Despite its implied status as the least athletic and exciting of the Octavia vRS brood, the TDI is not the one-dimensional clodhopper you might expect it to be.
The diesel engine is, of course, heavier than the petrol, but it doesn’t make the car feel noticeably nose-heavy by comparison, which has sometimes been the case in the past. Aided by the Octavia’s unusually long wheelbase for the class, the balance is also more neutral than you might expect, and direction changes are neat via the light but direct and pleasingly gritty steering.
It therefore isn’t hard to establish an enjoyable flow in the vRS TDI, not least because the spring and damper set-up is taut but still permits a calculated degree of heave.
Which is perhaps why there’s little doubt this car is at its best when driven at no more than a ‘committed canter’. Were you to pitch it into battle with more driver-centric front-driven hatches – such as the new BMW 128ti or Renault Mégane RS – the Skoda would find itself exposed painfully early on.
The faint slack in the suspension that makes the car such easy-going company when driven at lukewarm pace undoes the handling somewhat if you really throw the thing down an interesting B-road. Of course, optioning the DCC dampers – relatively cheap at £945 – would help, but even this would not overcome the greatest barrier Skoda has itself erected for the car, which is (again) the lack of any LSD-type hardware.
This isn’t so much of a problem on the way into corners, but too much enthusiasm anywhere between apex and exit – easily achieved, because of the robust torque delivery – and the progress becomes scruffy.
Traction-limited and on the soft side, the Octavia vRS TDI is therefore unlikely to tempt too many committed hot hatch enthusiasts. However, for the driver who needs diesel and is looking to upgrade into something that feels reasonably serious and is, in most circumstances, very capable indeed, the Skoda offers broad appeal.
At less than 1450kg, this Octavia vRS is not a particularly heavy car, and the engine’s torque duly made short work of the severe gradients that often have similarly powerful cars labouring away on Millbrook’s Hill Route.
However, at maximum attack, the drone of the engine quickly becomes tiring and for this reason alone there’s little satisfaction to be had from wringing the car’s neck.