The third generation of the Skoda Octavia vRS has become a car made rightly popular by its tangy mix of Golf GTI running gear, hatchback (or estate) body, big engines and decidedly reasonable pricing.
On paper at least, the latest model continues doggedly along the same lines; it may share the 15mm longer wheelbase of its MQB range siblings, but the car is instantly recognisable as the kind of practical performance bargain that gets Skoda fans in a justifiable tizzy.
Skoda's improvements to the Octavia vRS
The current Octavia has been given a mid-life facelift which has seen the exterior tweaked at the front and back and the interior given additional plushness, but most noticeable is the split headlights, which has proven fairly controversial. The rest of Skoda's changes were left for the vRS - the 2.0TDI didn't change all that much - as the standard petrol version gaining the same power output as the outgoing vRS 230, while it has been replaced with 242bhp vRS 245 (in recognition of the 245PS output). Interestingly, these changes put the Octavia on the same footing as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the latter against the GTI Performance.
Starting at just under £25,000 for a 226bhp 2.0-litre TSI with a manual six-speed gearbox— coincidentally, the car tested here (although an oil burner and DSG are available) — the vRS is only eclipsed by the entry-level Ford Focus ST at the business end of the bargain basement.
The petrol model with a manual gearbox was the fastest production Octavia ever; and with 0-62mph falling from 7.2sec to 6.5, and top speed eked out to 155mph. The 2.0 TDI vRS is more frugal but can still dispatch a standing start to 62mph in 7.6sec and reach a top speed of 144mph, which puts it directly up against the Volkswagen Golf GTD and Ford Fiesta ST diesel, while the vRS 245 with its 242bhp 2.0 TSI propelling the Octavia to 62mph in 6.6sec and onto 155mph.
Gains have been made on the economy front as the 2.0 TSI claims to do 43.5mpg while, unsurprisingly, the diesel vRS claims between 55.4 to 62.8mpg depending on whether you opt for the automatic or four-wheel drive version. As for CO2 emissions the standard petrol car will produce 149g/km, while the diesel version produces 119g/km will probably leave an equally big impression on British buyers. Both the DSG auto and the estate body style affect these efficiencies by a marginal amount.
Underneath, as expected, it gets much the same running gear as the regular Golf GTI. Shorter sports springs leave it 15mm lower than standard; the anti-roll bars have been beefed up and more negative camber applied, but the track remains the same as a standard Octavia, and there’s no funky e-diff upfront - just the updated software-based XDS+ system which brakes both inside wheels during courageous cornering.
Getting the Octavia vRS on the asphalt
On the road, the Octavia vRS is right on the money. As a company, Skoda talks relentlessly about only building cars that its customers will buy; tiptoeing precariously around the VW parts bin with its collective eye on the bottom line, only vaguely interested in the soulfulness that ought to define driver’s cars like the Skoda Octavia vRS.
In smaller models, this is a problem - consider the lukewarm Fabia vRS that didn’t reappear when the new Fabia was launched - but with the Octavia, the MQB’s apparently innate conservatism is to Skoda’s advantage.
Unlike the GTI, there is no expectation in the bigger, cleverly rebranded car that your funny bone ought to be continuously tickled. Low-brow entertainment is there to be had thanks to the jostling effect of the keenly felt turbocharger or the oddly raucous (and switchable) sound actuator; yet it all feels like an agreeable supplement rather than the car’s reason for being.
Certainly this is because the Octavia now feels and drives like the proper four-door contender it always hankered to be. But also because, faced with only passive suspension to fettle rather than the Golf’s more expensive adaptive system, Skoda has opted for noticeably slower spring and damper settings. The result is comfortable first, incisive second.
At slow speeds, aided by the vRS’s more sophisticated and quieter multi-link rear axle, the Octavia barely feels sporty at all. Only marginally more verve from the helm gives the game away — otherwise it’s appreciably civilised.
Likewise pressing on, which takes very little effort thanks to the usual surfeit of grip. The steering is precise rather than expressive; change of direction prompt rather than pointy, but there’s a pleasing neutrality from the XDS+ assisted chassis and enough guts to challenge it.
As for standard equipment the vRS models get all the standard equipment found on an Octavia SE, plus adaptive LED headlights, 18in headlights, LED rear lights, an aggressive bodykit, spoiler, red brake caliper, sports seats and driving modes. There is also lane assist, auto-dimming, electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors, auto lights and wipers and an umbrella under the passenger's front seat. There is also Skoda's Amundsen infotainment system complete with sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a wifi hotspot and an 8.0in touchscreen display.
The vRS 245 gains 19in alloy wheels, more gloss black exterior trim, a rortier exhaust and an Alcantara interior.
Is the Octavia vRS a Golf GTI beater?
So, should you buy one? Well, not if you want the last word in stimulation or involvement. Usher the vRS out of its generous comfort zone and it begins to sag at the shoulders as its bigger body shifts around and the (unswitchable) stability control intervenes. But that’s fine - Skoda will have already snagged most of its customers prior to that point.
Rather than yearning for a smidge more dynamism (as you might in the GTI) the Octavia’s size, comfort and familiar competence tend to make you grateful for its pep and content to go with its swift and steady flow.
With a family dotted around you - as most buyers will have - its unstressed and affordable idea of performance may very well seem ideal. That makes it a less emotional purchase than most of its overheated rivals, but an eminently sane and understandable one.