Octavia, the car Skoda wants to 'grow' on you
The first thing that strikes you about this new Octavia is how big it is inside, while the boot space is impressive.
But the car itself doesn't look that overwhelmingly large, as such. It is big but, you feel, not that enormous.
Until you sit in. Four of us had near-limousine room in it in the course of a reasonably energetic drive (by me, one passenger managed to sleep) over varied roads and weather conditions yesterday.
And while we'll suspend final verdict until we get it home, it is fair to say this is an awful lot of car for the money. Money? Oh yes! Well the ex-works price starts at €18,995. On average, prices are up €1,250 for the petrols and €1,950 for the diesels.
Why? Skoda point to a vastly superior car in terms of size, competency and technology such as Stop/Start, more airbags – and to higher entry-level equipment.
It gets here on March 16 and they reckon limited supply will peg sales at 700. But watch out next year. The Czech Republic maker believes this five-door family hatch will be a world top-10 bestseller.
The huge cabin and boot space is, I suppose, a natural progression given the recent arrival of the less-than-impressive smaller family car, the Rapid, which slots into the range beneath it and above the Fabia supermini. That means this Octavia is 90mm longer, 45mm wider and has a substantially longer wheelbase.
You could easily make an argument for it to be compared with the Ford Mondeo – a car from a sector above it traditionally. Skoda insist, however, that their main rivals are the Volkswagen Golf (blood is not thicker than water when it comes to sales) and the Ford Focus.
But I think people will look again at some larger cars and compare room and price against this. For example, back-seat legroom is up 47mm and there is better headroom. Boot space bears real scrutiny too. At 590 litres (before you drop the back seats) it is larger than the current Ford Mondeo's (528 litres).
This has the Octavia look all the way from the middle pillar, but they have given the front an eye-catching grille. It is, overall, designed with clean-cut lines rather than a blending of curves and angles.
I drove the two-litre diesel (150bhp) in top Elegance trim and it gobbled up the kilometres. It was on 17ins alloys and in fairness even over rougher surfaces tyre/road noise was not an issue. I felt the steering was a bit vague.
The 1.6-litre diesel (105bhp) will be the mega seller. They expect 95pc of sales to be diesel and will target fleet as well as family buyers. Standard equipment will include seven airbags, front electric windows/mirrors, a four-speaker audio system and 15ins wheels.
But the next trim level, Ambition, will be the big seller. It adds air con, rear electric windows, 16ins wheels, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system. There will be an estate in summer, a vRS diesel and petrol later and there will be four-wheel-drives, including a Scout, in 2014.
We Irish have bought 41,600 Octavias since the first ones arrived in 1998. I have a funny feeling that figure is going to grow quite a bit. Just like the car itself has done.