The first generation Octavia was released in 1996 and was built on the Volkswagen Group A4 (PQ34) platform.
United Kingdom sales began in 1998 and the car was an instant success with buyers who appreciated its solidity, refinement and value for money, though it could not quite match the success of established favourites such as the Ford Mondeo, Opel Vectra and Peugeot 406. The car became synonymous with the U.K taxi trade, due the large number of private hire drivers who used the vehicle due to its low price, space and reliability.
The first generation Octavia had a facelift in 2000 and is still manufactured and marketed in some markets, even though the second generation was introduced in 2004. In Germany, and other parts of West Europe, as well as Asia, the older model is marketed as the Octavia Tour, while the newer model is marketed as the Octavia. In some markets, the first-generation Octavia is still known as Octavia, and the newer model is referred to as the new Octavia, Octavia5 (Greece) or Laura (India). The major improvements in the new model are the independent rear suspension and improved interior (in space, design and quality of materials).
The original Octavia also featured a 4x4 wheel drive version both for liftback and estate models, the former being more popoular, and was using the Haldex Traction clutch just as every other Volkswagen Group A Platform based car (Golf IV, Audi A3 and Seat Leon Cupra R4). It had higher ground clearance and a bigger fuel tank - 63-litre (17US gal; 14imp gal) compared to 55L (15US gal; 12impgal) standard front wheel drive versions. The 4x4 option was only available for 1.8T 150bhp (112kW; 152PS) petrol engine, the 1.9TDI 90bhp (67kW; 91PS) both coupled with 5-speed manual gearbox and the 1.9TDI-PD(Pumpe-duse) 100bhp (75kW; 101PS) version which came with 6-speed manual gearbox.
The other 6-speed model was the 1.9TDI-PD 131bhp (98kW; 133PS) only available with front wheel drive.