third-gen Octavia vRS. A long-time favourite of those ready to embrace cut price VW GTI tech and pace in generous and unpretentious packaging, it's now got a decent sense of style in its armoury too.
With heavy exposure to other MQB platform cars using the same EA888 direct-injected four-cylinder we were keen to have a go with the new vRS too. And then accidentally booked a diesel one.
Finally a chance to drive the petrol though, this time in hatchback vRS spec with the six-speed manual gearbox rather than the optional DSG. An estate makes more sense of the Octavia's pretension-free practicality and is actually roomier than the average British house - fact! OK, perhaps not. But both it and the hatch tested still cost about a tenth as much. In fact even the estate is two grand less than the Golf GTI with which it shares an engine.
So the Octavia goes like a spacious Golf R but costs 10 grand less? Not quite. But of all the cars using this engine/platform combo it's undoubtedly the best value for money.
Despite Skoda's place in the VW hierarchy, much of the tech available on the fancier relatives is also offered on the Octavia. Sadly that includes the loathsome lane-keeping assistance that tweaks the steering by a degree here and there, much like an annoying wheel grabbing track day instructor. At first acquaintance on the motorway it feels like the car is tramlining through truck grooves before you realise what's going on and sigh with relief that you can turn it off.
But how's the vRS on terrain more testing than the M4? Here's why Octavias are beloved of folk like mountain bikers, for whom a typical journey involves a three-hour motorway schlep followed by a last half-hour of quality Welsh blacktop to reach the latest trail centre.
At motorway speeds the vRS gets dangerously close to achieving the official 45.6mpg and is relaxed and comfortable with space to stretch out for all onboard. And then fun and nimble enough for the designated driver to make everyone else feel distinctly queasy once more challenging roads are found.
As in all applications the engine is linear and functional in its power delivery once on-boost, the binary transition to that state able to unleash ugly scrabbles and tramping from the front axle if the road is wet. No fancy 'diff' here - just an ESP-based simulation. Which is about as authentic as the ear buzzingly intrusive engine noise in vRS mode, thankfully also switchable via the individual setting.
Even with the hateful interventions cancelled out the steering never really feels terribly authentic but the vRS has a nicely languid ability to make significant progress along decently challenging B-roads. The closest obvious rival is the Focus ST, also available as an estate of course. The Skoda doesn't quite have the Ford's handling authority or aggressive nature but both share a sense of sporty practicality that has us sounding dangerously close to a tick box on a marketing spreadsheet. Next you know we'll be preaching 'lifestyle appeal' from the rooftops.
Ducking that one, from the ice scraper concealed in the filler flap to our test car's optional rubber boot flooring the Octavia just has a sense of the workhorse about it though, albeit one spruced up and now considerably more stylish than it once was. Indeed, in Rallye Green Metallic and with the optional anthracite 18-inch Gemini wheels it's got a sense of style and confidence never before seen in an Octavia, without diminishing the back to basics charm and appealingly raw pace of previous models.
Business as usual then. And business is good.
SKODA OCTAVIA VRS 2.0 TSI HATCHBACK MANUAL
Engine: 1,984cc four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual/6-speed dual-clutch auto (DSG), front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 220@4,500-6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@1,500-4,400rpm
0-62mph: 6.8sec (DSG 6.9sec)
Top speed: 154mph (DSG 152mph)
Weight: 1,350kg (DSG 1,370kg)
MPG: 45.6mpg (DSG 44.1mpg, both NEDC combined)
CO2: 142g/km (DSG 149g/km)
Price: £23,755 (£24,655 as tested comprising space-saver spare £75, double-sided boot floor £75, Mitsumi Apple device connection and electric sunroof £750).