Shorn of the space saver, 'Black design pack', sat-nav and 'Sunset from B-pillar black' (nor us) found on this car, the Skoda Octavia vRS TDI costs £24,060. Price will inevitably become a discussion point, so why not deal with it straight away? That figure is actually a few hundred quid less than an Elite-spec Vauxhall Astra 1.7 CDTI (£24,590) and, perhaps more relevantly, over £2K less than a five-door Golf GTD (£26,220) with which it shares so much.
Despite a lot of common architecture, there are a few tangible differences between VW and Skoda cousins. Whilst the 2.0-litre diesel makes the same power and torque figures in each car, the Octavia just seems that fraction less willing than even when allowances are made for the extra weight. The appealing, throaty noise of the GTD is missing, replaced by more conventional (if quite subdued) diesel chatter. And where the Golf seemed keen to rev out, for a diesel at least, there was a reluctance in the vRS to go beyond 4,000rpm. And this was in a car with 5,000 miles. Curious.
What may have augmented the Golf's sense of urgency was its DSG 'box. The Octavia came with the six-speed manual which, whilst a surprisingly pleasant thing to use with a short and positive shift, won't change gear as fast as the auto. Unless every last tenth of a second or mpg is important though, the manual is more than acceptable. It's really quite nice in fact.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of the vRS package is very similar to the GTD. However, and this is quite an important caveat, the adjusted remit of the Skoda makes the frustrations of the GTD much less of a concern. In the hatch you can't help but wonder how much more enjoyable the GTI would be (the answer is a fair bit) but outright thrills aren't as vital in a family estate.
Therefore, whilst a non-switchable ESC and entirely predictable dynamics hinder the Golf as a hot hatch, in the Octavia it's arguably less relevant. Instead, it can be really enjoyed up to eight tenths; it turns in keenly, the brakes feel strong and there's greater agility than that chunky silhouette would suggest. And you can turn the 'automated' steering function off, thankfully.
Really push it and the Octavia comes unstuck a little, which is only to be reasonably expected. Though equipped with the VW's XDS 'electronic differential lock', it can be found wanting for traction if 280lb ft is too readily deployed out of a corner. This is where the Golf, with its more advanced XDS+ system, can feel sharper and more planted as it gets power down more smoothly.
But without wishing to sound too What Car?, that's not really what a prospective vRS buyer is after. They'll be after a swift, economical, spacious and stylish family wagon that won't feel totally out of its depth on a solo drive. The Octavia scores very highly on all those counts.
Traditional family hatches and estates aren't exactly en vogue in 2013, so finding a rival for the Octavia vRS diesel is quite a challenge. The RWD Germans are of course much more expensive, and even the Volvo V60 starts at £29K in D4 guise. Its nearest rival is perhaps the 175hp Mazda 6 estate, but even that's £3,000 more at RRP.
As with the first two generations, the Octavia vRS offers an enjoyably alternative take on familiar VW Group underpinnings. It isn't thrill-a-minute, it never has been, but it will deliver everything you ask of it and possibly a fair bit more. For not an awful lot of money, what more could be asked of it? Now, about that petrol version we meant to get in...