Fast, fun, affordable and practical; if anything can live up to this description, it's the 2013 Skoda Octavia vRS. With 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel and petrol options, automatic and manual gearboxes, and the choice of cavernous hatchback or estate bodies, the vRS clearly has 'all things to all people' appeal.
The fun bit comes from the choice of a 181bhp diesel engine or 217bhp petrol, as well as new multilink rear suspension (a completely different and more sophisticated set-up than on other Octavia models), a 12mm lower ride height and bespoke suspension settings.
What's the 2013 Skoda Octavia vRS like to drive?
We drove the petrol model, which has proper gut-wrenching acceleration when you want it, but still feels reassuringly close to idiot-proof in terms of handling.
There's little of the sudden surge in power that commonly afflicts high-powered turbocharged engines, with acceleration building quickly and smoothly even from low revs. This means that you can leave the vRS in a high gear at low speeds, knowing that it will pick up cleanly when asked.
The manual gearbox we tested also had a satisfyingly positive shift, while the pedals were nicely weighted and easy to modulate.
If you're hoping to experience some kind of driving epiphany with the ride and handling, you might be a little disappointed. This is still an Octavia; it's a big car and, despite the vRS badge, it errs towards being usable rather than dramatic. The steering is fast without being neurotic, but a bit more communication would be welcome.
That said, the vRS does perform with a good degree of finesse. The body settles quickly even in hard cornering, plus there's loads of front-end grip and the car can brake both inside wheels to aid agility a trick that comes close to mimicking the effect of a mechanical limited-slip differential.
Where the system is not quite as effective as a proper mechanical limited-slip diff is at controlling the writhing steering that the vRS subjects you to as it scrabbles to transfer its power to the road particularly if you ask for everything as you exit a corner.
Ride quality on standard 18-inch alloys is a bit schizophrenic, being impressively composed over rough, scarred surfaces, but bouncy and firm over big bumps and undulations. Even so, it's acceptable given the big Skoda's performance.
What's the 2013 Skoda Octavia vRS like inside?
The standard sports seats are manually adjustable and offer deep bolster support and a good range of adjustment. It's also a nice touch that they've been designed to avoid overly obscuring the view of the road ahead for rear passengers, helping to reduce the pain for those susceptible to car sickness.
Even in the hatch there's plenty of room for people and their paraphernalia, while the estate version promises to stand up to every luggage challenge that the average family can throw at it.
Otherwise the interior has some subtle vRS badging to differentiate it from the standard car, but it's not an overtly sporty cabin at all, and benefits from all the standard Octavia's strengths of good visibility, clear dials and durable, classy-looking materials.
Standard equipment includes a colour touch-screen, Bluetooth, DAB radio, USB-input, rear parking sensors, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls, climate control and the usual safety kit and electronic driver aids.
Should I buy one?
If you want something that's got real entertainment value, but with little or no compromise to the everyday needs of a family car, then absolutely. There is a price to pay for the Octavia vRS's great value, though it's not as refined or as smooth to drive as the Volkswagen Golf GTI. However, the fact that it's many thousands cheaper is likely to compensate for these failings.
The diesel engine looks compelling, thanks to its impressive economy figures of 61.4mpg and emissions of 119g/km, but don't discount the petrol it's substantially faster, and figures of 45.6mpg and 142g/km aren't to be sniffed at given the performance on offer.
The vRS is also the most practical hot hatch you can buy. As long as you're happy with easy-going and invigorating B-road manners and don't mind being shaken around a bit on high-speed bumpy roads, the petrol-powered Skoda Octavia vRS is hard to fault.
What Car? says...
Engine size 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Price from 22,990
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 6.8 seconds
Top speed 154mph
Fuel economy 45.6mpg
CO2 emissions 142g/km
Engine size 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Price from 23,260
Torque 280lb ft
0-62mph 8.1 seconds
Top speed 144mph
Fuel economy 61.4mpg
CO2 emissions 119g/km
By Vicky Parrott