You tend to see a predominance of Mercedes and Porsches in Stuttgart. They define the look of the town as much as the TV tower, the opera house and, well, the liberal sprinkling of Audis and VWs and the fine dusting of just about every other car you can think of. It’s a true mix; the initially noticeable bias ceases to seem unusual after a couple of hours. Home town advantages apply just as much to BMW in Munich, Audi in Ingolstadt and VW in Wolfsburg.
But Mladá Boleslav, an hour’s drive out of Prague, is different. This place really is Skodaville, a town so subsumed by its country’s most famous product it’s hard to shake the impression you’ve arrived in a weird post-communist dystopia where the rotting tendrils of the old regime still cling onto the decision about what the populace should drive. Not everyone who drives in Mladá Boleslav drives a Skoda, but you can travel for minutes along the main street and not see another make of car.
On the end of a 14-storey apartment block that faces the town’s plush Skoda dealership/museum a stone’s throw from the factory, the 100-year story of Skoda is being told in a 100-feet high painting. At the bottom, near street level, is the very first Skoda, the Laurin & Klement Voiturette A, made in Mladá Boleslav in 1905. It seems to be buried deep beneath the earth’s crust. High above, depicted sitting on a grass surface in the sun, is the latest Octavia. The slogan reads ‘100 Years of Evolution’.
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.