Skoda has been getting a lot of good press in the past few years. As a manufacturer it has topped customer the JD Power and Top Gear satisfaction surveys, and the Octavia has won a variety of "car of the year" accolades all over Europe.
But is it all hype? Can a car that cheap really be that good? Thankfully, it can.
Underneath, the Octavia is a Golf. A Golf with personality, plenty of kit and loads more space. But Skoda no longer needs to hide behind the VW badge, as it once did after the Czechs sold it off. Sure it was a laughing stock in the 1980s and 1990s, but let's not forget that Skoda has been around for more than a century.
While not the greatest looking machine in its class, it's way better than average and only the more expensive 159, Accord, Passat and maybe the new Mondeo offer better aesthetic appeal. In black, on 17in rims and with fog lights, it actually looks pretty mean. The rear spoiler on the hot vRS versions does, however, look a bit silly.
In the cabin, you really get the benefit of the standard Laurin & Klement special edition leather and suede. Seats are pretty hard and without the springiness and lateral support the cowhide provides, long journeys can be a bit uncomfortable on lower spec models. The dash is pleasant but it is a bit of a mish-mash in places. The dials are quality, taken as they are from VW, but the stereo controls are a bit ugly and the LCD screen a bit confusing. It also doesn't really match the switches on the excellent dual zone climate-control system.
Cubbyholes are everywhere, offering yet more practicality to a car that has a suitcase-swallowing boot and enough rear legroom for Borat on stilts. Is nice!
Steering wheel hub-mounted stereo controls are positioned badly, and are awkward to engage with your thumbs, although cruise control, wipers and indicator stalks are all great. Added conveniences on the L&K include power driver's seat, auto headlamps and wipers, six-CD changer and heated mirrors (all available as options on other models).
But even without these extra bits, the Octavia works. Basic spec is far superior to equivalent rival models for a lot less money. And, crucially, it manages to be a driver's car. it never forgets the basics of fun motoring, offering as it does some good engines mates to competent gearboxes and perfect suspension. The balance is remarkable. Turn-in is crisp, cornering level and the ride is firm where it needs to be - on the open road - and soft when you want to negotiate pot holes and speed bumps.
The diesels are excellent, offering decent economy and low emissions for company car users. It's not quite as good as the brochure professes, but I got 49mpg on average, which ain't half bad. And despite the fact they are a little noisy, due mostly to sound-proofing, the 2.0 diesel pulls nicely and gives you a sub-10 second 0-60mph time.
It's simply pointless trying to excuse the fact that the Octavia is a good car and that Skoda is a quality outfit; it's almost passe to do so. In it's own right, the Octavia is a very good car indeed and while the smirks remain on the faces of the old guard, it's worth remembering that most kids these days - the ones who are taking their driving tests right now - haven't heard the Skoda gags (well, they've heard them but the jokes now begin "what do you call a Chevrolet...?")
The sum of its parts makes the Octavia hard to resist, and it's only the snob in you that would really make you choose a similarly priced Passat, Toyota or Mazda that has half the spec and half the fun.
Engine: 2.0 turbodiesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 129mph