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Amid a broader vRS refresh, Skoda has built its most powerful Octavia yet to take on the established order

If you’re fond of an underdog such as the Skoda Octavia vRS, it’s rather hard not to hold a candle for Skoda’s vRS brand.

By rights, and in the grand scheme of the Volkswagen Group’s thinking, it ought not really to exist at all.

Rather than make a messy reference to ‘245’, Skoda has chosen to identify it with a blacked-out ‘v’ on the vRS badge. We rather like that

Seat is supposed to deal with the low-priced sporty stuff, while Volkswagen peddles the more prestigious GTI and R badges.

The Czech division is for practicality, good sense and affordable functionality. The Skoda Fbia vRS was spiked long ago, and the Skoda Superb variant never even arrived, ending up an unseen stillborn of cancelled development. And yet the Skoda Octavia vRS soldiers on.

It does so because, like the current stock model on which it’s based, the car does rather fill a void. Its curious size – virtually reaching D-segment proportions while still gamely clinging to its C-segment status – means that it serves a clientele that values spaciousness and utility almost as much as it does pace and hot hatch-style desirability.

It is this niche and impressively loyal customer base that have kept the vRS going despite the odds, encouraging Skoda not only to update the model as part of the Skoda Octavia’s broader facelift but also to build the most powerful version it has yet put on sale: the Skoda Octavia vRS 245.

Fittingly, even this seems a little counter-intuitive. While the vRS may surreptitiously flaunt its relationship with the VW Golf GTI underneath, the car’s volume is founded on the diesel model – a patron of the same powertrain used by the Volkswagen Golf GTD.

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So furnishing an Octavia with the VW Group’s criminally underused 237bhp bi-turbo diesel engine might have produced a more likely headliner.

Instead, the 245 gets the same 242bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine used by the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance edition (the now ‘standard’ vRS gets the 228bhp variant) and is available as either a hatch or an estate.

If the format doesn’t completely make sense, it does at least inspire some hope in the end result. That’s because although the vRS has proven likeable in its own offbeat way, none of the preceding versions has ever managed to stake an authentic claim to its own USP, each being less a large Golf GTI and more a moderately fast Octavia.

Armed now with not only its sibling’s higher output but also the electromechanical front differential to properly modulate it, the vRS might at last make the move from fringe omega to real-world alpha.  

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Skoda Octavia vRS 245 rear

For better or worse, the 245 adopts the same quad-light design that was rolled out to the rest of the Skoda Octavia range.

Possibly the kindest thing you could say about it is that it’s more distinctive than its predecessor’s look and is probably kindest to look at when plastered to the somewhat meaner arrangement of grille and bumper that distinguishes the vRS models.

It’s a shame to fit a sophisticated LSD and then not let you switch out the stability control. The vRS 245’s chassis really doesn’t need the help

In the 245’s case, it is obliged further still by a standard black pack that includes the mirrors, exhaust tailpipes and the front grille. It is this modest collection of coloured ancillaries – along with 19in Xtreme gloss alloy wheels – that marks the range-topper out from its stablemates.

Underneath, the alterations are more significant. The EA888 2.0-litre engine’s upgraded 242bhp output is new to the Octavia although already made familiar by its earlier introduction to the Golf.

The 14bhp advantage over its vRS sibling is replayed in the GTI line-up as well, as is the slightly higher engine speeds at which it’s produced (5000-6700rpm compared with 4700-6200rpm for the 230). The 245 also develops 15lb ft of additional peak twist, albeit over a slightly shorter rev range (1600-4300rpm versus 1500-4600rpm).

The engine drives the front wheels exclusively – four-wheel drive remaining the prerogative of the Golf R and a single variant of the Seat Leon Cupra – and is supplied by default with a manual six-speed gearbox, although the latest seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic is a cost option (and exclusive to the 245 because the lowlier vRS has to make do with the older six-speed unit).

In between the wheels and the transmission is the 245’s other defining characteristic: the splendidly named ‘Vorderachsquersperre’ differential – or, less memorably, the VAQ system.

The electronically controlled arrangement, centred on a multi-plate clutch, is more a chopped-up Haldex system than a traditional limited-slip diff, but it serves the same purpose and can deploy 100 percent of available torque to one wheel, if necessary. This, too, migrates from the Performance edition of the Golf GTI.

Otherwise, mechanically speaking, the 245 has the same lowered passive suspension as the basic vRS (front MacPherson struts and a rear multi-link) albeit with a stability-enhancing 30mm of extra track width at the back. 

INTERIOR

Skoda Octavia vRS 245 interior

Skoda can rarely be accused of gilding the lily when it comes to the interior design of its vRS line-up and the 245 is no different.

