IT'S hard to believe the Skoda Octavia is 60 years old this year.
A huge sales success around the world, it's us Brits that have developed one of the strongest bonds with Skoda's brilliant all-rounder.
More than 500,000 have found loving homes on our shores since the very first 1959 model rolled on to UK roads.
The first Octavia - the eighth post-war car made at the marque's Mlada Boleslav HQ, hence its name taken from the latin word for eight - was powered by a 1.1-litre four-cylinder engine developing just 39bhp. A slightly more powerful 1.2-litre, 44bhp engine arrived later the same year.
Today, the Octavia continues to form the backbone of the Skoda model range, accounting for virtually a quarter of UK Skoda sales last year. Just over half of the 17,927 sold were the hatchback version, and around a fifth of all Octavia models sold here were the most powerful vRS versions.
And, the vRS that packs the mightiest punch is the Octavia vRS 245. Delivering 242bhp - 15bhp more than the ‘normal' vRS - and 370Nm of torque, it also comes with a raft of additional equipment.
Available in both hatch and estate forms, it is also offered with a choice of six-speed manual or a slick seven-speed DSG transmission with paddleshifts, as fitted to his car.
But, it's not just the increase in engine power that marks the vRS 245 as something special. Thanks to the standard fitment of an electronically regulated limited-slip differential developed for motorsport, drivers can fully exploit the car's performance. When cornering for example, the differential transfers an increased amount of engine power to the outer front wheel - the wheel with the most grip - as needed.
Now, because of its size and sober, saloon-car looks, it's difficult to think of the Octavia as a ‘hot hatch' but that's exactly what it is. Especially when you consider it's built on the same VW Group platform as the Golf GTI and SEAT Leon Cupra. Even the engine is sourced from the GTI.
They may be closely related but the Octavia comes with some very noticeable differences. For a start, it's bigger, roomier and much, much more practical.
Despite being classed as a compact car, it has space for three adults in the back thanks to excellent head and legroom and, in the front, even the tallest driver can get comfortable.
It can also carry loads more luggage - 590 litres of it with the rear seats up and a whopping 1,580 litres with them down.
To distinguish it from the ‘normal' vRS, the 245 comes with striking 19-inch gloss black alloy wheels, gloss black front grille, door mirror housings and exhaust tailpipes.
Inside, the classy and well-built cabin, there's heated and electrically adjustable sports seats trimmed in Alcantara and decorative trim panels finished in gloss black. It's a pleasant and comfortable place to be.
Shared with the standard vRS range is an easy to use eight-inch infotainment display with integrated Wi-Fi and satnav, full LED headlights with adaptive front light system, LED interior light pack and a three-spoke leather multi-function sports steering wheel.
But, as it is a hot hatch, let's talk about that performance.
The 2.0-litre TSI is punchy and smooth, pulling strongly from low revs before kicking on as you hit 4,000rpm. It's quick but the fun bit is its wonderful flexibility across the gears, which means you will want to keep changing down and accelerating again just for the hell of it.
Skoda says in fifth gear, it will dash from 37 to 62mph in just 6.4 seconds, and from 50 to 75mph in only 6.6 seconds, and I've absolutely no reason to doubt that.
And, because of that, and the limited slip differential, it's not just the most potent Octavia ever, but also the most exciting to drive.
In Comfort mode, which is how most owners will drive it most of the time, it is as amenable as your favourite hound, happy to bound along wherever you want it to go.
At low revs, the engine is hushed and the extra length in the wheelbase means it soaks up the rough roads better than more traditional hot hatches - especially it you spend Â£870 on the optional adaptive dampers.
On the motorway, despite a little roads noise due to those 19-inch wheels, the vRS is a relaxing cruiser.
Dial up to Sport mode and body control tightens, steering resistance increases and even the engine sound gets an aggressive tweak.
More importantly, the action of that differential becomes more aggressive too. Point the Octavia's nose down a twisty road and drive with a bit of spirit and it'll be fun, fun, fun.
Accelerate out of a corner and it happily grips to the line you want to take. It might lack the agility of a true hot hatch but the Skoda's level of performance and composure is impressive - and addictively enjoyable.
Which is why, though the vRS officially returns almost 40mpg, I managed just over 30. Oops.