But run through the assessment exercise all over again after a few miles behind the wheel and it’s likely you’ll start thinking the issue is somewhat blurred.
Volkswagen’s Czech division has a reputation for producing vehicles that straddle the sectors and so become difficult to classify – and few have proved as hard to position as the new Octavia.
Skoda Auto’s bid to snatch registrations in the market’s more rarified upper-medium territory is inspired as much by a spectacular leap in perceived quality as it is by the high-grade fit and finish that seems to come with every model that is spun off the ubiquitous Golf platform.
Compared with cars in the upper-medium sector, the Octavia may well appear slightly smaller on the outside. But with greater space for occupants as well as their luggage, it is bigger where it matters, so I reckon most business users will rate it a viable alternative to rivals such as the Mondeo and Vectra that are more costly – and the Passat that rolls from the lines of Skoda’s parent company in Wolfsburg.
Indeed, if the interior of our Ambiente wasn’t let down by a glovebox lid that has a low-rent appearance, I’d regard this mid-range version as the equivalent of an upgrade from economy to business class travel because of its precision build, the way it goes and its general ‘big car’ feel.
Significantly larger than the previous Octavia, the new car offers a marked improvement in rear seat accommodation and has masses of room for luggage. Despite its highly competitive pricing, it also boasts a sufficient spread of convenience features to provide much of the ambience of a ‘quality’ model.
Thanks to its Golf underpinnings and some revisions to the suspension system, the Octavia has the attributes that will appeal to the business driver who needs to put in long days on the road – sharp handling, a comfortable ride and a neat demeanour over any surface.
Wind noise is low and the new bodywork has greatly improved resistance to those sudden side gusts that can lead to tricky situations on exposed motorway sections.
Model: Skoda Octavia Ambiente 1.9 TDI
Price (OTR) £13,800
CO2 emissions (g/km) 143
Company car tax bill (2004/5) 22% tax-payer £45 per month
Insurance group 7E
Combined mpg 53.3
Test mpg 55.0
CAP Monitor residual value £4,310/32%
HSBC contract hire rate £287 per month
Expenditure to date Nil
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles FACT FILE