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
  • 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

    4
  • Peugeot 308
    The 308 marks the first time a carry-over name has been applied to an all-new Peugeot

    Peugeot 308

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    23 September 2016
    Aston kicks off its ‘second century plan’ with an all-new turbo V12 grand tourer
  • Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka
  •  Maserati Ghibli Diesel
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    Maserati releases another range of updates for its range best seller, the Ghibli. We've driven the diesel version, but there's little improvement on before
  • Tipo Front
    First Drive
    21 September 2016
    New Fiat Tipo offers impressive space and practicality for a reasonable price. We try the 1.6 diesel on the demanding roads of North Wales
  • Seat Ateca 1.4 TSI 150
    First Drive
    20 September 2016
    The Seat Ateca 1.4 TSI 150 makes perfect sense: it's spacious, tidy to drive for an SUV and cheap to run