The new Octavia has a wheelbase thats 108mm longer than the previous model, which means a lavish amount of rear legroom

The new Octavia has a wheelbase that's 108mm longer than the previous model, which means a lavish amount of rear legroom

Škoda's formula of a D-sized car for the price of a C segment model continues to win it ever more sales. Glenn Brooks samples the latest Octavia in 2.0 TDI hatchback form.

As I was about to start writing this review, a media release hit my inbox. It was from Škoda, alerting me to the fact that the one millionth model has now been built in China by the Shanghai Volkswagen JV. That's impressive, given that the first car for what had been an unknown brand wasn't launched there until 2007. Last year, roughly one quarter of Škoda's worldwide sales of 939,200 vehicles were in the PRC and the near-term goal is half a million a year.

Skoda continues to launch additional models, the European markets Rapid being the most recent example, while existing ones such as the Superb or Octavia are replaced by cars that always seem to be just that little bit larger and roomier. They don't often conform to the norms of the class standard, size-wise, but that doesn't seem to matter.

The new A7 series model is big but it's not as long as the European D segment's largest entrants such as the now slow-selling and ageing Ford Mondeo. The Octavia hatchback is 4,659mm long (up 90mm over the old-shape car) and 1,814mm wide (+45mm). Skoda says it is a rival for cars such as the Astra and Focus, and while priced against them, it certainly isn't similar in size.

Mladá Boleslav, the large plant adjacent to company headquarters, was the first to begin manufacturing the new hatchback, production having switched over in January. The Czech factory is also the source for the kits which are assembled in both Ukraine and Kazakhstan - SKD assembly got underway there just a few weeks ago. Also in June, GAZ Group began assembling the Octavia at its Nizhny Novgorod plant in Russia.

Other build locations? A locally assembled model for India to replace the current Laura-badged model is due to be assembled at the Volkswagen Group's Shendra plant in Maharashtra. That should start in the coming months. Then back to where I started this review: China. Production will follow there next spring, with the car expected to again be called Octavia Mingrui.

That's the manufacturing story, so on to plans for additional variants to come. CNG power will become available later this year for relevant markets, while the RS (vRS in some countries, such as this one) will have its international debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed later this very week. There will be a choice of engines for this sportiest model grade: 162kW (220hp) 2.0 TSI or 135kW (184hp) 2.0 TDI. Just as was the case for the now old-shape vRS, both hatchback and Combi body styles will be available.

We saw the Combi (wagon) launched alongside the hatchback at the Geneva show in March and it entered production the following month. Mlada Boleslav builds it, with the 4x4 version added in May. A replacement for the high-riding Scout crossover is due to follow by year-end.

There could well be an eventual plug-in Octavia, as a small number of old-shape cars were built, part of an experimental series. Volkswagen has an electric motor+range extending 1.2-litre petrol engine powertrain on the way for the E-Golf and Audi A3 e-tron, so it's possible.

The car I tested was a high-spec 2.0 TDI six-speed manual, priced at GBP22,185, which included GBP2,000ish worth of options (GBP350 alloy wheels, GBP550 touch screen SatNav, GBP180 cruise control, GBP150 armrest, GBP180 Bluetooth connection pack, GBP50 floormats, GBP460 Lane Assistant/Light Assistant/Rain Sensor, GBP50 Boot net and GBP75 space saver wheel).

UK market cars start with the GBP15,990 1.2-litre S, and top out at GBP24,040 for the estate in Elegance trim with the same engine as my test car had, but with a DSG dual clutch automatic gearbox. In between these, there is an SE model grade, plus a 1.6 TDI engine that produces the same 105PS as the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol, and a 140PS 1.4 TSI.

One of the Octavia's more unusual features is its two rear suspension systems, something which is shared with the SEAT Leon, another of the Volkswagen Group's MQB architecture vehicles. The lower-end cars have a beam-axle for the weight and cost advantages that gives, while pricier and more powerful Octavias come with a multi-link arrangement.

One of the main engineering highlights of MQB is its relatively low weight, but an official Combined fuel consumption average of 68.9mpg for the 2.0 TDI is still an eyebrow raiser considering the engine's size. I didn't see quite that level of abstemiousness, but the car returned better than 50mpg over the course of a week's city and motorway driving. The 150PS TDI has a CO2 average of 106g/km and yet performance doesn't suffer - zero to 62mph comes up in 8.2 seconds and the top speed is 135mph.

I like the looks of the new model, but by far its best feature has got to be how much room it has. With a capacity of 590 litres, the boot is huge (1,580 litres with the seats folded), there is more than enough rear legroom for even six foot passengers and the driving position is equally good.

The interiors of Škodas continue to improve and this one has better feeling surfaces on the doors and dashboard, with all the controls having the usual Volkswagen precision action. The fact that the rear wiper clears most of the screen is also a welcome sight, if you'll pardon the pun - why do so many manufacturers allow the design department to dictate how a car turns out, often with a tiny back window cleared by a dinky and all but useless wiper?

Other sensible Škoda touches include an ice scraper that lives inside the fuel filler flap - no more having to search in the glovebox - plus a a fatigue sensor that works better than some rivals' systems in that it monitors the driver's movements on the steering wheel. If you're showing signs of dozing off, a sharp tone will sound and a message will appear on the dot matrix in the instrument panel.

Which? has just singled out Škoda for the second time, rating it the best vehicle brand due to its cars having the "best price/value ratio and high level of reliability" according to owners. We live in a country that's drowning in endless awards ceremonies - especially for cars - but this one really matters as it's an independent review.

Britain is in fact one of this brand's best markets, after China, Germany and the Czech Republic. A record 32,000 cars were sold here in the first six months of this year. Given the strength of the B segment, it's no surprise that the Fabia is the best seller (1,783 sales last month) but the Octavia, with 1,343 registrations - old shape A5 and the latest A7 series combined - is number two, just over 300 units clear of the third placed Yeti.

Škoda should soon have a few extra models to help things along even further, such as a Rapid RS/vRS and an estate that's said to be called Spaceback. Both are expected to appear at the Frankfurt motor show in September but there's nothing official just yet.

The launch of the estate will no doubt give Octavia sales a decent boost here and in the rest of Europe. Looking at JATO-supplied sales numbers, the model is second to the Passat in the region if you count it as a similarly sized model, with 60,229 sales in the first five months of 2013, versus 66,663 for the VW. With the Passat successor still just over a year away and all these new Octavia derivatives now reaching dealerships or on their way there soon, it will be surprising if this car isn't about to become the regional number one D segment model series.