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

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Seat Leon ST Cupra 2.0 TSI 4Drive 300PS DSG
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    Seat's fastest Leon ST is fun to drive quickly and has enough space for all the family, but VW's own Golf R Estate is even better to drive
  • Porsche 911 GT3 manual 2017 review
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    The new 911 GT3 is an excellent machine; does the addition of a manual gearbox make it even better?
  • Skoda Karoq
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    The Yeti has morphed into the Karoq for its second generation, and this early drive reveals a solid, practical small SUV that could challenge the class best
  • Opel Ampera-e
    First Drive
    27 April 2017
    Opel's second-generation Ampera is smaller than the first, and now purely electric. It's also very capable with a remarkable range
  • Lotus Elise Sprint
    First Drive
    27 April 2017
    The latest incarnation of the Elise may be out of its depth on track, but on the public road it is probably the purest version since the original