The same prudent, understatedly plush high-spec Skoda Octavia cabin is carried over, flaunting the odd badge and wearing a different steering wheel but shouting about itself in no conspicuous way, save for the addition of ritzy Alcantara seats.

The uprated 9.2in Columbus sat-nav system is £1050 — but don’t bother: the larger touchscreen is no substitution for losing the shortcut keys

The upshot of this rather depends on your viewpoint. If you buy into the idea of the 245 being a somewhat buttoned-down, Q-car-style purchase, the low-key surroundings are likely to appeal. If, however, you think the quickest Octavia ought to be announcing itself to its occupants with slightly more fanfare, you probably won’t.

For what’s it worth, our subjective assessment found it appealing: the 245’s semantic distance from a Cupra or a GTI ought to mean less straining for the swagger exhibited by either of its stablemates and (seats aside) the cabin chimes with the idea that you’ve probably made a mature and reasoned buying decision.

The stock Octavia around the top-spec model certainly reinforces that idea. The car’s long-standing reputation for practicality is still richly deserved. There is noticeably more space in the 245 than any rival option built on hatchback underpinnings, thanks to its stretched wheelbase.

This superior length ensures not only adult-sized rear accommodation but also a generous boot, which, in the estate format tested, betters a Focus ST wagon’s by a whopping 134 litres.

The result – further enhanced by the standard inclusion of the Amundsen infotainment system – is an interior that provokes impressively few objective niggles.

Skoda’s failure to fit an adjustable boot floor (thus denying you a totally flat seats-down load space) as standard is one.

The slightly stingy size of the cupholders and central console storage is perhaps another (a result of the car’s mystifying persistence with a mechanical handbrake). Plainly, there are more extravagant interiors, but otherwise the 245 estate’s basic good sense is persuasive to the point of compelling.

The Amundsen system is familiar from other Skoda applications and is probably among the most worthy of the Volkswagen Group’s current infotainment crop.

It can lay claim to this accolade for several unmistakable reasons: its functionality is near blameless, its presentation is very crisp and there are arguably no glaring gaps in its list of features (including the ability to generate a wi-fi hotspot, fast becoming the voguish choice of family buyers).

Responsiveness from the touchscreen is very good — it pinches and swipes with impressive seamlessness — and the system’s processor is generally up to the job of rendering the sat-nav map at commensurate speed.

The shortcut keys, which flank each side of the screen, are well chosen, as are the subordinate menu choices that pop-up when your hand comes close enough.

The standard stereo is serviceable, although there’s a £500, 10-speaker Canton sound system on the option list should you prefer.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Skoda Octavia vRS 245 side profile

Anyone expecting a marked change in engine-bay personality compared with the regular vRS hasn’t spent much time with the EA888 engine before.

The VW Group’s go-to 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit doesn’t significantly alter its character between applications or outputs. It simply becomes more or less expedient at what it does.

Long wheelbase helps to keep the rear axle secure even through faster, off-camber bends

Thus, as the modest climb from 227bhp to 242bhp suggests, the latest model is very subtly better – quicker and keener – at propelling you forward in much the same gruff, linear and tractable way as it always has.

Skoda quotes a 0.3sec improvement in the sprint to 62mph for the estate, although in a straight line, with the 19in alloy wheels no broader than the 18in rims they replace, it’s no easier to get the extra power onto the road through the Skoda Octavia’s single driven axle. We recorded 6.9sec from standstill to 60mph, two-up.

Once rolling, though, the surfeit of torque constitutes the 245’s most prominent advantage: in its mid-range high-yield pomp, the car feels that bit more industrious than its standard sibling – an impression cheerfully embellished by the background rasp being conjuredin Sport mode.

As ever, the really likeable aspect of the EA888’s gusto is that it seems to occur without apparent strain.

Partly this is a factor of its refinement – the four-pot possesses no more sharp edges than the wonderfully unctuous manual gearbox that swaps its cogs – and partly it is the robust, linear delivery that resists tapering until remarkably close to the 6700rpm zenith of its raised rev limit.

The only genuine lull is located below 2000rpm, where the turbocharger’s blades inevitably idle.

Between there and the soft limiter, the 245’s motor is easily awoken, easily administered and very easy to like.

RIDE & HANDLING

Skoda Octavia vRS 245 cornering

Given the relative modesty of the changes made to the chassis, surprisingly little of the 245’s extra performance must be used for a difference to be felt.

Undeniably, in our test car’s case, this has much to do with the fitment of the optional adaptive dampers – an £850 tick not indulged on the regular vRS wagon we group tested recently.

Adaptive dampers control squat well, and without disturbing the body too much, through compressions

Their inclusion, alongside the range-topper’s lower-profile tyres, has a transformative effect.

