When it comes to Cold War era stereotypes of those on the red side of the Iron Curtain, Skoda has to be up there with lurking KGB agents and lines around the block for bread and potatoes.

Even as someone born just a couple of years before East and West Germany took their collective sledgehammers to the Berlin Wall, mention of the Skoda brings to mind something with three wheels that may or may not run on kerosene.

So before talking about their latest offering, it's worth noting how well the Czech outfit has smashed the critics out of the park. Built in partnership with Volkswagen, the Octavia was the first new Skoda to hit production lines after the Iron Curtain fell.

Since then, more than 4 million have rolled off the production lines at Mlada Boleslav and the Skoda has wheedled its way into the highly competitive medium passenger market.

Which brings us to the new Octavia. It's, well, different.

From the outside, it looks like a Mazda 6 or maybe a baby Camry - your standard medium-sized sedan that generally tops the local sales charts.

The interior is spacious and nicely appointed, while the

sedan's design means you're never going to be short of boot space.

But slide into the drivers seat and you'll realise there's a bit of a bait and switch happening.

Despite all the medium-size embellishments, this handles and drives like a small hatchback - there's certainly shades of the many Golf variants here, an understandable carryover from Volkswagen's involvement.

It feels odd at first, almost as if you're oversteering into every corner. But it works, it feels like it turns on a 20-cent piece and it's great fun to weave through the traffic.

The turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine also feels deceptively fast, 0-100km is listed at 8.4 seconds but it feels a lot quicker.

There's also plenty of opportunity to play around with the adjustable engine modes, with sport mode in particular making the responses even twitchier.

As far as the tech goes, I found it a little bit disappointing, but when you're starting at $22,990 the book isn't going to be rewritten.

While touch screens always make for an interesting gimmick conceptually, they fall down when you realise it's impossible to manipulate the display without taking your eyes off the road.

Ideally they need to be coupled with a decent array of controls on the wheel but I found the Octavia's to be a little bit inscrutable at first glance.

The ever-helpful park pilot is also available for those who continue the ever-present struggle with parallel and reverse parking but given the way the car handles I didn't find myself using it that regularly. Ultimately, this is the prototype second family car. Small enough to be a runabout which doesn't drain the budget but big enough to fit the shopping in the boot and a couple of kids in the back seat.

You're getting a medium-sized car for hatchback prices - you can hardly go wrong there, comrade.

Medium sedan space married to small hatch driving, a great city car.

Model: 103TSI Ambition Plus
Price: $26,790 drive-away
Engine: 1.4 litre four-cylinder petrol
Outputs: 103kW/250Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG Automatic
Thirst: 5.7L/100km

Model: CD
Price: $28,490
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol
Outputs: 123kW/225Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Thirst: 8.0L/100km

Model: Sport Touring
Price: $28,990
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol
Outputs: 131kW/230Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Thirst: 7.9L/100km

Model: 118TSI
Price: $28,990
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Outputs: 118kW/240Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Thirst: 6.2L/100km

The West Australian

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