The Skoda Octavia is one of the most spacious family hatchbacks on sale and although it rivals mainstream models such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, it's a far bigger car. The boot is truly enormous for this class, at 590 litres, and it extends to 1,580 litres when you fold the back seats down. There's a good choice of petrol and diesel engines, all of which are economical, smooth and punchy, while build quality is excellent, too.
There's plenty of equipment as standard, which adds to the Octavia's sense of good value. Every model comes with alloy wheels, air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a touchscreen infotainment system and DAB digital radio. Trim levels start with the entry-level S and move up through SE and SE L to the top-spec Laurin & Klement, which is named after Skoda's founders.
The mid-range SE model strikes the best balance between value and equipment, as it adds the likes of all-round electric windows, dual-zone climate control, front foglights and rear parking sensors all for around £1,400 more than the S. The top-of-the-range Laurin & Klement model is really quite luxurious and includes an automatic parking system and electrically adjustable leather seats, but it costs between £27,000 and £30,000, which is pretty expensive for a mainstream family car.
There's also a hot-hatchback version called the Skoda Octavia vRS, which is available either as a conventional high-performance petrol or a more efficient diesel. It's much faster than the rest of the Octavia range and has sharper handling, but it's a practical yet fun car rather than supremely focused like the Ford Focus ST or Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Engines in models lower down the range comprise three very quiet and economical petrols and a trio of even more frugal diesels, the best of which is the GreenLine III, which returns 80.7mpg and emits just 90g/km of CO2. The 1.2-litre is our pick of the petrols, as it offers a good balance between power and fuel economy and is pretty cheap to buy. For higher-mileage drivers, we’d recommend the 146bhp 2.0-litre diesel. It's smooth as well as powerful, which makes it great on the motorway, and it's also very economical.
Every engine is available with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic gearbox. In many cases, there's virtually no difference in fuel economy and emissions between the two, although the DSG automatic is more expensive than the manual. The Octavia handles well and has responsive steering, however slightly firm suspension takes its toll on ride quality and the interior can be a little noisy.
Safety is impressive, as the Octavia scored the full five stars in Euro NCAP crash-testing and comes with seven airbags and electronic stability control as standard. Go for the SE L model and you get Skoda's Safety Assist feature, which automatically applies the brakes if it senses an impending impact with the car in front.
Both Skoda as a brand and the Octavia itself are consistently high scorers in our Driver Power owner satisfaction surveys, with practicality, running costs and reliability cited as particular strong points.