The Octavia has been one of Skoda’s most popular models under parent company VW, since the first model arrived back in 1996. As with the original, the current model shares a huge amount of its kit and technology with the smaller but pricier Volkswagen Golf.

Despite its budget billing, the Octavia has slowly made its way upmarket as the Golf has become ever more sophisticated. What this means is that, though the Octavia undercuts the Volkswagen when it comes to price, buyers shouldn’t feel short changed – especially as the car offers high quality construction, shedloads of space for passengers and a huge boot.

Key rivals for the spacious Octavia hatchback and estate include the soon-to-be-updated Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Mazda 6 and smaller models like the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.

What is it?

The Octavia is Skoda’s second largest model, which sits below the huge Superb hatchback and estate. A wide range of models are available from affordable and relatively basic turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol models for just over £16,000 to plush ‘Laurin & Klement’ versions, which are packed with luxury equipment.

Buyers can also choose from vRS petrol and diesel performance models along with four-wheel drive versions which offer added all-weather traction. There is also a ‘Scout’ estate on offer, which features four-wheel drive and chunky SUV-esque styling for those looking for an alternative to a traditional off-roader.

What is it like to drive?

We drove the fastest diesel version, the vRS 2.0 TDI, equipped with Volkswagen’s slick ‘DSG’ automatic gearbox. This car offers strong performance, sprinting to 62mph in a brief 8.3 seconds, while claimed economy is also relatively good, with the vRS diesel returning a combined fuel consuimption figure of 56.5mpg.

With a 182bhp motor under the bonnet the vRS pulls strongly whenever you put your foot down, though it does produce a little more noise than some of the best diesel engines, resonating a little at certain engine speeds, which, while signaling the car’s sporty intent, doesn’t really add to the driving experience.

Overall refinement levels are high, however, with the car making a capable motorway cruiser; there is little road, wind or tyre noise at speed, with just the sound of the engine entering the cabin when accelerating hard.

The DSG automatic gearbox put in a good show too, performing fast and smooth gear changes. If you leave it to its own devices it does sometimes hang onto gears a little too long when accelerating, though. Changing gear manually with the steering wheel mounted paddles, however, is an effective alternative.

In sporty vRS trim, the Octavia takes corners with enthusiasm, with the slightly firm suspension keeping body roll in check. Allied to the punchy motor, the Octavia vRS is an accomplished machine in which to cover long distances in. With several driving modes to choose from most drivers should be able to find a setup to suit their tastes, from comfort to sport-focused modes where the steering weights up.

What is it like inside?

The Octavia vRS shares the plus points of the standard car’s interior – namely the huge amount of space on offer – both for passengers and in the boot – along with good build quality. Helping to differentiate this model from lesser Octavias the vRS has comfortable, heavily-bolstered sports seats and black dashboard trim. While these help to add a sense of occasion, the chequered trim on the doors looks and feels cheap.

Skoda hasn’t tried to do anything radical with the interior and the car is all the better for it, with a clear layout of controls for the climate control and media systems. Helping to get rid of a number of buttons, the car features a touchscreen media system.

Though this is relatively simple compared to many cars, using the touchscreen on the move can prove tricky for the driver – and may hinder safety – while the screen itself looks small, failing to fill the gap for it on the dashboard. While an extra expense, Skoda’s premium sat nav system may prove a wise option, with its larger screen making it easier – and safer – to use while driving.

Is it practical?

Absolutely. Fitting five adults into the car should prove a doddle – there’s plenty of knee and headroom for adults to sit comfortably inside – while the boot should swallow no end of luggage.

Even compared to its sister model, the VW Golf GTD, the Octavia offers an impressive amount of space for the money.

Should I buy one?

The Skoda Octavia vRS diesel should prove an appealing package for many drivers, offering punchy performance and outstanding practicality, along with good economy for the money.

Overall, its combination of power, handling, comfort and refinement make it a good choice for keen drivers and longer journeys, though the ride may be a little firm for those used to less sporting models.

Buyers who don’t value the showy looks of the vRS model though, may be better served with the less powerful 2.0 TDI 150 Elegance, which weighs in at £23,560 in automatic ‘DSG’ form. Despite its lower power, this model offers essentially the same performance as the vRS diesel along with lower fuel bills, thanks to a strong claimed economy figure of 68.9mpg.

Drivers who don’t want or need an automatic gearbox could save even more with the £22,310 manual model. This car offers stronger value for buyers other than those who value the slightly tauter handling or sharper looks of the vRS model.

Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a used Skoda Octavia in our classifieds here.

The facts

Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TDI 184 DSG

List price: £25,410
Engine: 2.0-litre, four cylinder turbocharged diesel
Power: 182bhp
Top speed: 142mph
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Fuel economy: 47.9mpg (urban), 65.7mpg (extra-urban) 56.5mpg (combined)
Emissions: 129g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five-star