The Skoda Octavia offers an almost unbeatable combination of five-door practicality, generous interior space, generous standard equipment and low running costs. It shares its platform with the Audi A3, SEAT Leon and Volkswagen Golf and like them, is powered by a range of refined petrol and economical diesel engines.
Key to its popularity with families and company car drivers is that impressively spacious interior and a boot that, with the rear seats up or down, dwarfs those of rivals. For example, while the Ford Focus gets by with 316 litres of boot space, the Octavia spoils its owner with 590 litres. With the rear seats folded down, that figure increases to 1,580 litres, compared to the Focus's 1,101.
The Octavia isn’t short on trim levels, either. There are four – S, SE, Elegance and the range-topping Laurin & Klement – although not all engines are available across the range. As ever, the sweet spot is the SE, where a sensible price and an intelligent specification come together. However, even basic versions come with alloy wheels, air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone connectivity and DAB digital radio, so Octavia buyers don’t have to go without much.
There are four petrol and four diesel engines to choose from. Of the former, the powerful, smooth and reasonably economical 1.2 and 1.4-litre versions make the most sense. The 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels are more frugal still. Our pick for the best performance, economy and long-distance cruising ability is the standard 2.0-litre diesel that produces 146bhp.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox is light and precise, but the even smoother and fast-changing seven-speed DSG automatic is better still. It's available across the engine line-up, including the basic 1.2-litre petrol. Automatic versions are almost as economical as their manual equivalents, too, but cost around £1,000 more. There's no four-wheel drive version of the Skoda Octavia hatchback – only the estate model is available with that option.
The Octavia's seven airbags, electronic stability control and five-star Euro NCAP rating for crash safety mean you can be confident it's a safe car. It's relatively satisfying to own, too, finishing an impressive 28th out of 150 models in the Auto Express Driver Power 2014 owner satisfaction survey.