Jonathan Sapier road tests the Skoda Octavia

The Skoda Octavia vRS offers great driving quality and excellent value for money. David Wilkins went flat-out in one around the Lincolnshire Wolds

Price: £17,525
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, 35.8mpg
CO2: 190g/km:
Worth considering: Ford Focus ST, Renault Mégane 2.0T Renaultsport Cup, Volkswagen Golf GTI

That sort of picture do you have in your mind of the county of Lincolnshire? I always thought of it as being completely flat, with the exception of the steep hill upon which Lincoln Cathedral stands.

I was wrong. Readers who take part in the Verdict test often recommend interesting driving country, and on a trip to Humberside a few months ago, two mentioned the delights of the Lincolnshire Wolds.

So after meeting our Yorkshire-based readers for the test of the Skoda Octavia vRS, I decided to make a detour and find out what all the fuss was about. That decision was amply rewarded. The Wolds, while not exactly mountainous, are certainly not flat. They are sublime, consisting of miles of undulating countryside with pretty towns linked by roads carrying only light traffic - at least on the evening of my trip, which coincided with an important match of the World Cup.

And I can think of few cars in which I would have enjoyed my trip more. With its 200 horsepower, turbocharged engine, the vRS is the fastest Octavia, and the other elements of the package - handling, ride, steering, gear-change and so on - are up to scratch too.

Now just as there are people out there who persist in the mistaken belief that all of Lincolnshire is flat, so, I am always staggered to discover, there are those who remain convinced that a Skoda is a worthless piece of Eastern Bloc tat. It is as if years of warm reviews in the motoring press and all those great customer satisfaction survey results count for nothing.

So for anyone who still hasn't got the message, please read on. Skoda is owned by Volkswagen. Under the skin, the Octavia shares much with the Golf. Where the Golf range has the GTI, the Octavia range has the vRS. Any comparison between the two cars runs broadly in the Octavia's favour. It is cheaper.

Thanks to its extended tail it provides more space for your luggage and rear-seat passengers. Although the Octavia's trim is simpler than the Golf's, the Czech car's build quality is superb. And best of all, you can get most of what the vRS offers - powerful engine excepted - in the cheaper Octavias whose prices scarcely reach into five-figure territory.

When you discover a secret like the Wolds or the Octavia, it's tempting to keep it to yourself. But I know I can rely on you all to use this information responsibly. The last thing we want is to find Lincolnshire's roads clogged with queues of slow-moving value-for-money Skodas - that would spoil the fun for everyone.

Jonathan Sapier, 49, financial adviser, Alwoodley, Leeds
USUAL CAR: MERCEDES C220 CDi

The car appears like many other saloons. It is inconspicuous and unexciting. The exceptional fact about the car is the cavernous boot. Sitting in the car, it feels sturdy, well constructed and poised for action. The ride is quiet and firm, and the engine delivers pleasing torque. I did feel a bit "boy racer" and the bright red aided this illusion. It is equipped with a high level of gadgetry, which makes the initial price of this car seem relatively good value. In one or two years' time, it would be an even more prudent purchase. The relationship with VW is obvious - a different badge would fool almost everybody. The car has a bit of everything and not a lot of anything.

Simon Firth, 32, chef from Penistone
USUAL CARS: LEXUS LS 400 AND TVR CHIMAERA

This is a well-built car, nice looking and a good drive. The doors shut with the usual VW-group reassuring thud, and the interior plastics and other material are mostly of a high quality. The seats hugged me comfortably but did sometimes feel sticky. The boot is cavernous. On the road, it doesn't feel like a front-wheel drive but more like a Quattro-style, four-wheel drive. It has an excellent turn in form corners, and the engine has plenty of power and torque. Acceleration, generally, is impressive - on the motorway, its pace is phenomenal. The gearbox is superbly slick with a short throw. One fault is that the dials on the speedometer and the rev counter are too similar.

Aslam & Ashraf Ali Patel, 44 & 11, author/architectural consultant, Dewsbury
USUAL CAR: FORD GALAXY

A surprisingly nice combination of practicality, performance, finesse and panache, whether on motorways, in town or along scenic Pennine lanes. Skoda has deservedly shed its bad image of the Seventies - it is no longer an embarrassment to be seen in a Skoda. The Volkswagen pedigree of the vRS is evident from the stylish contour and trim, excellent road-holding, precise steering, sharp brakes, fiery acceleration, clear navigation system and six gears. Decent boot with rear seating spacious and comfortable. Excellent value for money and a pleasure to drive.

THE VERDICT

If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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