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.

The limits of this focused-looking car’s sportiness are laid bare when driven spiritedly on favourable B-roads. The addition of a limited-slip diff would help in this regard.

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.

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When given the opportunity to show what it can do, free from speed limits and other road users, the chassis is similarly unambitious. It does demonstrate hints of adjustability on turn-in, but thereafter remains fairly inert and, as on the road, scrappy and prone to understeer if you don’t get the application of power right on the way out of bends.

Again, warmer Tarmac and grippier tyres would help its cause, but fundamentally the car feels set up for security rather than dynamism.

Comfort and isolation

Without the optional DCC adaptive dampers, the car’s suspension tune exists as a compromise, albeit one Skoda will have attempted to optimise. As ever, the concern is that the suspension has been optimised for smoother European roads than our own, though happily this doesn’t seem to be the case.

In effect, what the Skoda gives away in ultimate handling precision and body control, it gains in usability and in its forgiving gait. There is an edge to the ride quality, and anyone expecting to find the cushioned waft achieved by the larger Superb will be disappointed, but overall it rides more serenely than its performance-infused superficial character would suggest.

Indeed, we’ve sampled the DCC dampers on the petrol vRS, and while they offer some improvement in outright comfort in their softest setting, the difference with the passive set-up isn’t night and day. Certainly, you are more likely to want the DCC dampers for the benefit they provide on B-roads, rather than motorways.

Of more concern are the Lamborghini-esque 19in wheels. Despite the soft, generous bucket seats, they still impart a slight prickliness to the ride quality, whichever suspension you have, with the effect particularly marked at lower speeds. They also generate plenty of road roar, as picked up by our testing microphones.

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