The third edition of the Skoda Octavia vRS TDi is indesputably the world's greatest all-rounder. It's cheap to buy, well-equipped, economical, brisk, spacious, comfortable - it does everything one expects from a sporty family car. The Octavia looks good without being offensive, and could easily be mistaken for a model from higher up the echelons of the Volkswagen Audi Group hierarchy. It is the ultimate compromise in every aspect. There is not a single criticism that can be levied at this car. It is infallible at being a car, and yet it lacks that essential ingredient that appeals to our inner petrolhead (or "the fizz" as James May would say).
18" Gemini Anthracite Alloy wheels, very similar to those found on the Audi S3, are included as part of the standard spec.
First, let's consider the cost of ownership. There are some immense leasing options on this car - a deposit of around £2,500 will see monthly payments of under £200 with a declared annual mileage of 10k. That is exceptional value for a car which will comfortably seat a family of five, has a cavernous boot and will still put a smile on dad's face. If you're one of those rare breeds that still buys cars outright, walk into a dealership with £25,000 in your pocket and order one with metallic paint, and you'll leave with change, even if you're a hopeless negotiator.
Road tax is a measley £30 per year, and the car is considered by Thatcham a relatively modest insurance group 29 (of 50). It is also surprisingly economical - 50+ miles to the gallon is easily achievable on journeys over 10 miles, even under spirited driving conditions.
Regretfully on the diesel variant, only one of the silver tailpipes features an exhaust.
The performance figures are decent without frightening the children. 62mph will arrive in under 8 seconds, and if you keep your foot planted the car will pull all the way to a top speed of 146mph. The power is very accessible in the diesel, with much of the 2 litre's grunt arriving from as low as 1500rpm. Unfortunately, the initial promise does not continue to the 5000rpm red line, which gives the car a lacklustre feel when receiving vigorious driver input.
The gear change action is excellent, and the steering has a satisfying - if not artificial - weight when the car is in Sport mode. When pushed, the car errs on the side of understeer, but is more than capable of delivering a rewarding B-road blast.
Reassuringly familiar, functional and unexciting VAG interior.
This car delivers well in all areas, and yet it rarely excels. It is a superb all-rounder, yet it won't get you up at 6am on a Sunday morning to take advantage of empty roads or prompt you to volunteer to visit the in-laws as an excuse for a lengthy drive. It's not the lack grunt that sees this car wanting in this area. I drove the Golf R and was similarly disappointed - it didn't inspire the seat-of-your-pants excitment that we petrolheads look for when updating our driveway. Yes, VAG produce some excellent cars, but they're functional machines rather than objects of desire. Perhaps they're too perfect, too good at being cars, that makes them difficult to love. I previously owned an Alfa Romeo that blew it's headlamp bulb at every opportunity and forever felt on the verge of a breakdown, yet I felt connected with the car on a personal level. I experienced "the fizz" each and every time I went to sit behind the wheel, irrespective of whether or not the engine subsequently started successfully.
The Thinking Man's Audi RS4.
And yet, if your job title is Business Development Manager or Key Account Executive, this is the perfect car for less than BMW 1-series money. It is the interesting choice, from a marque that has firmly shaken off their embarrassing history of 20+ years ago. It is the thinking man's Audi RS4 - it'll deliver 80% of the performance, luxury and enjoyment without the compromise, and will do so at considerably less cost.