HD pickups’ pricing.

    The only circumstance where it seems to make sense is for California drivers outside of the working range of a Toyota RAV4 EV or other sub-Tesla Model S EV, who want to drive solo in the HOV lane. That’s a niche filled by the Civc Natural Gas, which sells a paltry few thousand units each year.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’m not impressed with the interior on this, at all. Nor is the front clip of Skoda models current any more. This car could have debuted in 2007, and nobody would blink an eye!

    Driving an LPG car (SM5) in Korea with a CVT was one of the worst things ever. So down on torque! I just floored it everywhere but on the highway, because why not. Still returned 24mpg at the end of the day.

    So I guess does CNG do similar things to engine power and torque as LPG?

  • avatar
    daniel g.

    great integration of the CNG tank (don’t see in the photos) maybe can integrate other ideas

    http://autoblog.com.ar/2014/09/02/como-hacer-un-hibrido-en-12-dias-sin-morir-en-el-intento/

    they work last summer in the Singularity University of nasa in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, USA.

    https://www.facebook.com/exponentialmotors

    check also, they are from argentina (like me) and is very common convert to CNG, 20 years or more of experience in ours cars.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    The LPG version of the Falcon delivers more power than its petrol powered sister.
    http://www.ford.com.au/cars/falcon/ecolpi
    So proper design and tuning can overcome the perceived issues of aftermarket conversions.
    We have almost no CNG infrastructure in Oz but practically every service station has an LPG bowser.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    @Vojta,
    An interesting and good article.

    A cost comparison would be great to see which is the cheapest to run between it and the Tesla.

    Your CNG infrastructure is similar to where we were in the early 80s.

    In Australia we have a good LPG (CNG) network. To the point where some manufacturers make LPG only vehicles. As Scoutdude pointed out these develop more power and torque than their gasoline equivalents.

    We buy our LPG by the litre, as this makes it easier for a comparison in prices. The problem we have with LPG is logistics. It rises in price in the more remote Outback and can be nearly as expensive as gasoline.

    Around the cities it’s generally half the price and the dedicated LPG vehicles use about 20% more fuel (in litres). The dedicated LPG vehicles don’t cost more either.

    As an aside I’ve heard that compression ignition LPG powered engines are quite good, especially the two strokes.

    Thanks an interesting read.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      CNG and LPG are not the same thing. CNG is methane and LPG is propane and butane and is usually referred to as propane in the US. Both however can benefit from engines that were designed and tuned for use with them in mind to maximize their power and efficiency.

      In the US CNG is favored by fleets since we have a huge infrastructure to deliver natural gas to homes and businesses for use in space and water heating as well as cooking. So they just have to install the compressor unit and their fuel automatically comes to them. In my area garbage trucks are almost exclusively CNG now. It is pretty common in buses and some delivery and gov’t fleets.

      In the recent past CNG was about half the cost of diesel which is why it rapidly gained popularity. Can’t say I know where that equation stands right now with the recent wild fluctuation in the price of gas and diesel in the US. There are other reasons that fleets are switching to CNG. It inherently burns cleaner than diesel (or gasoline) so they are not saddled with all the expensive and sometimes troublesome emissions control components. We are currently producing a large amount of CNG domestically so it is seen as reducing the dependence on imported energy.

      .

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @Scoutdude,
        You are correct. I had my acronyms mixed up.

        I think we don’t have a natural gas station at all. Only LPG. Some of our buses use CNG, but I do think they have there own refilling stations.

        I’m not in favour of CNG. The pressures are way to high. There will be more accidents than the oil trains in the US an Canada at the moment.

        Plus, these sorts of things attracts government handouts, which I’m totally against.

        • 0 avatar

          1) CNG is generally not shipped compressed, except on tankers. It is often compressed on-site from standard (low pressure) natural gas, usually at a commercial filling stations.

          2) There do exist CNG compressors that can be installed outside one’s home, but they’re maintenance prone, expensive, and not particularly quick. There’s one that can be mounted inside a garage but it’s even slower and not much cheaper.

          EVSE for charging BEV vehicles at home are an order of magnitude cheaper and have no risk of blowing up, either.

  • avatar
    shadow mozes

    Nice! What’s your opinion of American cars?

  • avatar
    shaker

    Nice wagon, but it highlights why a plug-in hybrid makes so much more sense than a “this fossil fuel or that fossil fuel” vehicle.

    Saudi Approved.

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