What may have augmented the Golf's sense of urgency was its DSG 'box. The Octavia came with the six-speed manual which, whilst a surprisingly pleasant thing to use with a short and positive shift, won't change gear as fast as the auto. Unless every last tenth of a second or mpg is important though, the manual is more than acceptable. It's really quite nice in fact.
Therefore, whilst a non-switchable ESC and entirely predictable dynamics hinder the Golf as a hot hatch, in the Octavia it's arguably less relevant. Instead, it can be really enjoyed up to eight tenths; it turns in keenly, the brakes feel strong and there's greater agility than that chunky silhouette would suggest. And you can turn the 'automated' steering function off, thankfully.
Really push it and the Octavia comes unstuck a little, which is only to be reasonably expected. Though equipped with the VW's XDS 'electronic differential lock', it can be found wanting for traction if 280lb ft is too readily deployed out of a corner. This is where the Golf, with its more advanced XDS+ system, can feel sharper and more planted as it gets power down more smoothly.
Traditional family hatches and estates aren't exactly en vogue in 2013, so finding a rival for the Octavia vRS diesel is quite a challenge. The RWD Germans are of course much more expensive, and even the Volvo V60 starts at £29K in D4 guise. Its nearest rival is perhaps the 175hp Mazda 6 estate, but even that's £3,000 more at RRP.
As with the first two generations, the Octavia vRS offers an enjoyably alternative take on familiar VW Group underpinnings. It isn't thrill-a-minute, it never has been, but it will deliver everything you expect of it and possibly a fair bit more. For not an awful lot of money, what more could be asked of it? Now, about that petrol version we meant to get in...
SKODA OCTAVIA VRS
Engine: 1,968cc 4-cyl turbodiesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive (six-speed DSG optional)
Power (hp): 184@3,500-4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,750-3,000rpm
Top speed: 143mph
MPG: 61.4 (NEDC combined)
Price: £24,060 (standard), £25,775 (as tested including £1,350 for Columbus touchscreen sat-nav, £150 for Black design package, £140 for Sunset from B-pillar back and £75 for space saver)