A couple of weeks ago I was in a snowy (and -8c) Czech Republic to see the unveiling of the all-new Skoda Octavia and, on the following day, sample a two versions of the new car.

Skoda has developed into a huge success for the VW Group. When VW first took a financial stake, the company was relying on the Favorit, a boxy, Bertone-styled hatchback which was pretty crude and underdeveloped, an example of how the countries behind the Iron Curtain had failed to keep up with Western Europe. Its cheapness and basic ruggedness, however, meant that the Favorit did sell in some numbers in the West.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, VW swept in and bought a stake in Skoda in December 1990. Work started soon after on the Felicia, an updated version of the Favorit. By 1993 work had started on the first Skoda Octavia, which was to be based on the Golf 4, but few would have held out much hope for the Skoda brand to amount to much in Western Europe.

At the 1995 unveiling of the Octavia in Prague, the company declared the Octavia would 'compete with Rover and Volvo’. Incredibly, Skoda underestimated its situation. Rover had disappeared ten years later and, today, Skoda is outselling Volvo by a factor of at least 2:1.