The third generation Skoda Octavia vRS follows a well-established routine. Family hot hatch performance for reasonable money. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
You know the Skoda Octavia vRS. It's the car you dread to see in your rear view if you're making progress a bit enthusiastically on the motorway. The police buy them because they're subtle, fast, reliable and affordable; four attributes that work well with private buyers too. The current model gets the option of 4WD and a pokier 230PS petrol engine. But even the base 220PS version still gets to 62mph in 6.5 seconds and tops out at 154mph. In other words, don't be tempted to try to outsprint one.
Yes, the vRS is the go-faster model of the Skoda Octavia range, launched at a time when going faster seems to be about as socially acceptable as a Gary Glitter comeback tour, but stick with it. There's a lot more to this car than flicking the vees at the mandated speed limit. The vRS has long been a car that's all about making discreet progress, which is why they're the darlings of motorway police the length and breadth of the country. They're capable but subtle. Granted, a GATSO camera's not going to differentiate between a navy blue Octavia and a lime green Lambo, but if you prefer not to draw attention to the fact that you enjoy your driving, the vRS is a wholly informed choice. This one's the third generation vRS model, although those of you with longer memories might well recall the first generation car initially being badged an RS. That car first appeared in 2001, with the bigger and better built second generation model arriving in 2005. This signalled a change from a 1.8-litre turbo four to a 2.0-litre engine, adding 18PS in the process and lifting peak power to 200PS. The latest vRS one-ups that once again, offering a choice of 220 or 230PS 2.0-litre turbo petrol engines, with a 184PS 2.0-litre diesel also offered in both two and four-wheel drive guies.
Of course, you want to know how quick the VRS is. I did. So, being completely useless at suspense, here's the detail. The 2.0-litre TSI petrol driving through a six-speed manual gearbox will punt the 220PS petrol Octavia vRS to 62mph in only 6.8 seconds: the 230PS model manages that benchmark a tenth of a second faster and gets an electronic limited slip differential to help get the power down. The maximum speed is around 155mph. Plump instead for the diesel engine and you're looking at 8.1 seconds to 62mph and a top speed of 144mph. There's a six-speed manual gearbox as standard but all models can be specified with a DSG dual clutch transmission if you have a lazy left leg. The diesel gets a 4x4 option too. Firmer suspension has been fitted to improve body control, as this latest generation Octavia is a significantly bigger car than its predecessor. The hatch's ride height has been lowered by 12mm compared to the standard Octavia, with the Octavia vRS estate getting a 13mm drop. The design features a heavily revised multi-link axle, as well as an electronic differential lock XDS integrated into the electronic stability control (ESC). This function improves the traction of the wheels and reduces the tendency to understeer in fast cornering. Electro-mechanical progressive steering provides accuracy and fast responses.
Design and Build
Available in either hatch or estate guise, the Octavia vRS features a front grille with honeycomb air intakes, a unique front bumper and fog lights as well as bi-xenon headlights with integrated LED daytime running lights. Other highlights include the red-lacquered brake calipers and a choice of 17, 18 or 19-inch alloy wheels. You'll get the best ride quality on the standard 17-inch Dorado alloys, with their 45-series tyre profile. Step up to the 18-inch rims and that tyre profile drops to 40 series, so you'll find B-roads a bit more garrulous. I probably wouldn't recommend the 19-inch wheels for this country's roads although the Xtrem alloys do look great finished in black. The rear end is dominated in the lower section by a strong black diffuser, overlying wide reflector spotlight and the two large, trapezoidal-shaped chrome exhaust tailpipes. There's also a spoiler, which, on the estate vRS, is fitted as a roof-edge item. Space inside is extremely generous.Tthe vehicle has grown significantly in length (+88 mm, estate +86 mm) and width (+45 mm). At the same time, the wheelbase has risen by 102mm, greatly boosting rear leg room. Materials quality has improved and there's stacks of clever storage ideas. They include foldable cargo elements for the boot which also gets a double-sided floor covering, then there's a multimedia holder with space for an iPod, a mobile phone and the like. The boot volume in the Octavia vRS hatch is 590-litres, while in the estate vRS, it's 610-litres.
Market and Model
Prices range from just over £24,000 to around £29,000 and there's a choice of two bodystyles, hatch or an estate, the station wagon requiring a premium of around £1,200. Pricing is very similar whether you go for the 220PS petrol model or the 184PS 2.0 TDI diesel, but progressing from the 220PS petrol variant to the 230PS petrol verson requires quite a price hike - just over £2,100. Still, the pokier model does include quite a bit more equipment - an electronic limited slip differential, heated electrically adjustable leather seats, 19" wheels and park assist. DSG automatic transmission is an option acrss the range - and you have to have it if you go for the diesel and decide to pay the £1,500 premium for 4x4 traction. Across the vRS range, the interior features integrated ambient lighting for the internal door handles, well-designed sports seats for the driver and passenger and a sporty three-spoke steering wheel with perforated leather. The gear stick and handbrake are trimmed in leather while the sill plates and pedals are stainless steel. The instrument panel gets a full colour Maxi DOT display in its own vRS design. The steering wheel, gear stick, door sill panels, seats and floor mats all sport the vRS logo. The Octavia vRS features an integrated safety system with Front Assistant and city emergency braking, Lane Assistant to keep you on track, Automatic Post Collision Braking System with automatic brake intervention in the event of an accident, Crew Protect Assistant to protect the vehicle under accident conditions and the Driver Fatigue Sensor. In the event of an accident, a comprehensive package of passive safety features work to provide the best possible protection for the driver and passengers with up to nine airbags.
Cost of Ownership
As well as offering a good deal more pace and space, the latest Octavia vRS doesn't do at all badly on economy and emissions. Of course, the diesel version does best, managing 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and 115g/km of CO2 in hatch manual form - or 62.8mg and 117g/km as an estate. Go for the 4x4 diesel version and the respective figures fall to 57.6mpg and 129g/km. Or 56.5mpg and 131g/km. In the petrol range, the returns are largely similar, whether you go for the 220PS or 230PS versions. That means 45.6mpg and 142g/km in a hatch manual model: or 44.8mpg and 143g/km if you choose the estate. Start-Stop and Brake Energy Regeneration are fitted as standard.
The Skoda Octavia vRS does nothing particularly radical - but then it doesn't need to. It has established a profitable niche for itself in offering a model that's presentable, rapid, discreet and which won't break the bank. Buying a quick car is no longer the no-brainer decision it once was, especially when the budgetary constraints of a growing family look likely to stymie your plans. The vRS offers all the solid common sense of the Skoda brand with more than enough about it to reassure anyone that they're not on the fast track to pipe and slippersville. Downsides? There aren't really too many to mention. If you're the sort of person who'll feel the irresistible draw of the Volkswagen or Audi brands, you probably won't give the less overtly slick Octavia the time of day. Still, that just leaves the vRS as a potential winner for anyone who doesn't feel the need for a more prestige badge. When the outside lane of the motorway clears like Moses parting the Red Sea before you, you'll probably realise it was money well spent.