Price: from £23,790
Engine capacity: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
Power output (PS @ rpm): 220 @ 4,500 – 6,200
Top speed (mph): 152
0-62 mph (seconds): 6.9
Fuel economy (mpg): 44.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 149
At first glance this Skoda estate doesn't look up to much. It's not that the new Octavia estate is ugly necessarily, it's just that to the untrained eye it looks a lot like yet another sensible estate from the Czech Republic. Being a sensible Czech estate is no bad thing these days, though. In fact, it's a very good thing and, for buyers, means a smug sense of satisfaction at owning an affordable machine that's incredibly well built and reliable. It's just that, well, the Octavia won't set pulses racing. Or will it?
This is the vRS model. I'm not exactly sure what those three letters actually mean – and believe me, I've tried to find out – but car manufactures like to put these short and mainly nonsensical monikers after their car names when they become "hot hatches" or "stealth wagons" (AMG at Mercedes, RS at Audi, ST at Ford and VXR at Vauxhall). That's right, the new Skoda Octavia vRS might look like another sensible estate, but it's actually a chuffing fast wagon for getting lots of stuff around the place very quickly indeed.
I should confess I have rather a soft spot for fast estates. Perhaps it's because they let me imagine a day when I'll live somewhere with winding, country lanes and will need space for an old Labrador in the back. The problem is they are pretty expensive pieces of kit for your average chap. Most of these estates are rather over the top, too, and while the pricey offering from Mercedes, Audi (the new RS4 is fantastic by the way) and BMW are wonderfully engineered machines, they all just scream a little too much of mid-life crisis for me. The same goes for the Ford Focus ST estate, which is probably a closer rival for the cheaper Skoda.
The block up front in the vRS kicks out somewhere in the region of 220 horsepower from its two litres. That might not sound vast by today's standards and it won't beat an Audi RS4 or E-Class AMG wagon, but it's certainly more than enough for getting from A to B anywhere in the UK without losing your driving licence. And the wonder is that, unlike some performance cars, the Octavia doesn't throw the fuel-economy baby out with the petrol-infused bathwater. You can drive it normally and still get a respectable miles-per-gallon figure, while all the time knowing the power is there if you need it.
In all fairness I didn't really throw the vRS estate around a great deal – I went camping with four friends so the vast boot was more useful – but that confirmed something else I suspected. The Octavia vRS is one of the easiest fast estates to actually, you know, live with. The ride is smooth, the engine not too intrusive and the automatic dual clutch gear box fairly sensible. Even the standard model gets sports seats, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and air-con, though the top-spec shifter and a fancy infotainment and navigation system did push the price of my test model north of £25k.
In short, the Octavia isn't pretty but it is relatively economical, relatively affordable and very fast. It's just that it's fast and fun, not fast and frantic. Now, where do I find a Labrador?