Launched in 1996, the Skoda Octavia was the car that finally persuaded buyers to take Skoda seriously in the Western world.

Based on the Volkswagen Golf, it was conservative, capacious, capable and a big success. More than one million were built over the next six years, as the Octavia became the mainstay of the Skoda range.

The ethos behind the Octavia is one of the rocks upon which Skoda’s recent success has been founded. It offers the engineering quality and assembly precision of a car from parent company VW but at a significantly lower price.

So with its combination of high quality, plentiful space and low price, the first-generation Octavia won over plenty of canny buyers, ironically many of them in Germany, who could see a good deal when it was offered and weren’t going to be put off by the lack of a damped grab-handle for the front passenger.

But the old Octavia’s weakest point was arguably the dynamically insipid Golf Mk4 it was based on. The latest Octavia, however, is based on the hugely improved Golf Mk5, and is all the better for it.

The Octavia also has a bargain performance model in its ranks: the vRS. The original Octavia vRS’s mix of practicality, sub-7.0sec 0-60mph performance and a £15,100 price was enough to earn it a full five stars when we tested it in 2001.

This time, however, the second-generation iteration of the hot Skoda faces a fresh field of talented opposition, with both VW and Ford now offering five-door high-performance hatches that possess similar practicality and performance.

Top 5 Family hatchbacks

  • Seventh generation Volkswagen Golf
    More than 29 million Golfs have been sold since 1974

    Volkswagen Golf

    1
  • The popular Ford Focus in 1.5 TDCi Zetec form
    The standout component of the Ford Focus has always been its handling

    Ford Focus

    2
  • Seat Leon
    Seat offers five engines for the Leon, ranging from a 104bhp 1.2 petrol to a 181bhp 2.0 diesel

    Seat Leon

    3
  • Seventh generation Vauxhall Astra
    The seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra seems to be a collection of General Motors' latest and greatest technology

    Vauxhall Astra

    4
  • Mazda 3
    The SkyActiv platform used in the 3 features more high and ultra-high-strength steel, offering greater strength and less weight

    Mazda 3

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Skoda range

Driven this week

  • Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI 150 S tronic
    First Drive
    29 May 2016
    We head to Havana to find out how the new Audi Q2 is shaping up ahead of its November launch
  • Seat Leon 1.4 EcoTSI FR Titanium
    First Drive
    27 May 2016
    High-spec new Titanium FR trim is temptingly good value, particularly on the semi-enthusiastic 1.4 EcoTSI petrol
  • Kia Niro
    First Drive
    27 May 2016
    The Kia Niro will be one of the greenest cars in the compact crossover class when it goes on sale later this year. We drive it to see what else it has to offer
  • Car review
    27 May 2016
    Can the turbocharged successor to the 458 raise the bar again?
  • Car review
    27 May 2016
    The big-in-every-way Bentley SUV lands. We assess the impact