Skoda Octavia vRS
We test the all-new version of Skoda's Octavia vRS, which combines Golf GTI performance with practicality and a reasonable price tag
Only the engine, really. This is Skoda's idiosyncratic Octavia vRS - the big hatch oddity that tries hard to be a hot hatch - in diesel form. That means 170bhp, 258lb ft of torque from 1800rpm and over 48mpg.
What's it like?
A hoot. Mated to the trusty VW Group six-speed gearbox, the 170bhp diesel lump packs a serious punch. This is a car that pushes you back into the seat in first, second or third gear and it's easy to believe Skoda's claimed 0-60mph time of 8.5sec, and the top speed of 140mph.
That grunt doesn't come without the odd side effect, though. There's lag, naturally, although the torque is far enough down the rev range that it's negated in all but first gear. Then there's the clatter - even when it's warmed up, this is not an oil-burner that fades into background hum. And don't bother going beyond half-throttle in the wet either, because when the traction control steps in to tame all that torque, you get horrendous juddering.
In better conditions, though, the diesel vRS experience improves considerably. On the move, the Octavia has always been a car to disguise its bulk and that continues here. Given a decent B-road, the TDI PD munches miles with great aplomb - those wallops of torque mean that it's easy to maintain momentum, particularly in third or fourth.
It's quick to turn in - pointy, even (possibly due to the extra weight over the front wheels) - but the back end never feels like it's about to desert you. That, in part, is down to a good suspension set-up, for Skoda's engineers could clearly teach their colleagues at Seat at thing or two about damping. The ride is reassuringly firm without being as intrusive as anything sporting a Cupra or FR badge.
The Octavia is an entertaining drive, then, albeit a clear step behind a Focus ST or Astra VXR. But this package is about more than that - there's plenty of room in the rear and even in regular hatchback form, the boot is massive. The fuel tank isn't small either, resulting in a range of nearly 600 miles - almost double that of the Ford or Vauxhall, in other words.
Inside, the kit list includes climate control and CD player, as well as driver, passenger and side airbags. It's a bit sombre but it feels well made. Flashy vRS seats do their best to brighten the mood.
Should I buy one?
If you want space as well as fun and don't place great importance on how good your engine sounds, the Octavia TDI PD vRS is a solid choice. This is a genuinely quick car that can easily cope with four adults. But given that this combination is its biggest selling point, you might be better off spending the extra £900 and going for the vast estate model instead.
As a hot hatch, the Octavia is just not quite there. But as a fast load carrier over long distances, it suddenly becomes far better value.