MAY I wish the Skoda Octavia vRS a happy, belated, landmark birthday. For, the year not long passed marked 20 years since the first arrival of one of my favourite cars.

The Czech Republic manufacturer’s sporty vRS family began in the year 2000 with the first-generation Octavia, and it has always been a treat to slip behind the wheel.

I have driven every iteration of the big-selling family motor and enjoyed them all – but the hot model is one of my favourite cars, an astute blend of power, pace and practicality.

I had already lapped up a test-drive week in the new Octavia, an SE L First Edition estate model.

I liked the new looks. There’s a noticeable evolution, rather than a revolution, in the style stakes – such is Skoda’s way – and the introduction of a wealth of features for the car.

All in all, the new car radiates self-confidence and quality. It’s a motor with considerable presence, while the range-topping vRS gets its own styling touches.

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In addition to specific front and rear aprons, numerous design details help give the car its sporty appearance: vRS logos on the radiator grille and tailgate, inspired by the maker’s motorsport tradition, the striking grille, the front diffuser and the air curtains located above the tinted LED fog lights, the wing mirror housings, the window frames, as well as the diffuser on the rear apron, the Skoda lettering on the tailgate and the hatchback’s vRS rear spoiler.

The vRS sits on imposing 19in alloy wheels and boasts red brake calipers.

The interior is characterised by a sporty carbon-fibre look with Alcantara. The re-designed three-spoke, multi-function leather-trimmed sports steering wheel features a vRS logo and ours had shift paddles as it was equipped with automatic (DSG) transmission.

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The front sports seats, with integrated headrests, are upholstered in black fabric and also display a vRS logo and red stitching, which also adorns the Alcantara-covered dashboard and steering wheel. Alcantara door trims, carbon-effect decorative strips on the dashboard, pedals in an aluminium design and a frameless rear-view mirror add the finishing touches to the car’s athletic appearance.

The inside story is one of quality, with a spacious and comfortable cabin that is an ergonomic plus - all minor controls fall easily to hand in an intuitive fashion - while the driving position feels like slipping on a glove.

The cabin also has new LED ambient lighting, indirectly illuminating the front doors and dashboard. The driver can choose from a total of ten different colours and can even assign differing colours to the dashboard and footwell.

There is a clever 10in touchscreen display for satnav, radio, phone and many other functions – just one of a wealth of features. Our car’s tasty kit included: adaptive cruise control with speed limiter, blind spot detection, dual-zone air con, power-adjust driver’s seat with memory function, heated power-folding door mirrors, puddle lights, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors with manoeuvre-assist, wireless connectivity and rear privacy glass.

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Perhaps the most exciting of the new technologies on board is the shift-by-wire set-up for operating the DSG. It electronically transmits the driver’s gear selection to the transmission. There is a new control module located in the centre console with a small rocker switch for selecting drive modes as well as a button for the parking mode.

The behind-the-wheel experience is a treat, with oodles of smooth power on tap from the 243bhp petrol engine via that seven-speed auto-box – plus limited-slip differential – and truly satisfying ride and handling, aided by sports suspension. It’s a well-judged mix of real pace and rewarding driving characteristics.

I took in a wide range of driving conditions on my week-long road test in our 2.0 TSI model, from winding country roads to town centres and a motorway haul, and the car proved sweetly adaptable. Performance figures are 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 155mph, while returning a combined 40.9 - 35.3mpg, with a CO2 figure of 157-181g/km.

As for practicality, opening the rear hatch reveals a cavernous boot, which grows demonstrably with the rear seat-backs down. The only slight drawback is that the sloping rear window may limit the carrying of some taller objects.

The Octavia vRS delivers on so many levels. It’s a highly capable family car, with top tech and bags of tasty, usable features, which offers a truly satisfying drive. Here’s to the next 20 years!

Price: £34,230 (inc options).