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Compact Family Car of the Year 2020: Skoda Octavia

The Skoda Octavia is the 2020 Auto Express Compact Family Car of the Year, with the Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla commended

Despite its predecessor winning this category last year, the new Skoda Octavia still had its work cut out to claim victory here, in a year when a new VW Golf, a new SEAT Leon and a revised Ford Focus with fresh engines hit the market. But it showed its breadth of abilities again, and that was enough to take victory, proving the Octavia’s credentials in a sector full of impressive machinery.

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Key to the Skoda’s success is its improved technology. With upgraded infotainment as well as more driver-assistance systems – vital to improve safety in a family car – the Octavia has also taken a step upmarket in quality and refinement, too.

It’s still based on the same MQB architecture  but, with subtly tweaked and tuned engines to make it more efficient and quieter, the Octavia drives with the same precision as it always has, yet it’s now smoother and feels softer.

It smothers bumps like a premium car, offering plenty of comfort, and while prices have crept up slightly, it’s as affordable as ever on finance, and you certainly get plenty for your money.

Wireless Apple CarPlay is now fitted as standard across the full range, and it’s joined by Android Auto, plus a 10.25-inch digital dash display and one of the most responsive touchscreens on the market, with superbly clear graphics.

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The quality of the plastics and simplicity of the layout even feel a step on from what you’ll find in Volkswagen’s new Golf, especially in the higher trim levels. And while it doesn’t offer the most flair inside, its design combines just a little panache (including a few smarter visual touches outside, too) with an incredibly pragmatic approach.

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Skoda has a good understanding of how families use their cars, and it’s adapted the Octavia for the modern era, with up to five USB-C points dotted around the cabin – including one near the rear-view mirror for a dash cam.

With a 600-litre boot and lots of rear legroom (dwarfing its rivals), plus a range of smooth, punchy, efficient and refined petrol and diesel engines – and a plug-in hybrid on the way – the new Octavia follows its predecessor as the family favourite.

Our choice

Skoda Octavia Hatch 1.5 TSI 150 SE First Edition (£22,390)

With cylinder deactivation, Skoda’s 1.5 TSI should offer efficiency alongside its smooth-revving petrol performance. You’ll need no more than SE First Edition trim either, because it offers the ride comfort and space, plus all the kit you’d need, at an affordable price.

Commended

Ford Focus

Ford has updated its five-door Focus family hatch with new mild-hybrid engines. They give a little boost in economy, but like its smaller Fiesta sibling, the Focus receives a deserved commendation here as the driver’s choice in this class. Its steering and handling are great – but so are its infotainment, connectivity and affordability on finance.

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Toyota Corolla

If mild-hybrid power doesn’t offer enough of a boost in efficiency for you, the full-hybrid Corolla should be on your shortlist. It’s a little compromised when it comes to space and tech, but with up to 63mpg on offer and a fluid ride to rival the Skoda’s, the Corolla is a return to form for Toyota.

New Car Awards 2020: the winners

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Sean’s been writing about cars since 2010, having worked for outlets as diverse as PistonHeads, MSN Cars, Which? Cars, Race Tech – a specialist motorsport publication – and most recently Auto Express and sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric

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