SUVs might have been dominating in recent years, but if you’re after a practical and more traditional family car, the Skoda Octavia remains a strong contender.

The new model Octavia is sleek and athletic, with plentiful space and a classy interior. It remains as appealing as ever – and that is even before we factor in its keen pricing.

Over the years, the Octavia has slowly pushed steadily upmarket, but has maintained its mantra of providing the best features at an affordable price. So well-regarded is it now that one could even count such premium models as the Audi A3 among its rivals.

Today we will take a look at how the Octavia fares against a few of its more traditional competitors in the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Seat Leon.

Overview

Much like it has in the past, the new Skoda Octavia actually shares the same underpinnings as the Volkswagen Golf and Seat Leon, whose companies are stablemates with the Czech automaker under the Volkswagen Group banner. However, all three cars still look and feel different, as each manufacturer applies their own design philosophies over said underpinnings.

Meanwhile the Ford Focus has been a successful mainstay in the family hatch market for many years, with a legacy of excellent handling, while continuing to improve and catch up in other areas.

External Shape

The Skoda Octavia stands out amongst the four with a liftback design more akin to that of a sedan, while the other three have all gone the way of a more traditional hatch-like rear.

Engine and Performance

Engine choice is great with the Skoda Octavia. The 2.0L diesel is impressive and respectably quick off the mark, while its 1.5-litre petrol unit, though much more affordable, is no slouch either.

The engines in the Seat Leon lineup start with a 1.0-litre petrol as well as sharing the same 1.5-litre petrol offerings of the Octavia. The acceleration isn’t really there, but it is flexible with good steady pull from a low to high rev range. No diesel variant available here.

Once again, the Volkswagen Golf shares the same engine as the Octavia and Leon, this time opting to include the diesels variants just like the Skoda Octavia, with largely the same performance characteristics.

The Ford Focus comes with its own engine range, from 1.0-litre petrols to a 1.5-litre mild hybrid and a range of diesels.

Ride and Handling

On its standard suspension, the Golf can get a little unsettled over minor imperfections at higher speeds in a mildly irritating manner. Adding Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC)  (VW’s fancy name for adaptive suspension) and choosing the Comfort setting will make the Volkswagen Golf one of the smoothest riding cars in the class.

If a sharper drive is your preference, also consider the Seat Leon, because it’s more agile and fun, with less body lean through corners than the Golf. However while the standard suspension tackles large undulations well (e.g. speed bumps), it’s not so forgiving over rough or potholed road surfaces.

For the most part, a ride in the Octavia is more comfortable than its direct rivals. A softer suspension gives an enjoyable experience on the smooth highway. However one might feel a floating-like sensation when going over bumpy surfaces. This can be largely solved by utilising adaptive suspension to adjust the stiffness of the suspension.

The best-handling Ford Focus variants are more agile than the Octavia.

Interior layout

All models come with adjustable seat and steering wheel positions.

Standard across the whole Octavia range is a digital instrument display that replaces the conventional analogue dials. The instruments are easy to read, with customizable layout and content options.

The uncluttered dashboard of the Ford Focus is a winner. Its layout is simple and intuitive, and the physical buttons for all the major controls are much easier to use than the touch-sensitive ones you get in the Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen Golf.

Infotainment and Quality

All Volkswagen Golf’s come with a large 10-inch touchscreen unit.

In contrast, the Octavia and Leon have reserved the 10-inch sized screen for higher trims with an 8.25-inch sized screen for their entry level trims.  Every Ford Focus comes with only an 8-inch sized touchscreen.

The infotainment systems are kitted out with many of the same features, such as in-built satellite navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, and a wireless charging pad.

Sadly the fit and finish of the Ford Focus isn’t as impressive as the rest with more solid builds and plusher interiors.

Space and Practicality

Whilst all are spacious enough to accommodate even the very tall, the Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon take the honours by a small margin.

In the rear, all except the Volkswagen Golf are spacious, where it runs into problems with leg space when the front seats are slid fully back. Shoulder room also becomes tight when all three seats are occupied.

One advantage of the Ford Focus is having an almost flat rear floor, including the middle seat area, whereas passengers of the Octavia, Leon and Golf in that seat all have to straddle a big hump.

The Octavia benefits from having Skoda’s innovative Simply Clever solutions applied throughout the cabin, including air-conditioned glove box and central armrest cubby, and a special umbrella compartment inside the driver’s door.

Skoda’s Varioflex rear seating system gives more flexibility in space configuration by allowing each seat to be controlled individually in a 40/20/40 split as opposed to the usual 60/40 split.

Going all the way to the back, the Skoda Octavia has by far the largest boot space of the group, and of the whole class really.

Conclusion

No single model dominated the others, with every one having their moment in certain aspects. However on balance, it’s fair to say that the Skoda Octavia is a winner, given that it ticks all the right boxes for a family car, particularly in the important areas of space and comfort.