Sometimes you come across a car that just fits the bill; that simply suits the requirements of the keen driver who also has to take on the role of family transport manager and general factotum. The Skoda Octavia vRS is just such a car. If only it had four-wheel drive…
The Octavia has already proven itself to be an excellent family car starting at around £16,000. It comes with a variety of engines and trim from frugal to the highly specced-up Laurin and Klement versions that top out at just shy of £30,000. This time though I am concentrating on the hot vRS model featured in our images and costing, for this particular car – with options – a bargain £24,755. To save me a load of typing there’s a specification at the bottom of the page.
For this money, and for what you get, it’s a wonder that people bother with the so-called prestige brands at all. Certainly the test car had only part leather and the less well featured Bolero touchscreen system that lacks navigation (get it with the Amundsen system optionally) but otherwise has DAB, Bluetooth plus the usual connectivity and info, so it’s not a big deal.
I like the shape of the Octavia. The vRS is 12mm lower than the standard motor and looks the better for it, especially with the very smart 18” Gemini anthracite wheels (19 inchers are available but I don’t see the point). The styling is sharp without being ostentatious; understated if anything. The 590L boot is well shaped and absolutely cavernous. If I climbed in, there would still be room for, say, Helena Bonham-Carter. This however does not compromise the rear passenger space. Check out the interior images and look at the legroom behind the drivers’ seat, which is set for yours truly.
Inside, the seats are very comfortable with plenty of manual adjustment. The black is lifted by bright chrome touches and some piano-black on the dash. There’s a proper sunroof that brightens things up if you roll back the blind. I didn’t open it thanks to the weather and just relied upon the climate control. The Octavia was fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox which I prefer as an old-school driving choice in preference to the optional DSG auto.
Out on the road, then. There are two 2.0L engines available for the vRS hatchback – a TSI petrol unit and a TDI diesel with the former producing a lively 217bhp. As mentioned both engines are mated to either a standard six-speed manual transmission or a DSG auto. OK, the power and pace offered is not as high as some hot hatches but that doesn’t mean that the vRS feels underpowered.
I reckon the petrol engine is the one to go for, unless the better economy / higher mileage equation comes into play. Despite the rigorous testing (most of it spent in vRS mode) the car resolutely refused to use less than 31mpg. In normal use I would expect to be much nearer the official 45mpg figure. To deliver that true hot hatch experience, an enthusiastic and rorty engine noise is piped into the cabin under hard acceleration although the rest of the time the drive is quiet allowing for normal conversation even at speed.
Pop into vRS mode however and the soundtrack becomes louder and more insistent. To be honest I found it to be a bit wearing after a while. VRS mode is configurable, with normal, sport, eco and individual settings to fiddle about with. Sport mode does weight up the steering a bit and sharpens the throttle for a livelier experience but for most of the time Normal mode was perfectly adequate.
The dashboard offers up plenty of information, like warnings for ice and the like, but does have a habit of reminding you to look at the gear-shift indicator to encourage good eco-driving habits not unlike having your Mum in the car. All very laudable of course but if economy was uppermost in my mind I wouldn’t buy a vRS, would I?
Based on the VW Golf GTi, the Octavia vRS delivers a potent drive with powerful acceleration from the petrol motor. It has plenty of front-end grip when cornering enthusiastically and feels nicely balanced on the road. Like the Golf, the Skoda comes with a clever software based system called XDS+, which brakes the inside wheels when cornering to allow the driver to pick tighter lines when cornering with a bit of brio. The ride is firmly sprung though well damped overall. At all times the car remains civilised without any of that hooligan nonsense. The one thing I think is lacking is the option of four-wheel drive, something that’s available on other Octavia models. How about it Skoda?
62ph comes up in a brisk 6.8 seconds and, should you want to chance it, 154 miles is the stated top speed and this kind of makes my point about the Skoda Octavia vRS being the ideal British performance car – it isn’t that quick. Bigger and slightly slower than the GTi, it nevertheless has all the power a driver could possibly want given the circumstances of Britain’s roads and rules. Any more, as the bishop said, is a waste. Certainly, it would be lovely to nip about in an Italian supercar but what price your licence eh?
To sum up then, the Skoda Octavia vRS is subtle and understated yet delivers driving thrills. It is roomy, comfortable and well made; in short, grace, space and pace. All you need for £25k. Why pay more?