One of these sources of automotive joy offered another gem. The parting shot after a lift in our Octavia Estate SLX TDI was: 'I didn't know it was a Skoda.' The manufacturer should take heart, as this came from someone who has always rubbished the Czech marque yet admitted to never before having sat in a Skoda, let alone driven or owned one. But it also shows common prejudice continues to stick, despite giant leaps in design, build quality and reliability since the company was taken into the Volkswagen stable, and no matter how often the motoring media absolves Skoda of sins past.
The fact is the Octavia is a well-made car, produced in one of the world's most advanced plants and sharing its platform with the Audi A3, Volkswagen Golf, New Beetle and Bora. The range consists of five-door hatchbacks and five-door estates, with on-the-road prices from about ú11,500 to just over ú17,000. Each comes with a 10-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty and a three-year paint warranty.
The rest of the sales package is exceptional - a three-year/unlimited mileage manufacturer's warranty, three years' AA European roadside assistance and three years or 45,000 miles free servicing and maintenance. The latter is transferable to the next owner and incorporates fair wear and tear replacement of brake components, clutch materials and assemblies, major and minor engine and transmission units, driveshafts, constant velocity joints, alternators and starter motors, electronics and electrics, exhausts and batteries.
The servicing side includes all parts and labour charges for specified services, which start with oil changes annually or at 10,000 miles on 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol engines and 10,000 miles or annual inspection and oil change on the 90bhp and 110bhp 1.9-litre turbodiesels. Add reasonable pricing on most models, generous equipment levels and thoroughly acceptable styling and the range has the marks of mainstream competitiveness. But a strong fleet presence is needed to wipe away that badge tarnish.