What is it?
Having retired the Fabia and nixed the Superb version in the latter stages of development, the Octavia alone provides Skoda’s vRS badge with a home. The scenario hardly speaks to the badge’s popularity in the UK, where almost a quarter of Octavias came with the three-letter brand on the bootlid last year. Being well-liked here didn’t save the Fabia, of course - but the model is sought-after in Germany, too; easily business case enough for it to have been updated as part of the car’s wider facelift.
The good news is that the UK lineup expands slightly in the fine-tuning. The less good news is that the latest Octavia’s unfortunate headlight arrangement inevitably migrates to the performance variant. In fairness to the divisive new design, it probably works a little better on the vRS, where the suspicion of skew-whiff symmetry is balanced out by the bigger, meaner front end. Aft of the bodywork, the petrol engines have been tweaked, too: the familiar 2.0-litre TSI now sporting an additional 10bhp in standard format, and 242bhp in a forthcoming 245 edition.
At 227bhp, the entry-level vRS keeps pace with the alterations recently made to the basic Golf GTI, which will be of interest to the minority of buyers who opted for the petrol variant. Most British owners though picked the diesel variant – and while the 181bhp 2.0-litre TDI remains unchanged, there’s now the choice of twinning it with all-wheel drive for the first time; an option not available to buyers of the mechanically similar Golf GTD.
Given the Octavia’s sterling reputation for usability, the combination feels a natural fit. Along with it, comes the updates already made familiar as part of the wider revisions: i.e. new infotainment systems with capacitive screens, a raft of new safety systems, the availability of trailer assist and adaptive cruise, and the introduction of more ‘Simply Clever’ features, such as foldable tables on the seatbacks, more power sockets and the always welcome heated steering wheel.
What's it like?
Broadly speaking, and not unexpectedly, the souped-up Octavia is much as it was: big, very amenable, vaguely brawny and scrupulously worthy. The vRS sits 15mm lower than its siblings, but the sacrifice in comfort stipulated by the increased vertical stiffness is modest. Adaptive suspension is standard, and it's quite possible that you might prefer the model’s more purposeful direction change without necessarily coveting its heightened performance.
Frankly, as far as the oil burner is concerned, this is probably the best mindset to approach the vRS with because the model is not (and never has been) enthrallingly fast. Punctual, yes. Hasty even. But not quick by the modern yardstick of hot hatches or even overcooked compact SUVs (a Tiguan powered by VW’s new 236bhp 2.0-litre bi-turbo unit would leave the Octavia standing).
That’s because for the all bass-edged blurt shoved onto the soundtrack at middling revs, the 2.0-litre TDI and its six-speed auto make for a very accommodating powertrain rather than an action-packed one. That the vRS has not received either the newer seven-speed DSG (bestowed on the latest GTD) or the enhanced 188bhp 2.0-litre TDI unit already featured on Audi product (complete with 15lb ft more torque) does it no favours.
In the dry, for the most part, neither does the four-wheel-drive system which contributes a discernable 85kg to the payload and seemingly not a great deal to a chassis dynamic which has already had its prominent stability bias enhanced by 30mm widening of the rear track. Fortunate for Skoda then that Austria obliged the drivetrain with a three-hour downpour. With the roads at an everglade level of wet its smarts crop up consistently enough: the assuredness in low-speed corners, the supreme tidiness of pull aways, the nonchalance of high-speed overtaking.
As expected, the dependable vibe suits the Octavia well. Its progressive steering is able and accurate enough and what the power source misses in fireworks it counters with responsive, get-me-there urge. Team it with the slick new glass infotainment interface, very decent Alcantara seats, an ergonomically astute dashboard and the sheer roominess of the interior and boot, and the vRS starts to make its customary amount of sense.
Should I buy one?
Skoda has rendered a respectably capable all-weather prospect here; one without many direct rivals. That it is still not especially fast doesn’t mean it won’t be quick enough for those who prefer their performance options to come with a reasonable range attached, and the addition of all-wheel drive does just enough in poor conditions to make its fitment vaguely appealing.
The premium isn’t tremendously steep either at £1490 – although the total price ought to cause some pause for thought: at £28,130 (and £29,330 for the wagon), the proximity of something like a Passat GT is noticeable – as is the gap opened up from the entry-level vRS. All things considered, the Octavia’s most compelling compromise of pace and practicality remains at the most affordable level – but four-wheel drive does its reputation for prudency no harm.
Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0-litre TDI DSG 4x4
Location Vienna, Austria; On sale Now; Price £28,130; Engine 4 cyls inline, 1968cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 181bhp at 3500-4000rpm;Torque 280lb ft at 1750-3250; Kerb weight 1475kg; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch auto; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Top speed 142mph;Economy 55.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 134g/km, 28%; Rivals Volkswagen Golf GTD; Ford Focus ST-3 TDCI