What is it?
Skoda knows its place in the Volkswagen Group hierarchy. While colleagues at Seat, Volkswagen and Audi have a licence to push higher up the performance hatch food chain, the Czech brand stoically champions its principle of putting value first.
That means that its vRS performance sub-brand has been neglected of late, with Fabia versions axed despite a strong presence in top-level rallying and rumoured plans of a Superb vRS shelved in the wake of Dieselgate.
The only car in Skoda’s current line-up that's allowed a high-performance variant is the Octavia hatchback. As our earlier drive of the facelifted vRS showed, it’s a creditable car but lacks the dynamic finesse its rivals offer. Now a new range-topper has joined the line-up looking to address that.
Previously the limited-run Octavia vRS 230 sat at the top of the pile, but for the facelift it has evolved into the vRS 245 (with 242bhp), which will not have a limited production run and is available in hatchback and estate forms.
Updates over the regular petrol vRS model (which has the same output as the outgoing vRS 230) include work on the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, which gets a new turbo, oil pump, injectors, manifold, timing chain, fuel pump and pistons. As a result, 227bhp becomes 242bhp and 258lb ft of torque becomes 273lb ft.
On the outside, there's some black detailing and massive, blinged-up 19in alloy wheels, as well as, importantly (and just like the earlier 230), an electronic differential on the front axle and a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, all of which command a premium of £2500 over the standard vRS.
What's it like?
The general flavour of the car is not dissimilar to the usual vRS qualities we’re accustomed to. All of the positive traits remain: a flexible ride with a pleasant, well-built cabin and truly cavernous space. The boost in power is only subtle and shaves just a tenth of a second off the car's 0-62mph time (now 6.6sec), so it still feels free-revving and powerful, if a little slow to build up the pace from low revs. It’s also a little less impressive in the grand scheme of this segment now that other hot hatches are pushing the 300bhp mark with all-wheel drive set-ups at a similar price bracket.
But the biggest dynamic difference over the rest of the vRS range comes as a result of the e-diff. The vRS 245 is noticeably better at putting down its power out of corners than the standard vRS; it will still understeer, but not to the extent the standard model does. The agile front end is only let down slightly by steering which, although precise, light and quick, doesn’t offer much feel and robs the driver of some enjoyment.
Eco, Comfort, Normal and Sport drive modes are available via a vRS button on the centre console that alters the steering, throttle response and gearshifts. In Sport, the car really livens up and the upgraded exhaust that the 245 gets sounds great, if a little artificially enhanced, while an Individual mode lets you mix and match settings. Adaptive dampers (part of the car's dynamic chassis control DCC system) help to soften the ride at a cruise or firm it up when pressing on, but even in Comfort the suspension is still firm, although not quite as jarring as that of the Ford Focus ST.
Also newly available with the vRS 245 is a seven-speed DSG, as opposed to the six-speed unit for the rest of the range. Like the six-speeder, it shifts quickly and calmly during regular driving while becoming more aggressive in Sport, but it can be slightly hesitant on kickdown. The extra ratio means that the engine is not only more powerful but also more efficient - a claimed 42.8mpg combined in the 230 becomes 44.1mpg in the 245 – and it makes cruising even more refined and relaxing than before.
And underneath it all, it’s an Octavia. It gets a solid driving position with loads of adjustability and great visibility out of the cabin, a top-notch touchscreen infotainment system (which now gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring), and it’s generally massive and practical inside. It’s a thoroughly commendable product that is now closer than ever to being as entertaining as it is practical.
Should I buy one?
The Octavia vRS still makes the most sense at the entry level of its line-up, but this range-topping 245 certainly stakes a claim for consideration by delivering a pretty fantastic package of everyday usability and driver-focused vigour. It’s expensive, but still cheaper than the Volkswagen Golf GTI and only a bit more than the Focus ST. And although it’s slightly slower than both, it could prove to be the easiest of the three to live with.
These improvements make the 245 worth the £2500 premium over the 230, but for the most enjoyment, and to shave some money off the list price, we’d stick with the slick manual gearbox on the 245.
Whichever guise you choose, this is the fastest, most powerful and most complete Octavia vRS yet.
Skoda Octavia vRS 245 DSG
Location Italy; On sale Now; Price £28,985; Engine 4 cyls, 1968cc, turbo, petrol; Power 242bhp at 5000rpm; Torque 273lb ft at 1600rpm; Kerb weight 1390kg; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; 0-62mph 6.6sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 44.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 146g/km, 28%; Rivals Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST