This special-edition Skoda is the fastest Octavia made to date. We drive it on UK roads

What is it?

You’ve got to feel a little sorry for the Skoda Octavia vRS. It’s consummately loveable for its astonishing practicality allied to cut-price hot hatch thrills but, despite sharing hardware with the Volkswagen Golf GTI, it’s always had a whiff of ‘know your place’ about it in comparison with its illustrious VW stablemate.

Yes, it’s got the same MQB platform and engine, but with a Golf GTI you're allowed a Haldex electronic differential and adaptive dampers. You can't get either on the vRS. And the Skoda is heavier than the Golf, so it’ll be left behind in a drag race. Perhaps, then, this vRS 230 special edition is the Octavia’s moment to climb out from under the Golf’s shadow.

The 2.0 TSI engine gets an extra 10bhp (hence the 230 badging) thanks to a higher boost pressure and a freer-flowing sports exhaust. Crucially, though, it’s got the e-diff, and when combined these upgrades make it 10 seconds a lap quicker around the Nürburgring than a regular vRS.

The vRS’s chiselled looks remain, but with added menace courtesy of a gloss black finish on the grille, door mirrors, spoiler and exhaust trims. Red brake calipers and 19in alloys finish the effect.

Inside it’s loaded with extra equipment, such as red-stitched electric leather sports seats, sat-nav and a lap timer - presumably so you can validate that Nürburgring boast.

What's it like?

It’s the fastest, quickest Octavia vRS to date. Maxed out it reaches 155mph, plus it’ll beat the standard car to 62mph by a tenth of a second, getting there in 6.7sec. That’s still a couple of tenths shy of a Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST, but it feels quick enough.

You might expect that 227bhp would feel a little underwhelming on more open roads or circuits, but this engine’s broad torque curve and free-revving nature means that it rarely disappoints. It surges along with vigour, even in higher gears, lending the Octavia an eager feel.

We’d been told that the new sports exhaust would be an aural delight, but in truth it isn’t. Sure, things get rorty when you give it the beans, but that noise seemed to be piped in from the speakers rather than trumpeted from the tailpipes.

If you want, you can order a DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but we gave the standard six-speed manual a try. It’s got a light, slick change, but if you fancy some heel-and-toe fun on downshifts, the pedals are spaced too far apart.

A couple of heavy stops highlighted the lack of feel from the brakes and a nervous rear end when the front dives down, which further dents the Skoda's outright driver appeal. However, the discs shed speed well enough and kept on biting time after time.

Get through the braking phase and into a corner and you’ll find the vRS 230 has an eager, pointy front end. With the drive selector in Sport to sharpen everything up, the steering is nicely weighted for faster driving, but there’s deficiency of feel through the wheel.

There's no change to the suspension from the standard vRS, and it continues to do without the Golf’s adaptive option. The spring rates and anti-roll bar settings allow plenty of body lean as the lateral forces build, and you get bundles of understeer the minute you push beyond the limit of grip.

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It’s nothing like as playful as a Focus ST, but it's predictable and unlikely to spit you into a ditch. The ride's more than tolerable, too, so the vRS shouldn't grate over longer distances.

The e-diff can shove 100% of the torque to whichever front tyre can cope with it best, which reduces the scrabble out of corners and produces a tighter line than you'd get from the standard vRS. It’s still not as aggressive as the Golf’s diff, mind, which Skoda says is to keep the Octavia’s more friendly family-car feel.

Should I buy one?

To give some context, the vRS 230 is £2500 more than the standard vRS but comes with loads more kit and better performance. Plus, it’s still cheaper than a Golf GTI and around the same money as a Focus ST3.

Okay, it’s not the quickest of the three and it doesn't feel best suited to track driving, but it makes a pretty decent road car. If what you really need is your hatch to be handy as well as hot, then for practicality you can’t do much better than this. Unless, that is, you buy the estate version instead.

Skoda Octavia vRS 230

Location Chobham, Surrey; On sale Now; Price £26,150; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 227bhp at 4700-6200rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1500-4600rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1445kg; 0-62mph 6.7sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 45.6mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 142g/km, 23%

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