Welcome to the most successful Skoda ever. That's right, Octavia has notched up 170,000 sales.

That's one in the eye for those who said a big Skoda would never catch on, and there were a few of those.

That was in the days when Skoda was shorthand for cheap and not very cheerful, before its successful reinvention as the more affordable arm of the Volkswagen empire.

It was 1996 that Octavia first appeared.

OK, OK, petrolheads will tell you that there was a Skoda Octavia between 1959 and 1971, but the current Octavia traces its family back 16 years, just when Skoda was finding its feet again.

It has won hearts and minds as a rock-solid alternative to Mondeo, Insignia and its brethren, Volkswagen Passat, and comes in estate and saloon form, plus some interesting variations. There have been rugged Scout 4x4 and economic GreenLine models and, tested here, the sporty vRS (£20,330).

It's interesting, the vRS. It hides its sportiness well on the basis that Skoda types, even young go-getting ones, are modest creatures who prefer to let their car do the talking.

I'm all for that. Huge bodykits and spoilers are so cliched, and I guess the Octavia design team prefer the clean, uncluttered approach. You have to be a petrolhead to spot the vRS sign, the sportier wheels, the discreet boot spoiler, slightly deeper bumpers or red brake calipers.

This really is the discerning boy-racer's choice. Or rather, a daddy-racer, if such a thing exists.

Octavia is part of a comprehensive range with a choice of seven petrol and five diesel engines. Impressive! The vRS comes with a choice of 2.0 litre diesel or petrol engines. Tested here is the petrol unit which is excellent. The diesel is more expensive to buy, slightly cheaper to run if you do a lot of miles and not as quick.

You can take your choice, I guess, but I’d go for the petrol for its better refinement and performance.

That's unusual for me, normally I’m a diesel fan these days.

I like Volkswagen-type cabins. Audi, VW, SEAT and Skoda are similar in their approach (they are part of the same group) in that they create solid, simple and well-crafted dashboards and big, comfortable seats.

If you want wacky arty cabins, you’ll have to try elsewhere but Middle England loves this simple style.

It comes well equipped. Large alloy wheels, a sophisticated stereo system, heated front seats, powered seat, powered and heated mirrors, traction control, anti-lock brakes, stainless steel exhaust and curtain airbags, plus some neat touches such as illuminated door handles and dual-zone air conditioning.

It also has Xenon headlights, which are vastly more powerful than ordinary ones, and a series of acronyms: ESP (electronic stability programme), MBA (mechanical brake assist), ASR (anti-slip regulation traction control) and EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution) which combine to make it an incredibly safe car.

They also love the boot. It’s deep and wide and vast and it has a boot lid which opens to reveal an easy-to-load space.

The vRS has quite a following now. It was first launched in 2000 and more than 17,000 have been sold, most of which are the hatch rather than estate. They account for ten per cent of all Octavia sales. Overall, it’s great. You get a lot of performance and quality for the money. Style-wise, I’d like it to be a touch more youthful.

Meanwhile, Skoda’s attendance at the 2012 Qatar Motor Show reinforces the brand’s international growth plans.

MissionL, a close-to-production concept car, reveals the future design direction for the brand and is being displayed outside Europe for the first time.

The new compact saloon will be launched in major international markets in late 2012 and will play a central role in Skoda’s model offensive. It will extend the model range of the brand in a new segment between Fabia and Octavia models. Citigo being launched in the Czech Republic and the Rapid compact saloon in India soon.

Skoda aims to increase global sales of all models to at least 1.5 million units per year by 2018. A record 879,200 Skodas were sold in 2011, an increase of 15 per cent when compared to 2010.

Skoda’s sales and marketing director Jurgen Stackmann said: “2011 was a very important year for us, in which we made significant achievements. We set new records in 2011 and we are well on course for our 2018 growth strategy. The brand sold more cars in all regions than in the previous year.”