After several years as our favourite small tow car, the Skoda Octavia was beaten last year by the Honda HR-V.

This year the Octavia is back, with new looks and an upgraded infotainment system.

Of course, split headlights and a flashy touchscreen make no difference to how the Octavia tows. What made the difference this year was that the car tested was in full health, without the suspension alignment fault which hampered the performance of last year’s car.

Judged purely on towing ability, most of our drivers had the Octavia neck and neck with the revised VW Golf.

In our most aggressive tests, in particular the lane-change manoeuvre, the Golf had an edge. But in a straight line we found the Octavia very stable at the legal limit and beyond, only moving slightly in a strong crosswind.

The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel is familiar from many Volkswagen Group cars, and it does its usual fine job in the Skoda. Accelerating from 30-60mph needed just 11.4 seconds, so there’s plenty of punch when towing up to speed on the motorway or when overtaking.

This year we’ve tested an Octavia with a DSG auto. It shifted gear smoothly and helped make for fuss-free hill starts. The conventional handbrake kept car and caravan still on the 1-in-6 slope so long as it was pulled on firmly, and the car coped easily with the gradient.

In everyday driving the Octavia is very easy to live with, handling tidily and remaining quiet at speed. The ride is a little firm, though – the Golf is more supple over rough roads.

What the Golf can’t come close to, however, is the Octavia’s practicality. Whether you need space for passengers or luggage, the Octavia delivers.

Rear-seat space is more generous than in most rivals, and the Octavia Estate has a huge boot with more than enough space for a family’s typical holiday luggage. No wonder the Skoda was a firm favourite with our practicality testers as well as our drivers.

Then there’s the Skoda’s value to consider. In SE L spec it’s well equipped but still keenly priced, as well as being affordable to run.

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