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Skoda reprises an understated everyday hero, but is TDI power still of any interest?

Diesel power is not, and never has been, the first thing that comes to mind when hot hatchbacks are the subject of discussion.

Not that anyone has told Skoda.

Gloss-black plastic for the grille surround differentiates the vRS from regular Octavia models, which use chrome instead. They’re not so noticeable on our black test car, but the lower air intakes are also considerably larger.

The marque has long ploughed this particular furrow, and has to some extent made the niche its own with a line of fast, frugal and clandestine products that stretches all the way back to the boxy Fabia vRS supermini of 2003. Yes, the entire vRS sub-brand sprang into life via the black plump.

Which is perhaps why, when so many car makers are ditching diesel and heading for the hybrid hills in order to reduce their average fleet emissions, Skoda is reprising its quick TDI Octavia vRS for no less than the fourth time.

Admittedly, this latest quick Octavia also comes in petrol and petrol-electric plug-in hybrid forms, both of which have powertrains considerably more powerful than the 2.0-litre TDI we’re testing here, and so bets are most definitely being hedged in Mladá Boleslav. But the decision to give the diesel derivative a stay of execution suggests Skoda recognises how much satisfaction this car’s forebears have given their often loyal owners, and that there is life in the concept yet.

That concept takes the regular Skoda’s unusually spacious shell – which looks like it belongs in the C-segment on the outside, but feels undeniably D-segment once you’re ensconced within it – and in 2021 propels it with the second most powerful four-cylinder diesel the Volkswagen Group makes. Deploying the 237bhp 2.0-litre twin-turbo unit available in more senior VW models such as the Arteon would have made for a more exciting product, no doubt, and would have also brought the Octavia vRS TDI into line with its petrol-fuelled siblings in terms of outright shove, but for whatever reason, that hasn’t happened.

The chassis has undergone targeted modification to move the Octavia from ‘consummate family car’ to something altogether more toothy, and the cabin follows suit, with Alcantara and perforated leather underscoring the vRS badge.

This pleasing recipe is well known by now, but with the days of the diesel-powered hot Skoda numbered, the scene is now set for us to answer the big question: should you buy one of these all-rounders while you still can, in order to keep it for the long term?

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The Octavia line-up at a glance

Skoda’s range of engines for the Octavia is as comprehensive and forward looking as you would expect from any major manufacturer in 2021.

The options can be roughly divided into three groups: straight internal-combustion engines, those assisted by 48V mild-hybrid systems (denoted ‘e-TEC’), and full plug-in hybrids.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Skoda Octavia

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