In five-door form, the Octavia has already been a roaring success throughout Europe, offering Mondeo-sized virtues at Astra-sized prices. Thousands of family hatchback owners have traded up to the larger car they thought they couldn't afford. For the estate version, the prospects have proved to be just as bright. Estate versions of models like the Ford Focus, the Vauxhall Astra and the Ford Focus are impressive cars but they're not much use if you want to carry a fridge freezer, a grandfather clock or a couple of Dobermans. The Octavia, in contrast, can, in this guise, carry 548 litres, or 1,512 litres with the split rear seats folded - more than a Peugeot 406, a Vauxhall Vectra or a Renault Laguna.
The load space is versatile too, with glide rails embedded into the floor to make loading and unloading easier. There are also four fastening points to keep awkward packages from sliding about. As you'd expect from a car of this class, a roll-out cover pulls from a housing attached from the back seat, keeping your valuables out of sight. Finally, the space-saving arrangement of the rear axle and suspension allows for a surprisingly wide estate compartment - over one metre at the narrowest point between the wheelarches, which could make all the difference. Clearly, this is no compromised 'lifestyle estate'.
Which is not to say that this Octavia is visually unappealing. Quite the opposite in fact. Dirk van Braeckel and his Design Team have created a shape most will feel to be sleek and modern. A modern prestigious badge could easily adorn the prominent chrome grille: your neighbours will certainly expect it.
Ask a Skoda dealer what goes wrong with Octavias and you're likely to have a short, if slightly dull, conversation. In the words of one dealer, Octavias are 'bulletproof'. Certainly, they're every bit as well put together as a VW Polo or a Golf - a fact confirmed by VW Group in-house surveys. Still, check for wear to loading floors on the estate models and make sure that servicing has been properly carried out. Early 1.8-litre cars had problems with ignition coils but these will largely have been ironed out by now. Check the 4x4 Estate for evidence of overly enthusiastic green laning and it's well worth checking tyres, suspension alignment and panel fit on the vRS estate.
(Estimated prices, based on a 1998 Octavia LXi 1.6) The old joke about doubling the value of a used Skoda by filling it with fuel has long gone. These days you won't halve a Skoda's value, but you can knock great chunks off an Octavia's residuals by selling it on with a dodgy alternator. With a retail price of over £450, make sure your prospective purchase's alternator is present and correct. A clutch assembly is around £215, making these parts of the Skoda ownership experience as upmarket as Volkswagen claim. Front brake pads are a reassuring £40 a pair, whilst somebody must have employed a pre-VW Skoda accountant when radiators were priced at £90. A starter motor is around £135, whilst a replacement headlamp is just over £100.
Whilst not recommended, if you were to close your eyes whilst driving an Octavia you'd think you were in a Volkswagen. Golf, Bora maybe even a Passat, and when you did crash, the Skoda offers similarly good protection. Behind the wheel, the Octavia offers a more solid and confidence inspiring drive than many of its rivals. The body shell feel stiff and the ride is fairly firm. Refinement is good, although the smaller diesel engines can become intrusive when worked hard. The gearboxes are the usual VW Group fare, slick and easy to use.
The best Octavias for keen drivers are the 1.8T models. With a 0-60 time of only 8.5 seconds, there's plenty of opportunity to let a BMW Z3 2.0 get a good view of your boot badge as, conditions permitting, the 150bhp 1.8T Octavia runs to its 134mph maximum. The vRS is a real ripsnorter and has become a darling of the aftermarket tuning industry, offering easily upgradeable performance.
The TDi 90 is good enough for most, with a reasonably sedate acceleration figure but a far more salient 43mpg in urban conditions. On a run expect the high fifties. All Octavias come with a three year/45,000 mile service and maintenance package in addition to a three year unlimited mileage warranty, so buy nearly new and this could all be yours.
The Skoda Octavia Estate offers rugged build quality and no-nonsense carrying ability at a price that's scarcely credible. The 90 and 100bhp diesel models are probably the pick of the range but the vRS is well worth a look if you want subtle speed. Recommended.