If you want a new Golf GTI in load-hauling form, this is about as close as you’ll get

What is it?

Given the calibre of the products in recent years, very much including the new Skoda Octavia, it is a damn sight easier now more than ever to dispense with misplaced brand snobbery when it comes to Skoda.

Not only that, but fail to see past the badge and you might even unwittingly cheat yourself out of owning one of those rare ‘sweet spot’ cars that effortlessly melds many talents, because the latest Skoda Octavia vRS Estate is essentially the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf GTI wagon that Volkswagen won’t build.

To varying extents, this has been true since the very first Skoda Octavia vRS Estate landed in 2005. But now in its fourth generation, Skoda’s hot wagon shadows the Golf GTI’s make-up very closely indeed – perhaps more closely than ever, both inside the elegant cabin and beneath the bodywork.

Available in estate and hatchback forms, the 2021-model-year Octavia vRS uses the same 242bhp engine as its GTI cousin (and in an identical state of tune), offers the same six-speed manual and seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) gearboxes, and uses the same modular VW Group platform, although the wheelbase has been extended by around 5cm for Skoda, so there’s more rear leg room. There’s also the same 15mm drop in ride height compared with regular models in the range and, of course, the typical array of visual tweaks.

You can now also have the Octavia vRS with the same adaptive dampers as the Golf GTI, whose ‘digital slider’ selection tool allows you to choose not merely between two or three settings for damper response but dozens, ranging from extra soft to extra firm. Both cars also use the same VAQ ‘limited-slip differential’, which is actually an electronically controlled clutch pack mounted outside the differential housing and on one of the driveshafts, although it achieves the same aim of nixing wheelspin and variably distributing torque. An Octavia vRS with four-wheel drive is coming, but the sole powertrain option will be a 197bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel.

As ever with Skoda, the really interesting bit concerns price. At £32,695 in DSG form, rising to £33,620 if you choose the optional Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers (and you should), the Octavia vRS Estate costs £1340 less than Volkswagen asks for the DSG-equipped Golf GTI hatch. It’s this, more than anything, that makes the Skoda impossible to ignore.

3 Skoda octavia vrs estate 2020 uk fd hero rear

What's it like?

However, in reality, there’s plenty that separates the two cars on the road. The Octavia vRS inhabits the less exciting, more laid-back role its long body suggests. Its light steering is marginally less direct than typical hot hatch fare, meaning you have to do more to draw the nose right into the apex of corners, although it’s still a pleasingly accurate car.

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The 2.0-litre turbo motor is also notably subdued, even under big loads – not necessarily what the typical Golf GTI buyer wants but perhaps just right for the fast estate driver who’s looking for something more rounded. In a similar vein, straight-line performance is strong enough for overtaking on a whim, but the car never surges forward with much excitement.

It’s more stately than that, and the dampers can now be softened off to the extent that progress can actually become a little nauseating. However, with so many options, rarely is it too taxing to find the right blend between control and suppleness. This is, as ever, an extremely easy car to get along with.

8 Skoda octavia vrs estate 2020 uk fd dashboard

Should I buy one?

Even so, I’d find the extra £2000 needed to buy the Ford Focus ST Estate in manual form.

With its full-bodied 2.3-litre engine, it isn’t as efficient as the Skoda, and neither is the cabin as nice to behold, but it’s more rewarding to drive and wears its bigger heart on its sleeve.

2 Skoda octavia vrs estate 2020 uk fd hero side

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

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405line 1 December 2020

"Given the calibre of the products in recent years, it is a damn sight easier now more than ever to dispense with misplaced brand snobbery when it comes to Skoda" The inverse of this sentiment is that VAG are selling you over priced vehicles that aren't worth it unless you like to count "bolt ons". This group of companies has completely lost the plot and are trying to bamboozle the public because VW itself is tarnished. The Bentley boys will be dismayed no doubt at the quilted seat coverings and other VAG "sign posts" that are being deployed in down markets marques, have they now fitted damped grab rails and such the like to skodas? The fact is all of their cars are the same and you decide how much you think they are worth based on brand snobbery. Porsche was a Czech (considered sub human at the time) so perhaps it's VAGs way of "hommage" to it's creator.

Bimfan 30 November 2020

Probably a better car than the Golf GTI as a daily driver, but still lacks the cachet of that iconic name and brand.

si73 30 November 2020
Not so keen on the looks, especially the front but it still looks better than the golf to my eyes, also seems really well priced for such a quick well equipped estate car.