Tested: 2.0-litre TDi 184PS 4x4 DSG
Words By Wayne Gorrett
Regarded quite rightly as a hot ‘hatch’ bargain, Škoda's Octavia vRS has offered affordable, engaging performance and generous practicality since its introduction in 1996.
The third generation Octavia reached the UK market in the spring of 2013 and recently received a number of aesthetic and technical upgrades for its 2017 model year, all of which are incorporated on the top-spec Octavia vRS tested this week.
As before, the Octavia vRS is also available as an estate for added versatility and practicality and offers a range of petrol and diesel engines, six-speed manual or DSG transmissions and 4x4 capabilities.
Aesthetic upgrades to the standard 2017 Octavia are relatively minor and Škoda has focused on areas that needed changing, rather than fixing what wasn’t broken. Outside, there’s a new grille, split LED headlights, C-shaped rear lights clusters and, of course, front and rear vRS badging.
Technical enhancements include increased performance for the 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine from 220PS to 230PS and there is a warmer 245PS variant now available on the configurator.
Equipment, Space and Practicality
The transformation of the standard Octavia into vRS guise doesn't hurt its generous accommodation. Front and rear occupants are enjoy good head and legroom, while the boot space of the hatchback at 590 litres is very good indeed. The cabin offers well-sized door bins and a generous centre console cubby too.
Sitting atop the Octavia trim-grades as it does, the vRS is exceptionally well equipped. Standard kit includes multi-function steering wheel with DSG paddles, sculptured sports seats, vRS embossed kickplates, parking sensors, Amundsen satellite navigation, cruise control, driver fatigue sensor, driving mode selection (eco/comfort/sport/custom), dual-zone air conditioning, front fog lights, lane assist, a wi-fi hotspot and LED rear lights. The vRS wears 18-inch ‘Gemini’ alloys as standard and, with its ride height reduced by 15mm and a 38mm wider rear track, its aggressive stance is reinforced.
The layout of the Octavia vRS is pleasingly straightforward, with clear separation between controls with clearly labelled buttons and switches. Also, the Octavia doesn't fall into the usual trap of putting all the controls on the touchscreen, leaving key functions such as heating, cooling and ventilation to dedicated switches.
Despite the sporting approach, the Octavia vRS sacrifices little comfort in the name of performance. Although riding on 18-inch wheels, the stiffer suspension doesn’t impact on the ride quality as much as you would expect and only the harshest lumps, bumps and crusty surfaces cause any disturbance in the cabin. The excellent seats offer extra support too, while road and engine noise are kept in check at sensible speeds.
Engine, Drivetrain and Performance
Our Octavia vRS test car was fitted with the characteristically strong 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel engine – the same oil burner deployed in the Volkswagen Golf GTD, which we tested recently. It offers 184PS and a useful 380Nm available from just 1,750rpm.
Left to its own devices or via the flappy paddles, the six-speed DSG automatic sends all power to all four wheels, shoving the standing vRS to 62mph in 7.6 seconds, peaking at an unrestricted 142mph.
Ride and Handling
On the road, the Octavia vRS shows its VW Group DNA through and through. It now feels and drives like the proper four-door contender it always aspired to be. However, the longer wheelbase and extra weight negates any notion of it giving the Golf GTD a run for its money.
At slower urban speeds the Octavia vRS barely feels sporty at all – due in part to the more sophisticated and quieter multi-link rear axle. It’s altogether rather civilised and in tune with the car’s Jekyll & Hyde character.
Pressing on when the need arises takes very little effort thanks to the usual surfeit of grip from the 4x4 system. The steering is precise rather than expressive and quick directional changes are handled assuredly with noticeable degree of neutrality from the well-engineered chassis.
The Škoda Octavia vRS is essentially a less emotive purchase than most of its overheated rivals and the 2.0-litre diesel – even with the surefootedness of the 4x4 system – is a difficult car to get too excited about. Besides, I can’t help thinking the 245PS vRS petrol will offer much more driver engagement and fun for your buck.
Unless your exterior colour of choice is Rallye Green, the sedate styling inside and out means the Octavia vRS is unlikely to turn heads like the SEAT Leon Cupra would, but it looks smart in an understated way and is solidly built. It's also one of the roomiest in its class and the Golf GTD-sourced diesel is punchy, efficient and relatively smooth.
But while many other hot hatches, sedans and estates are more engaging or characterful, the Octavia vRS offers composed pace while remaining practical, solid and incredibly good value.