Long heralded as a kind of cut-price alternative to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the latest Skoda Octavia vRS is arguably a car that can be bought entirely on its own merits.
Yes, it’s largely similar to its VW cousin under the skin, and it’s certainly cheaper – by three grand or so – but Skoda’s brand image is now strong enough to appreciate the vRS for what it is: a spacious, comfortable, rapid way of moving yourself or your family from place to place slightly more discreetly than other hot hatchbacks will manage.
carwow has spent a week with the brand-new vRS to bring you our verdict – is this the practical performance car you’ve been waiting for?
Initially we worried that the Octavia vRS looked a little bland, a concern we’ve had with all recent Skodas we’ve had on test. But, like all most of those other Skodas, the latest car’s handsome lines really grow on you and by the end of the week it was a car we felt proud to park on the driveway.
Supplied in the same shade of white as our previous 1.6 TDI test car, it’s easy to pick out what’s different about the vRS. At the front, you get a set of bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights. The grille features a prominent vRS badge, and below that the bumper is entirely new – not a great deal deeper than the original, but featuring large honeycomb sections and new, slimmer foglamp clusters.
Along the side, it’s nearly identical (no deep side skirts here) but enhanced immeasurably by a set of 18-inch ‘Gemini’ alloy wheels wrapped in 225/40 R18 tyres. The car also sits 15mm lower than the regular Octavia on uprated springs and dampers. At the rear, changes are also subtle – the bumper has a cleaner look, the black rear element has a red strip running along it, and there are cutouts for the twin exhaust pipes. There’s also a neat rear spoiler and of course, vRS badging.
The end result is a car that looks purposeful without shouting about its performance, and it’s easier to appreciate than the slightly dull standard car as a result. We’d be tempted to go with a more interesting colour though – Meteor Grey, Sprint Yellow and Candy Green Metallic all give the vRS a distinctly different character.
Like the exterior, the Octavia’s innards grew on us over time. There are few physical differences to separate it from more humdrum Octavias, but this low-key approach actually makes a lot of sense for a car designed to be used every day.
Firstly, the vRS-specific parts: There’s a new three-spoke steering wheel with perforated leather and a slightly flat bottom. There are new dials with silver detailing, a vRS-branded gearknob, a set of aluminium-faced pedals and most importantly of all, some attractive and supportive front bucket seats. There’s also a mild smattering of a carbon-fibre-style but very-obviously-plastic trim on the door cards and centre console.
It’s all unremittingly grey inside but you can’t help appreciate that Skoda really knows how to hit its ergonomic marks. The relationship between seat, wheel, pedals and gearlever is spot-on, with plenty of adjustment. This makes for a driving position that isn’t just comfortable for longer journeys (we managed a 3.5 hour run with no discomfort) but also perfectly set up for performance driving.
Lest we forget, aft of the ideal driving environment is a hugely spacious cabin with a massive 590-litre boot, so it does the family or business-driving thing with ease. There are lots of places to stow objects too, and while quality isn’t quite up to VW or Audi levels we endured no rattles and everything feels built to last.
Modern hot hatchbacks are remarkable ground-coverers. The Octavia vRS is no exception, but this is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because the vRS has as much grip and performance as you’ll ever need on the road, comfortably dispatching town, country, A-road and motorways with equal ease.
It’s a curse because cars like the Octavia are so unbelievably competent that to really enjoy the sensations of speed you need to be driving at a pace that feels borderline irresponsible on public roads. At anything less than this, everything feels just a little ordinary.
That’s not a slight solely directed at the Octavia of course, but the vRS’s slightly subdued cabin does add to the “dull repmobile” feeling when you’re not exploiting its talents. It’s then that the car’s firm ride starts to grate, as does an annoying resonance through the body on poor road surfaces, similar to the one we experienced in the Skoda Rapid earlier in the year.
The vRS really is fantastic fun when you’re pushing it hard, however. The steering could offer more feel, but pick Sport mode from the car’s vRS settings and the weighting is excellent. It’s precise too, the nose goes just where you point it, the chassis feels well-balanced and the XDS electronic locking differential provides plenty of traction. The brakes are hugely strong and easy to modulate too, and that firm ride translates to excellent body control.
Open the bonnet, and nestled within the Octavia’s large engine bay is a 2.0-litre engine with 217bhp from 4,600-6,200rpm, and 258 lb-ft of torque between 1,500rpm and 4,400rpm. Despite having just 160 miles on the clock when it was dropped off, the vRS felt every bit as strong as its numbers suggest.
The engine was still a little tight, losing interest about 1,500rpm before the red line, but realistically the turbocharged petrol unit does its best work throughout the mid range – as those power and torque figures suggest. Once you crest 1,500rpm the thrust rushes in and continues to do so in every gear. Officially, you’ll hit 62mph in 6.8 seconds and continue on to 154mph.
Like many turbocharged motors, throttle response isn’t as crisp as a naturally-aspirated car. There are times when your chosen throttle opening doesn’t elicit enough acceleration. Press harder, and suddenly you’ll surge forward – as if there’s no happy medium between slow and fast progress. This was exacerbated on our test car by a gearshift that felt a little too notchy, perhaps due to the car’s low miles.
We loved the sound, though. In Normal or Eco modes, accessed via the vRS switch by the gearlever, the Octavia sounds like any bland turbocharged four you’d care to mention. Select Sport though and the Performance Sound Generator comes into play, enhancing induction and exhaust noise by sending vibrations through the body and windscreen. Is it a bit “fake”? Yes, but it’s also more convincing than it sounds, and really adds to the fun.
Value for money
Octavia vRS models in the five-door hatchback body style start at £23,755. Ours cost exactly a grand more, thanks to a £75 space saver spare wheel, a £75 double-sided boot floor cover, £100 of Apple device connection hardware and a £750 electric sunroof. The solid Candy White paintwork doesn’t cost a penny.
To us, that represents fairly good value. Even with our test car’s handful of options that’s £2,230 less than you’d pay for a five-door VW Golf GTI, or over three grand cheaper at its most basic. And it is, as you’ll be aware, a larger, more spacious vehicle.
Economy is just a touch behind at 45.6mpg combined to 47.1mpg, though this difference also adds £15 to the Skoda’s annual VED bill, at £145 a year. On test, we typically returned around 35mpg. On a thrash you’ll get a lot less, but on typical 60mph A-roads economy quickly climbed to around 40mpg. That’s not too bad, for the performance on offer, though Skoda does offer a TDI vRS with 61.4mpg if you’re buying more for looks than enjoyment.
Equipment levels aren’t bad – you get bi-xenon headlamps, LED rear lights and of course all the vRS styling goodies. While the standard ‘Bolero’ touchscreen display is easy enough to use, we’d be tempted to give up the £750 sunroof and spend £550 of your savings on the sat-nav equipped ‘Amundsen’ unit.
Considering a Skoda Octavia vRS? Go for it – in terms of value and ability it’s one of the best all-rounders we’ve driven this year. The vRS has excellent performance and firm ride aside, it’s as good a family vehicle as any other Octavia. And better than most other cars you’ll find for similar money.
Our one concern remains that if you’re buying a car to have a bit of fun with – and by that we mean exploring its handling capabilities rather than just accelerating away from traffic lights now and then – the vRS is actually so competent that you may be left wanting more at anything less than breakneck pace. If you aren’t looking at the Skoda for its family-carrying abilities, we’d be tempted to look at supermini hot hatches like the Peugeot 208 GTI, Ford Fiesta ST and MINI Cooper S. They’re a tad cheaper, and their nimble handling can be appreciated at slightly lower speeds.