That was until group stablemate Skoda wheeled out the Octavia vRS, and took home the trophy. The resultant PR coup should make this car an easy sell for the UK’s Skoda dealers – adverts for the vRS are already emblazoned with the accolade.
The vRS uses the same turbocharged 2.0-litre TFSI engine as the GTi, has a nicely sorted chassis and is £2,835 cheaper. And its comfortable, spacious cabin and 560-litre capacity boot means that it will appeal to maturing hot hatch owners who want more than just an adrenaline ride.
This is essential, because young thrill-seekers won’t be buyers of the vRS. Its brand still isn’t attractive enough, nor its styling sufficiently aggressive, to tempt them away from the quick Golfs, Astras and Focuses on the market. Škoda knows this, so its more conservative, highly-specified product taps into the slightly older market.
Those buyers will be pleased that the Octavia vRS doesn’t suffer in the quality stakes despite its bargain price. It also has a generous level of kit. Our test car was up-specced with sat-nav and 18in alloys, but as standard its comforts include climatic air-con, six disc CD-changer and part leather upholstery, plus a raft of electronic driver aids, such as EBD, ESP and braking assistance.
Behind the wheel, the vRS feels more like a performance saloon than a true hot hatch. It has ample power and reassuring brakes, but it lacks the absolute pointiness of smaller rivals, because the steering wheel is too big and the suspension, lowered 12mm using modified shocks and springs, is still a touch too supple for a thoroughbred sporty experience. But it’s still a fine handling car.
Skoda has managed to combine a thrilling back-road blaster with the comfort levels of a commuter car. And by pricing it right, it’s given Skoda dealers a real opportunity to steal business from their neighbours.
Strengths: Pace, space, comfort
Weaknesses: Understated for a hot hatch
Opportunity: Keen price will mean conquest sales
Threat: Still some badge stigma
USP: The fastest ever Škoda
Engine: 2.0-litre TFSI petrol, turbocharged; 200bhp @ 5,100rpm, 206lb ft @ 1,800rpm
Performance: 0-62mph: 7.3 secs, top speed: 149mph
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Efficiency: 35.8mpg (combined), 190g/km CO2
CAP RV: £6,375 (37%)
Rivals: VW Golf GTi, Ford Focus ST, Mondeo ST220