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Driven: VW Golf and Skoda Octavia

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Former Top Gear presenter Sue Baker is among the first journalists to drive all the major new cars as they are launched. Here she reports for Creditplus on two big recent car launches from the same family – the VW Golf and Skoda Octavia

It is almost four decades since the first Volkswagen Golf burst onto the motoring scene, as one of the more successful examples of design to emerge from the somewhat dubious decorative taste of the 1970s. Since then the VW Golf has captured the hearts of buyers to become the ubiquitous family car. It is Europe’s top selling model, and at 29 million sold, its tally of smitten owners has been enough to populate an entire country.

Over its past six generations, the Golf has grown steadily bigger, fatter and heavier, but not any more. With the new Mark 7 model that is just starting to appear on UK roads, VW has “reversed the weight spiral” and shaved off around 100 kg to make the car more nimble and push up its fuel economy. The engine line-up includes frugal diesel models and a petrol version with cylinders that deactivate to save fuel when they’re not needed. The changes have worked well. This latest Golf’s thirst is down overall by a quarter and its driving calibre has improved to make it a masterclass in the way a mainstream family model should ride, handle and steer.

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Add to the mix a cabin that has been given a significant upgrade, and would not disgrace one of the prestige German brands, and you have in the new Golf what one influential motoring magazine described as “all the car you’ll ever need”. I was hugely impressed when I drove it on the international press launch in Sardinia.

At its heart is Volkswagen’s new secret weapon, something you can’t see but can certainly feel the influence of as you drive. It is the VW Group’s new MQB (which stands for something barely pronounceable in German) modular chassis. This is the car’s internal structure that underpins not only the Golf, but also several others of the group’s newly arrived models: the latest Audi A3 and Seat Leon, and the new Skoda Octavia.

Skoda expects to do very well with this third generation Octavia, and has big ambitions for it worldwide. There is talk of the Skoda becoming a global top-ten selling car. Already the Czech car maker’s best-selling model, the redesigned Octavia has taken such a distinct upward move in quality that it seems more ‘Skaudi’ than Skoda. On the launch drive on switchback rural roads through the Algarve region of Portugal, the Octavia impressed me with its grippy handling, supple ride and pleasing refinement.

It competes in the same part of the car market as the Golf, but feels bigger. The Octavia has loads of knee-room, enough headroom to make six-footers feel on the short side, and an enormous boot. While the Golf has five seats and 380 litres of luggage room, the Octavia carries the same number of people plus 590 litres of their kit.

All of which begs a question: why buy a Golf when you can have more space for less money with an Octavia? The added poise and polish of the Golf provides the answer. But how canny of the VW Group that one of the Golf’s best rivals is its close cousin, the Octavia. Keep it in the family.

Volkswagen Golf
On sale: now
Body styles: 3-door or 5-door hatchbacks
Engines: 1.2 and 1.4 petrol,1.6 or 2.0 diesel
Prices: £16,330 to £22,555

Skoda Octavia
On sale: March
Engines: 1.2 or 1.4 petrol, 1.6 or 2.0 diesel.
Bodystyle: five-door hatchback
Prices: £15,990 to £23,240

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