The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder
More luxury express than performance hatch
Pros
Strong performance
Comfortable ride
Build quality
Cons
Tainted steering
Fussy switchgear
Interior lacks flair

Skoda Octavia vRS review (2013-on)

The comfortable and practical performance hatchback

More Info

What is the Skoda Octavia vRS?

The new Skoda Octavia was launched at the start of 2012, this vRS performance version following later with a global unveil at, appropriately, the Goodwood Festival of Speed. vRS Octavias have always had a bit of a following, Skoda’s value for money and VW Group’s long experience with hot hatches, most notably the Golf GTI, proving irresistible to speed freaks on a sub-Golf GTI budget.

Prices for the entry-level five-door VR6 petrol hatch start from around £4,000 less than the Golf GTi 5dr, the new hot-hatch benchmark. And the Octavia has a lot more standard equipment, too, though not the Golf’s strong residual values, which may just cancel out that front-end saving.

There are two engines: a 218bhp 2-litre petrol producing a very useful 258 lb ft torque, and a 182bhp diesel producing a hefty 280 lb ft. A choice of two transmissions – a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch, six-speed DSG auto – direct all this oomph to the front wheels.  Two body styles (a five-door hatch and an estate) complete the offering.

 

The drive

The vRS sits 12mm lower than standard Octavias and has a more sophisticated rear suspension, both changes designed to improve handling and body control. Which is not to say the vRS is a hard-riding, track-focused beast. There’s a Sport setting but choosing it only makes the ride a touch firmer and more jiggly. We suspect most drivers will settle for Normal, when they’ll find the ride is quiet and comfortable with just a trace of stiffness. In fact, for all its sporting pretensions, the Octavia is quite a softie in the ride department.


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Not so, its engines. The diesel in particular is an impressively smooth, free-revving and torquey unit. It is astonishingly quick through its six gears, doling out swift overtakes with ease. Meanwhile, it cruises quietly and effortlessly. It’s economical, too. On a mixed run, that included a laborious London commute, it returned 42mpg.  In-gear performance is a diesel’s natural strength, of course. Otherwise, 0-62mph takes a pedestrian 8.1sec compared with the petrol car’s more impressive 6.8sec. In day-to-day motoring, however, where motorists are balancing performance with economy, the diesel would be the better, more satisfying choice.

As befits a performance car, the vRS’s brakes are powerful and reassuring. However, that other vital component, the steering, is less impressive. It feels a little over-weighted and at least around the straight ahead, a bit vague. The lane-assist function, which helps keep the car between the white lines, doesn’t help. It applies gentle pressure on the wheel which you can either accept or more likely, give way to. A sports car’s steering should be simpler than that: purer and much more direct.

 

The cabin

Outside, the Skoda Octavia vRS quickly sets itself apart from standard models with 18in alloys, bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, honeycomb air intakes featuring “vRS” badging and an aggressive bumper. The theme continues at the rear with twin stainless steel exhaust pipes, a red flash and a black diffuser.

Inside the car, there are smart-looking and extremely comfortable VRS-badged sports seats, shiny stainless steel pedals and vRS kick plates but otherwise, the cabin is stock Octavia with a distinct lack of sporty flair. Still, there are always the switches and buttons: lots of them. Many are small and fiddly, and some even duplicate functions. For example, there are at least four ways to change the DAB radio channels: by the radio knob, the touchscreen, one switch below the volume control wheel on the leather steering wheel and another to its right.

Vehicle settings can be changed via a control wheel and the touchscreen. Suspension settings by a button and the touchscreen. And so it goes. If a car can have too many features (you can even change the degree of cooling provided by the air conditioning system – from weak to strong ) and too many ways of controlling them, the Octavia is that vehicle. Perhaps the real function of the lane assist steering is to free your hands to play with them. Still they at least show how the car maker regards the vRS: more luxury express than super-focused hot hatch or estate.

The one to buy

Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TDI CR 5dr

Specifications

Price:
£23,580
Engine:
1984cc, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power:
182bhp @ 4500rpm
Torque:
280 lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission:
6-speed, manual
Acceleration:
0-62mph in 8.1sec
Top speed:
144mph
Fuel:
61.4mpg
CO2:
119g/km
Road tax band:
C
Dimensions:
L 4659mm, W 1814mm H 1461mm

Skoda Octavia vRS rivals

Audi A4 (click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)

Ford Focus (click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)

Volkswagen Golf (click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)