The Skoda Octavia
is the oldest of our contenders, having made its debut back in 2004. But a mid-life refresh in 2009 has ensured the capable hatchback looks every bit as modern as its younger rivals.
Its styling is much more conservative, though, and it doesn’t exactly stand out when parked alongside the Cruze and Lancer. Still, it’s handsome and well proportioned, and helps to relay a more grown-up image than the other cars here. On paper, the Octavia is marginally the smallest choice – although you wouldn’t know it once you’re sat inside, as the interior is one of the most spacious in the class.
A large glass area and low shoulder line help to create a bright and airy atmosphere, while there’s plenty of scope to adjust the driver’s seat and steering wheel. The dash looks a little plain, but it’s logically laid out and beautifully built from top-quality materials. All the switches and controls operate with precision, the clear black-on-white instruments look great and the stereo’s large touchscreen is simple to use. However, you’ll have to pay £180 extra for a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Lift the huge tailgate, and you’re greeted by a vast 585-litre luggage compartment – that’s a massive 241 litres bigger than the Lancer’s. As with the Chevy, it’s let down by its high load lip, but this is a small price to pay for the Octavia’s estate-rivalling carrying capacity. Boosting its credentials as a family friendly holdall are numerous load securing eyelets and a shopping bag hook that folds out from beneath the parcel shelf.
With 138bhp, the Octavia’s 2.0-litre diesel trails the Cruze on power. But it never feels slow on the road, and the smooth and linear power delivery means effortless progress and useful overtaking urge. The precise six-speed transmission’s well chosen ratios also help make the most of the available performance.
Away from the track, the Skoda is just as capable. All the controls are well weighted, plus the steering is direct with decent feedback. And while there’s a fair amount of roll, the smooth-riding Octavia is still the most composed and engaging companion on a twisting B-road.
Running costs also impress; they promise to be lower than those of the Chevy or Mitsubishi. During its time with us – which included performance testing – our test car returned a creditable 33.6mpg. Plus, its 126g/km CO2 emissions are by far the lowest here, and mean £95-a-year road tax. Consistent top four finishes in our annual Driver Power satisfaction survey mean it will be great to own, too.
On this showing, the Skoda still has what it takes to beat more expensive cars from mainstream manufacturers. Against value-for-money competition, its case for victory is even stronger.
WHY: Brilliant Octavia combines excellent value with top-notch fit and finish. Smooth diesel, spacious interior and a composed chassis add to its considerable appeal.