From £12,685
Not that flash, but a great 4x4

A short while ago we concluded that the spacious, versatile and beautifully built Skoda Octavia Estate could be every car you’ll ever need. If that’s the case, then what’s the point of this four-wheel-drive version?Skoda calls it ‘the perfect answer to the 4x4 backlash’, but people buy 4x4s for their styling, status and raised driving position, and only a 25mm ride height increase and discreet badges on the tailgate and gearlever give this car away as anything other than standard. It’s more a cut-price alternative to the Audi A4 Avant Quattro or Volvo V50 AWD than a pseudo off-roader.Neat ‘saddlebag’ fuel tanks sitting either side of the second-generation Haldex multi-plate clutch help the boot match the front-driver’s 580 litres. That’s enough to trump those prestigious rivals, despite the £16,150 starting price undercutting the cheapest by over £4000. The 4x4 costs £1650 more than an Ambiente Estate, but includes climate control, a leather steering wheel, ESP, front fog lights, headlight washers, rain sensors, a sump guard and alloy wheels in addition to four-wheel drive.Unlike the old 4x4, the new car is available with 1.9-litre 103bhp turbodiesel power. But just £600 more buys the 150bhp 2.0 FSI petrol tested here. In normal driving it feels little different to other front-drivers, but the improved traction of four driven wheels knocks 1.1sec from the standard car’s claimed 0-62mph dash, and the 4x4’s extra 200kg braked towing weight will be handy for caravanners.The Octavia copes surprisingly well in treacherous conditions. You can sense drive shifting to the rear wheels – up to 98 per cent can be sent to either end – and the transfer is quicker and smoother than in early Haldex systems.If you live deep in the Scottish Highlands, or simply need a big, cheap load-lugger to haul a horsebox and a bootful of tack to Pony Club events, the Octavia 4x4 really makes sense.Alastair Clements

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