In the cut and thrust of the compact hatch market, a car needs a unique selling point to stand out. The Skoda Octavia's has always been to offer acres of space at a value price, but the new model builds on this by adding a level of luxury never before seen from the brand.
In its first test, the Octavia meets two cars that also offer their own unique take on the class. The Honda Civic brings a futuristic edge to the mix thanks to its radical looks, while the all-new 1.6 i-DTEC diesel promises decent performance and low running costs.
The two cars are built on the same platform, so should offer similar performance on the road, but does the new Octavia deliver the premium feel that will finally propel it past its classy cousin?
The new Octavia is another giant step forward for Skoda. Class-leading rear space and practicality are now matched by a high-quality interior with equipment to embarrass cars in the sector above.
The efficient 1.6-litre TDI diesel isn’t as refined or powerful as the impressive new engine in the Civic, plus the Octavia isn’t as rewarding to drive as the Golf. But for those wanting a sensible and cheap-to-run family car, it’s close to perfect.
Yet the Volkswagen is slightly better. It’s almost as practical, is sharper to drive and has more premium appeal. And while it’s more expensive to buy than the Octavia, strong residuals and low running costs offset any extra outlay.
Sadly, the Honda finishes third. Despite its smooth and punchy engine, the quirky Civic can’t match its rivals for all-round appeal.
So the Golf does just enough to take the top spot – although its time at the top could be short, with the stylish new SEAT Leon just around the corner.