The Skoda Octavia has always been one of the roomiest cars in its class, but this new model is the biggest yet; it's closer in size to a Ford Mondeo than a Focus.
It's based on the platform that underpins the latest Seat Leon and VW Golf. However, the Octavia has a longer wheelbase and an extended rear overhang to help distance it not only from those two cars, but also Skoda's own Rapid hatchback, which was launched last year.
Prices have risen by around £2000 compared with the outgoing model, but as Skoda is quick to point out, the new Octavia is much better equipped than the car it replaces. Factor in all the extra kit it now comes with as standard, and it's actually better value for money than ever.
Initially, they'll be a choice of two turbo petrol engines (a 103bhp 1.2 and a 138bhp 1.4) and two diesels (a 103bhp 1.6 and a 148bhp 2.0). An ultra-efficient 89g/km Greenline model will join the range later this year, along with a 217bhp vRS hot hatch.
What's the 2013 Skoda Octavia like to drive?
You might imagine that a 1.2-litre petrol engine would struggle to haul around a car this big, but in spite of its larger dimensions, the new Octavia is actually a fair bit lighter than the car it replaces.
As a result, the 1.2 is easily up to the job, pulling strongly from just 1400rpm. You rarely need to work it hard, but even when you do it stays smooth, and the standard six-speed manual gearbox has a tall top gear that helps keep the engine remarkably relaxed at motorway speeds.
We also tried the range-topping 2.0-litre diesel. This engine is a real highlight in the latest VW Golf and Audi A3, but it isn't quite as refined in the new Octavia. You feel some buzz through the pedals when you accelerate, and there's a drone as the revs rise above 3000rpm.
Fortunately, you rarely need to push the engine that hard, because there's plenty of muscle lower down in the rev range. It's also a remarkably efficient motor considering how strong it is, with CO2 emissions of just 106g/km.
For the most part, the Octavia rides comfortably enough. You're more aware of bumps passing beneath the car than you are in the latest VW Golf, but they rarely thump through to the cabin in the way they do in the smaller Rapid.
The Skoda isn't quite as agile as a Ford Mondeo or a Golf, but the body doesn't lollop around through tight twists and turns, and there's plenty of grip.
The steering is accurate and it weights up consistently as you turn the wheel, too.
What's the 2013 Skoda Octavia like inside?
While the new Octavia closely resembles the cheaper and smaller Rapid on the outside, there are bigger differences when you get inside.
Instead of hard plastics, you get materials that are a match for those in the latest VW Golf, and a grade or two above those in either a Ford Mondeo or a Mazda 6.
The front seats are supportive, and every model comes with a touch-screen infotainment system. The Octavia scores just as well for ease of use, because the touch-screen system features clear menus and handy shortcut buttons, while the controls for the air-con system are chunky and clearly labelled.
It's just a pity rear visibility isn't as good as it is in the Golf due to the Octavia's sloping rear screen and notchback styling.
On the plus side, the Octavia's size and shape means there's loads of space in the back; there's acres of legroom, and only those well over six feet tall will have any issue with headroom.
It's the boot that's the real highlight, though; you access it through a wide, high-opening tailgate and there's room for 590 litres of luggage. That's more than you get in a Ford Mondeo.
There are also some clever touches, including Velcro dividers, a reversible floor (one side is carpeted and the other wipe-clean rubber) and a parcel shelf that stows flush with the rear seats when it's not needed.
The one disappointment is that there's a chunky step in the load floor when you fold the rear seat backs down.
The new Octavia is available in three trims – S, SE and Elegance – and even the cheapest of these gives you air-conditioning, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, a DAB radio, a six-disc CD changer, a USB socket, seven airbags and stability control.
Stepping up to SE trim adds rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, front foglights and rear electric windows, while range-topping Elegance cars have sat-nav, larger alloys, leather seats, cruise control and automatic lights and wipers.
Should I buy one?
Whichever way you look at it, the new Octavia represents superb value for money.
View either of the diesels as an alternative to a Ford Mondeo, and as a 40% rate taxpayer you'll get just as much space and comfort while paying around £40 less a month in company car tax.
Alternatively, as a private buy, the 1.2 TSI petrol gives you more space and equipment than the latest VW Golf, yet costs £1300 less to buy.
With that in mind, we can only heartily recommend the new Octavia. It might not be the most desirable car in the world, but it's quite possibly the most sensible.
What Car? says...
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