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.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • BMW X3
    Car review
    19 January 2018
    The stakes have never been higher for BMW’s mid-sized SUV, now the X3 in its third generation. So can it deliver?
  • Nissan Leaf
    First Drive
    19 January 2018
    Better looks, better value, better range, stronger performance and a quiet and relaxing drive make the Nissan Leaf a leading EV contender again
  • Volkswagen Up GTI
    First Drive
    18 January 2018
    Funky, light, enjoyable and even reasonably priced, the Volkswagen Up GTI is a car to be appreciated on its own compelling terms
  • Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 110 Redline
    First Drive
    18 January 2018
    Our first flavour of the 1.0 TSI-engined Skoda Fabia on UK roads shows it’s versatile but not all that sporty
  • Ford Ecosport 1.0 Ecoboost 125 Zetec front
    First Drive
    18 January 2018
    Can the updated Ford Ecosport improve its reputation and become the small SUV of choice, or is it another misguided effort from the Blue Oval?