It’s an impressive sight that fittingly expresses the scale of Skoda’s involvement with the town. The company’s premises take up a third of the town’s municipal area. Over 75 per cent of Mladá Boleslav’s economically active inhabitants are employed by Skoda and unemployment is among the lowest in the Czech Republic. No wonder they all drive the dream, however old, however humble. There is no stigma attached to tooling around in a 40-year-old 100L, of which there seem to be an implausible number, some running on hope and a prayer, some just on prayer.
We’ve come to Mladá to drive the fastest and most powerful production Skoda ever, the new Octavia vRS. It’s good for almost 150mph. And rust isn’t a colour option: the Race Blue finish of our estate is one of the three new colours.
The vRS is something of an image-breaker. Not least, of course, because of the big numbers attached to the engine. It’s the same 2.0-litre 16-valve direct-injection FSI turbo that powers the Golf GTi and develops 197bhp and 207lb ft of torque between 1800 and 5000rpm. The closest any other Octavia engine gets to that is the naturally aspirated 2.0 FSI. And it isn’t that close, trailing by 50bhp and 59lb ft. There are nippy Octavias and brisk Octavias and then there’s the vRS, with its claimed top speed of 148mph and 7.3 sec 0-62mph time. Different league.
The ventilated disc brakes are rather larger, too. Naturally, Skoda has painted the calipers green to draw attention to the fact. The colour flashes vividly through the 10-spoke alloys. It all looks very tasty, with a 12mm reduction in ride height and pencil-line tyres. Bodyshell reinforcement further bolsters the hard-core cred.
The styling of the vRS is more than understated, the way Skoda likes it. The 17-inch alloys are the big clue, but there are also twin chromed exhaust pipes, chunkier bumpers and sills, those knucklesome green brake calipers, numerous stylised vRS badges and reflectors in the rear bumper. The hatch has a tailgate spoiler, the estate does not. Mostly, however, the vRS looks more warmed over than red-hot.
Given its on-paper assets, the vRS can’t help but be a multi-layered talent, recalling elements of the Golf GTi but in a still more practical and versatile wrapper. Looked at another way, it should combine rapid and rewarding performance with dynamic tenacity (if not quite the Golf’s fleetness of foot) and a low-fatigue driving environment. Head-scratchingly good build quality is a given. And all for £18,200. Choose a front-drive Audi A4 Avant with the same engine and you’re looking at £24k.
For the first handful of miles, the vRS feels quick, but not that quick. There’s a slight dullness to the throttle response at low to medium revs. It isn’t that it doesn’t pull well, just that it does so with little apparent urgency. It simply doesn’t do part-throttle exuberance. Bury the throttle in the carpet, though, and the FSI turbo not only starts sound special – gruff, but in a smooth George Clooney kind of way – it also hauls like 200 horses should, scything through four, five and six thousand revs on a soaring curve of aerobic energy that shows no sign of ebbing, even as it closes in on the cut-out. It’s all very smoothly administered; the vRS’s speed is obvious and immensely satisfying.
Many of the Bohemian roads we pitted against the vRS’s chassis are poorly surfaced and awkwardly cambered; by turns fast and flowing and almost demonically twisty. Grip, poise and a responsive, faithful helm are the keys to making decent progress with deceptively little effort. The vRS has all three in abundance. And a great gearchange. Not the world’s fastest, but with a satisfyingly compact action.