Custodians of the previous Octavia vRS will feel familiar with the new car’s mechanical make-up, its various racy design cues and overall role in life, but they won’t so easily recognise the heavily revised interior.
Utilitarian dashboard plastic has given way to warm Alcantara with red stitching, and the multifunction steering wheel has been brought forward by what feels not one generation but two. Through it you can see the new digital instrument binnacle, while the car’s centre console is now dominated by a freestanding touchscreen, which isn’t so neatly integrated as the old system but is at least now at eye level.
What hits you is the perception of space. In its dimensions, the Mk4 car is only fractionally larger than its forebear, but the move to shift by wire for the stubby new gear selector has uncluttered the transmission tunnel. The more organically shaped panels also make the cabin feel less austere and, to some extent, less poky. It’s soothing in here.
However, while the black headlining and aluminium pedals give the vRS an effective sporting lift, there remain some exposed poor plastics, and the plastic-chrome controls are simply not sturdy enough either in look or feel to convince you this Octavia is the truly premium product Skoda is clearly aiming for.
Equally, though thuggishly bolstered and decently comfortable, the modular seats, with their integrated headrests, feel set too high for a genuinely serious driver’s car, and no amount of the matt carbonfibre-effect trim can change that.
What the Octavia can fall back on is its class-leading boot, sprawling leg room for rear-seat passengers and generous equipment. And that’s part of the appeal: behind the vRS badges is still an exceptionally well conceived family car.
Skoda Octavia infotainment and sat-nav
The VW Group’s move to a more touch-sensitive, button-free infotainment universe has not gone as smoothly as it would have liked. The new system in the Octavia is not especially intuitive, and it can be difficult to make quick adjustments on the fly.
The 10.25in Virtual Cockpit looks slick, offers good clarity and raises the car’s premium appeal, but the central 10.0in Columbus sat-nav display is less impressive. The touch-sensitive volume slider is especially frustrating while, on the screen itself, the home icon is positioned at the top left-hand corner – ideal for the car’s home market, but very poor ergonomically in any right-hand-drive model. There is at least the option of mirroring one’s smartphone, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both catered for.