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Can a Skoda match posh German cars?

Are you overpaying for your performance car? See whether you can get performance in a sensible family car for far less than the latest Mercs or BMW we’ve tested

Car lovers often feel they have a compromise to make – do you go for the sensible option, or splash out on a car built for speed? Skoda aims to provide the answer with the fast, economical Skoda Octavia vRS. But how does it stack up against the premium German performance crowd?

In our latest round of tests, we’ve put  a range of performance cars through their paces. As well as the Skoda, we have the luxurious Mercedes GLC Coupé, the fastback-roof version of the Mercedes-Benz GLC medium-size SUV.

If your tastes run to the more sophisticated, then the svelte, cosseting coupé version of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class might tempt you, not to mention 2016’s E-Class Estate. Both are hugely expensive when fully loaded with optional extras.

Meanwhile, BMW aims to help out your bank balance with a cheaper alternative – more comparable in price to the Skoda. Launched in 2016, the BMW M240i Coupé has a powerful 340hp engine and a chassis very much tuned for sporty driving.

For the more budget-conscious, we’ve also updated our test of the Mazda 3. It’s a medium-hatchback rival to the VW Golf and Ford Focus, but with a much more sporty driving character. So which is our expert pick?

Want to head straight to the best cars uncovered by our independent tests? See our top cars for 2018.

Skoda Octavia vRS Estate (2013-)

The vRS version of the Skoda Octavia Estate aims to give the best of both worlds in one vehicle. It’s a high-performance car that’s also designed to be great choice for families.

It’s sensible enough to have plenty of room (for both passengers and luggage) and avoid the wrong kind of stares on the school run, but also packs a punch when you’re looking to have bit of fun.

There’s plenty of power, too, with one engine option being a 184 horsepower diesel. If you switch to Sport mode, the engine sounds louder in the cabin, for a fun trip back after dropping off the kids.

With its starting price of £26,885, you could make a seemingly huge saving by opting for the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate over the upmarket alternatives below.

Is this finally the way to persuade yourself you need to get a performance car? Find out in our Skoda Octavia vRS Estate review.

Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé (2015-)

This fastback-roof version of Mercedes-Benz’s GLC medium-size SUV combines rugged 4×4 underpinnings with coupé-like styling – but is it really possible to be both an SUV and a sports car?

This Mercedes is also designed to be a very usable family car. Despite its sporty looks, the emphasis is on comfort rather than racy driving.

The GLC Coupé is available with a choice of two 2.1-litre diesel engines with 170hp and 204hp respectively, and a 3.0-litre diesel with 258hp. Two very high-powered petrol engines are also available, one with 367hp and another with 476hp or 510hp.

All versions have a nine-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive.

However, at £39,064, this is not a cheap car. Plus much of the nicest equipment will cost you extra. In fact, it will cost you a lot extra, making the GLC Coupé rather expensive.

With slightly less space than the regular Mercedes GLC, which impacts on practicality, is it really worth it?

We reveal whether the price is worth paying in our Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé review.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé (2017-)

Sleek and refined, the Mercedes E-Class Coupé blends great luxury and comfort with a feeling of quality throughout.

We’ve tested the E400 4Matic, which has a powerful 333 horsepower six-cylinder petrol V6 engine with two turbochargers.

But with the E-Class Coupé not being as focused on driving enjoyment as some of its rivals, does it manage a great-performance drive, while being smooth and discreet enough to be a practical choice?

And does spending 10 grand more than the price of the Skoda Octavia vRS really get you that much extra?

We reveal whether the cost of £36,487, plus expensive options, really makes a difference in our Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé review.

BMW M240i Coupé (2017-)

One of the hottest members of BMW’s 2 Series family, the BMW M240i Coupé is designed to give a performance-focused ride at a comparable price to the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate.

With the BMW having a powerful 340hp engine and a chassis designed for sporty driving, is this the choice for the more adventurous, and could it really be practical?

If you’ve been secretly looking at BMW’s M2, the sportiest in the BMW’s 2 Series Coupé and 2 Series Convertible range, is this a more sensible alternative with super-sharp driving dynamics, or a challenging animal to tame?

We give you our verdict in our BMW M240i Coupé review.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate (2016-)

Looking for a more practical performance Merc? The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate aims for a healthy balance of boot space, luxury and technology, all wrapped up in a highly opulent package.

Since the mid-1990s, the E-Class has been Mercedes-Benz’s most popular luxury car. It’s available not only as an estate car, but also as a saloon (reviewed separately – Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate saloon).

It’s up against competitors including the Audi A6 Avant, BMW 5 Series Touring, Volvo V90 and Jaguar XF Sportbrake. And now the very reasonably priced Skoda Octavia vRS Estate, too.

Is this an all-rounder, combining practicality with luxury, as well as agility and refined driving as well?

Brought alive by expensive luxury options, we reveal whether the cost is worth it in our Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate review.

Mazda 3 (2013-)

If your bank balance is insisting you have to downgrade your performance-car ambitions, maybe the Mazda 3 will fit the bill.

It’s got bolder looks and a sportier driving character than medium-sized hatchback rivals, such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.

The Mazda 3 should also impress in terms of fuel economy and spaciousness, so perhaps this is just the ticket. Compared with the previous-generation model, it’s wider and rides lower.

Although most of its competitors have moved to small turbocharged petrol engines or hybrid powertrains, Mazda is staying with larger petrol units. Instead, it’s driving through efficiency with a hi-tech, lightweight design philosophy.

An update in 2016 also sharpened up the driving, so perhaps you can get a fun drive without even opting for a performance car.

We reveal whether this is the most fun-to-drive hatchback in our Mazda 3 review.

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