This is another installment in the “Answers to questions no one has ever asked” series. When I thought of this Octavia RS 1.8t vs Primera GT article, my plan was to go blow-by-blow over each area of the cars. While I’m still going to do that the article has turned into more of a Germany vs Japan battle and the contrasting philosophies of the two countries.
Germany vs Japan – What do I mean “contrasting philosophies”.
To give an example, I would say the Japanese philosophy is to give a car the best possible capabilities while at the same time, not having any unnecessary complications.
The central locking systems on both cars is a good example of what I mean.
The system on the Primera GT has two buttons on the fob. It opens all the doors or it locks all the doors. It’s simplicity itself and it has never let me down.
The Octavia RS 1.8T on the other hand is a whole load of complicated.
If you open the car with the fob and do not open the driver door within about 30 seconds, the car will lock itself.
If you travel above around 15kmh the car will lock itself.
The lock status and the door ajar status are combined into one unit in the door. And if you want to access that unit, you have to disassemble the door internals almost entirely.
If for some reason the door sensor is not detecting the door is open, you have to disassemble the door to service the offending module.
And this is just one example.
Both systems do the same thing. They open the doors, and they lock the doors. One is simple and reliable. The other has many failure points and does many things that are unnecessary. And to cap it off, not only is it less reliable, but it’s also harder to work on.
And this is the contrast between the two countries in a nutshell.
While the Germans can’t seem to help themselves in showing the world how clever they are, at the expense on long term reliability. The Japanese display their intelligence by achieving the same basic goals but in the simplest way possible.
The Gauge Cluster
The Octavia RS gauge cluster smacks of someone trying too hard to make something look “sporty”. I understand that VAG were trying to differentiate the Skoda brand from VW for example, so let’s look at the MK4 Golf gauges. They have the wow factor with the blue and the red. But are they as clear as those in the Primera GT? I’d say no. People have said the best gauges ever are in Mercedes and yes, I agree they are good. But when it comes to font choice and size, the Primera has them beat. Ultra clear in all conditions. Again, fulfilling their goal in the simplest way possible.
This is where you could say things go in opposite directions or perhaps the goals on the Japanese were just much higher.
The Octavia RS uses McPherson strut front suspension with a rear beam.
The Primera GT on the other hand has double wishbone front suspension with a multilink rear suspension.
The solution in the Primera is much more expensive and gives far superior results, there is literally no comparison in the capabilities of the two setups.
In this case I’d argue the performance goals the Japanese were much higher than those of the Germans and to achieve these goals they went for the best solution regardless of cost and packaging problems.
Coming back to the interior. The rear seats in the Primera. The rear seat backs fold forward and that’s it. You get a floor that is not flat but kind of close. The Octavia on the other hand has rear seats whose bases tilt forward allowing the seat backs to fold forward to form a flat loading area. The German solution is more complicated for a small gain in space. The Japanese again have kept things simple and have done 90% of the job. 90% of the job for a load area is acceptable. 90% of the job for cornering performance is, for the Japanese, not acceptable.
And this is where the Japanese probably compromise the most. Japanese car up until around the mid 2000s like to rust. The Japanese, in this respect, don’t seem to care. The build the cheapest shell they can, that can get them to the torsional rigidity they think they need. And if the shell lasts ten years, that’s awesome. The Germans also suffer from rust but much less and they also use galavanised metal in some parts.
Again, you could say this is the Japanese being consistent. They had a stiffness goal, and they meet it in the cheapest way possible. The Germans on the other hand may have higher stiffness targets. And they may also not want rusty examples of their cars on the road. They would much prefer the electrics packed up first. A brand image consideration, probably.
The rust problem is such a shame for Japanese cars because the mechanicals and the electrics seem like they could last forever.
Which country has the right way of thinking on rust and metal quailty?
It’s impossible for criticise Germans for use of good quality metal. The Japanese could have used better quality metal but then either the price of the car would have increased, or they would have had to cut back in other areas, like suspension and/or electric quality.
I think I’ll take the Japanese tech and make the effort to take extra car of the metal.
Bang per buck, the 1.8T in the Octavia RS wins. 180bhp from the factory like the SR20DE in the Primera GT but the Octavia can be tuned to around 210bhp with a simple remap. Getting 210 from the SR20 is going to cost thousands whichever way you do it. Having said that, getting to 300bhp, I don’t think there is going to be a lot in it cost wise.
Which of the two engines will be most reliable at 300bhp?
Again, I think it’s a close call.
If the 1.8T goes boom, for sure it’ll be cheaper to replace simply because there are more of them.
With engines, I don’t think the philosophies are much different. Both Nissan and Skoda/VW wanted and engine that could make 150-180bhp and do X miles during its life. Both wanted to keep costs down and gadgets on an engine is not something the average punter is going to notice. Having said that Skoda/VW did choose a 5 valve head instead of a cheaper 4 valve head.
Here there is no doubt. The Skoda/VW gearbox has the Primera box beaten completely. The Skoda box can take what? 500bhp if not abused. The Primera box is hanging on at 300lbs/ft.
Leaving power to one side. As a tool for a country road the Primera is a step above. It feels like a blanket on the road.
Combining in power, if all you want is 200bhp then the Octavia RS is the way to go. As I’ve covered in a previous article, if you are on a tight budget, it’s hard to beat the 1.8T motor in a practical shell like the RS.
If on the other hand you want 300bhp and assuming you can’t buy a 300bhp Octavia RS 1.8t for less than 5K ready to go, the cost to get either car to 300bhp is going to be similar. But you have to remember that the transmission components in the Octavia are much beefier than the Primera. If you have mechanical sympathy, I think the Primera GT is the choice. More than 300bhp and the needle swings back to the Octavia.
In conclusion – Octavia RS 1.8T vs Primera GT P11
To the untrained eye, the Octavia RS feels like a much more expensive car than the Primera GT. The sound the doors make when you close them, the general feeling of heft around the car and the gadgets (OK, this is why the Germans like gadgets, it helps move product off the forecourt) the package seems a step above. However, take a long test drive on different roads, the places where the money was spent on the Primera GT will become obvious over the Octavia. The choice between the two cars comes, like everything, down to your personal priorities.
In a nutshell, if you want to build a 260-300bhp saloon car on a budget, I think I’d go with the Primera (assuming you can’t buy a cheap pre-modified 260-300bhp Octavia). For any other power level, I think it has to be the Octavia RS, more than 300bhp, the mechanicals can take it (rods excluded). 260bhp and less, is much cheaper to do with the Octavia RS 1.8T.