Even in Comfort mode – one of four familiar drive settings – the car feels not only lower to the ground but also in possession of a much more rigorous attitude to body control, seeming squat and purposeful where the standard chassis gambolled innocuously.

Even better, despite feeling as though it has shed 20 percent of its spring travel, the ride comfort is significantly enhanced, the 245 evincing much the same sophisticated, firmly pliant and quiet response that makes the Golf R such a real-world wunderkind.

Much like that car, in fact, the suspension’s softest mode is so convincing that it makes the Normal setting seem a little busy for UK roads – a familiar consequence of the dampers suddenly being asked to take their rebound duties more seriously.

Not unpredictably, this halfway house quickly becomes redundant, and you spend 95 percent of your time in Comfort, perfectly content to savour the 245’s capacity for fast, obliging progress.

Encouragingly, though, there is added value in indulging the Sport mode occasionally. True enough, the dampers become even more fierce – but only by so much as to reach your heightened expectations for extra tenacity when cornering.

This the car does admirably well, with an additional boon found in the sharper steering map, where the insubstantial default mode is replaced by something denser and thickly satisfying.Scalpel sharp or rudder sensitive this car is plainly not, but its heavy-set accuracy is the ideal playmate for the stocky and relentlessly stubborn front end that ultimately sets the 245’s handling apart from that of the regular vRS.

While the incorporation of the electro-mechanical diff into the 245’s front axle is obviously about negating the standard vRS’s tendency to understeer at the limit, it is the superior body control being meted out by the DCC system’s Sport mode that initially takes centre stage on the hill route.

The quicker model feels not just moderately capable and amenable to pushing on but also earnestly inclined towards a more aggressive driving style.

Typically, it is this augmented sense of composure that has you hustling the 245 through corners quicker, rather than faith in a multi-plate clutch, which handles the torque in a deftly impalpable way.

Through multiple hairpins, the 245 is certainly faster, tidier, grippier and more tactile than any Octavia to date. It is no more adjustable at the rear, but there’s a tacky, belligerent satisfaction to be had from driving this particular vRS very hard. 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

The 245’s pricing has as much to do with its ranking in the VW Group as it does with any like-for-like rival.

Consequently, the hatch starts at £27,595 (around £2k cheaper than the Golf GTI Performance with which it shares a drivetrain) and the wagon is from £28,795 (around £2.5k cheaper than the more powerful – but smaller – Leon Cupra ST).

It’s expected to have poorer residuals than an equivalent Ford Focus ST but far better than a Renault Mégane GT

This puts Skoda’s estate in good stead with the competition: a Focus ST-3 Estate is £28,565. That the list essentially ends there illustrates the convenient idiosyncrasy of the vRS. There are other fast estates, of course – just none at the 245’s output or sticker price.

As the top-spec Octavia, it is also notably well equipped: our test car’s 19in wheels, Amundsen touchscreen, cruise control, heated seats, dual-zone climate, parking sensors, full LED headlights, auto wipers and wi-fi hotspot were all standard.

Only the glaring absence of the Dynamic Chassis Control and a variable boot floor stands out – although even with both ticked (as you certainly must) the estate remains shy of £30k.

Given our 32.6mpg average, the 245 will probably not be cheap to run – a fact corroborated by its inability to best 40mpg even at a steady cruise – but hot hatch performance obliges hot hatch economy.

Only secondhand values give real cause for worry: expect the 245 to lose half its value by the end of the second year.

VERDICT

4 star Skoda Octavia vRS 245

The 245, particularly in wagon format and absolutely with Dynamic Chassis Control fitted, finally makes good on the long-running notion that a vRS might just be a no-brainer for anyone whose life has outgrown a conventional hot hatch.

Where previous iterations were passable attempts at the concept, the range-topper finally synthesises the right set of ingredients – prime among them the discreet but perceptible increase in power and a handling balance that encourages enthusiasm rather than merely accommodating it.

Past vRS estates have had potential but this one actually achieves it

A few caveats remain, of course.

The 245 is decent value but could not be called cheap to run, and the DCC that is essential to its appeal has been scandalously excluded from the standard kit list.

For some, the continued absence of all-wheel drive (now available on the diesel-engined model) might also rankle.

But these are peripheral issues. At the core is a car that can claim to do practically everything of consequence convincingly – praise enough to land the most powerful Octavia on a very short list of genuine all-rounders.

That means the vRS 245 jumps to the top of our top five hot hatch estates ahead of the Ford Focus ST, Seat Leon Cupra 300, Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer and Renault Megane GT Sport Tourer.

 

Skoda Octavia vRS 2013-2020 First drives