THE SKODA Octavia has always seemed such a reasonable car — reasonably shaped, reasonably constructed, reasonably priced. It’s the kind of car a man might recommend to his father-in-law.
Which is probably why Skoda introduced a hot vRS version — to shake things up a bit and show that this modest, family-orientated, yet at the same time somehow retirement-friendly hatchback could be a bucket of flames and a little piece of yob heaven, if only you treated it right.
And treating it right meant, specifically, trimming its interior with red stitching, bolting on two thick-lipped exhaust pipes in stainless steel, squashed into rhomboids for added attitude, and fitting a spoiler on the boot lid. But still leaving it reasonably priced, because that’s the Skoda way.
And now there’s an Octavia vRS 4×4, which is all of the above plus an all-wheel-drive system for still more unshakeable traction while going sideways and, presumably, whooping. And here it is, outside my house, its enamel-finished grey paintwork (the car pictured here is for illustrative purposes only) making it look like a phantasmagoric Corgi toy.
This is essentially a budget Golf R and I will soon be catapulting up the road with my neck stapled to the headrest by the G-force and with my cheeks sucked in so far they meet in the middle of my mouth.
Or maybe not. And perhaps there was room all along to wonder about the law-defying wildness of a car that provides a safety-vest holder as standard.
For all the mock carbon-fibre inserts in the door panels and the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the Octavia vRS 4×4 is a sensible creature
One also notices that the vRS 4×4 isn’t so hot that you can’t get a detachable waste bin for it, which might, in some quarters, tempt a snigger or a revival of some of the old jokes from the old Czech company’s communist past.
Actually, though, that waste bin is a pretty smart idea, because the history of car use demonstrates that if you don’t dedicate a storage space as a waste bin, all storage spaces become waste bins.
As for hot-blooded performance, though . . . well, again, the signs were there. You can get the 4×4 only with a diesel engine, rather than with the feistier petrol unit of the two-wheel-drive. And you can get it only with an automatic gearbox, which takes anyone with old-style rally-driver fantasies out of the equation.
The 4×4 system, in this context, seems less like a reckless racing advantage and more like a sensible precaution, bracing the car to take on the increasingly eccentric climate of Britain, with its flooding, Arctic blasts and plant-forcing heatwaves, to mention only February.
In other words, for all the mock carbon-fibre inserts in the door panels and the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the Octavia vRS 4×4 is a sensible creature — a snow-going, mountain-rounding framework for a capacious 590-litre boot and a more than averagely generous provision of leg and shoulder room.
As such, it might be worth mentioning to your father-in-law that the spoiler makes the boot even heavier, so that opening and closing it involves a fairly extensive upper-body workout. Still, we all need the exercise, and better that than something the strength of a Fanta can that goes “poink” when you close it.
The noise from the 2-litre TDI engine is synthetic and fed artificially back into the cabin, but at least it’s a nice noise rather than a horrible one: a low, firm burble.
You can wait a while for the six-speed DSG gearbox to catch up with your desire to accelerate. True, there are paddles with which you can take the gear-shifting into your own hands but there remains something mildly off-key about sitting in a Skoda Octavia and toggling away like a teenager on a PlayStation. I was happy enough to wait, in the main. Does that sound reasonable?