Unlike most of its rivals, the Skoda Octavia Estate is available with all-wheel drive, offering the reassurance of better grip in harsh driving conditions - a very attractive prospect here in the UK.
Only two estate versions of the Octavia come with this option: the 1.6- and 2.0-litre diesel models, but there's no auto option, which keeps official fuel economy as high as 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 119g/km on the 1.6.
However, it costs £1450 to add all-wheel drive across all trim levels, so it is worth spending the extra?
What’s the 2014 Skoda Octavia Estate 4x4 like to drive?
We tested the 2.0-litre diesel, which pulls strongly from low revs and provides decent performance when worked hard. Engine noise is noticeable in the cabin at most speeds, though, and there's a slight buzz at the controls at higher revs.
Still, the Octavia is a very easy car to drive, its gearshift is light but precise in action and its pedals are consistently weighted to give the driver plenty of feedback. The clever four-wheel-drive system powers the front wheels during normal driving, but sends power to the rears when it detects them starting to slip.
This helps it handle even more securely. The 4x4 version is 100kg heavier than the standard estate, but its body control remains just as good, and the extra grip helps it hang on longer in tight turns.
There are three drive modes: Normal, Sport and Eco. Engine response and steering weight are both changed depending which you choose, but the suspension is not affected. The engine response sharpens up nicely with Sport selected, while the steering feels accurate and weights up steadily as you cycle through each different setting.
Four-wheel-drive Octavias also come with a more sophisticated rear suspension than other models, but at low speed, it still becomes unsettled over potholed roads. Speed up, though, and the ride improves dramatically - this is a very comfortable long-distance cruiser.
At motorway speeds some wind noise creeps into the cabin, but it's far from being intrusive and there's little in the way of road noise to worry about.
What’s the 2014 Skoda Octavia Estate 4x4 like inside?
A small 4x4 badge on the gearlever is the only hint at the mechanical changes beneath, so the Octavia's interior remains as impressive as ever.
With the rear seats in place, the boot is a huge 610 litres, and it's a very practical space with plenty of clever touches that increase its flexibility. On all 4x4 Octavia Estates the rear seats can be folded using levers in the boot, and the optional variable height boot floor (£150 on SE versions and standard with Elegance trim), flattens out the considerable step in the floor of the load bay.
The variable floor can be set so there is no boot lip, or dropped to maximise capacity – it's attached to the rear seats with a bezel, meaning it can be raised or lowered with one hand.
Maximum carrying capacity with the rear seats folded is 1740 litres – that's more space than you get in other all-wheel-drive rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 and Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer, or in more traditional estates such as the Ford Mondeo, Mazda 6 or even the Volkswagen Passat.
Passenger space is just as generous, while the front seats are supportive and the large rear windows help to provide good rear visibility. Skoda has taken a big step forward in interior quality, too, using classy materials on the dashboard, and fitting a touch-screen infotainment system that's easy to use.
Entry-level S trim isn't available if you choose all-wheel drive, leaving two options: SE and Elegance. SE cars have climate control, four electric windows and a fatigue sensor, while Elegance also brings sat-nav, cruise control, part-leather and Alcantara upholstery, and automatic lights and wipers.
Should I buy one?
Adding four-wheel drive to the Octavia Estate expands its already broad range of talents. It remains hugely spacious, practical and cheap to run, and is now also slightly better to drive.
So, if your lifestyle or holiday destinations require an extra level of grip or light off-roading ability, then we think it's worth paying the premium for the 4x4 version - or waiting until June for the Octavia Scout.
For the majority of buyers, though, saving £1450 and sticking with the standard Estate's identical space and even better fuel economy and emissions makes more sense, unless you really do need it.
What Car? says…
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £22,865
Torque 236lb ft
Top speed 132mph
Fuel economy 57.6mpg