The Skoda Octavia vRS has always been the family man's Golf GTI. While it may share a platform and engine with its German sibling, it hasn't been allowed to overshadow its smaller brother. Will the more powerful 230PS model change that? The experts at Car and Driving find out.
Ten Second Review
As you may have guessed from the name, the Skoda Octavia vRS 230 comes with an additional 10PS over the standard car, taking the total to 230PS. Skoda have also added an electronic limited slip differential to help tame things, while equipment levels are up too. But is this pokier engine worth more than £2,000 extra?
The Skoda Octavia has always offered bags of space at a bargain price ever since it was first sold in the UK back in 1998. Three years later Skoda shook up the sensible image with the first Octavia vRS. As the standard car was based on the fourth generation Volkswagen Golf, dropping in the 1.8-litre turbocharged engine from the GTI was a logical move. After building a cult following, Skoda were keen to repeat the formula in both the second and third generation Octavia. While a diesel option was - and still is - offered, it's the petrol model that has always been the performance flagship. The vRS 230 makes sure that is still the case by effectively using the Performance Pack from the Golf GTI to make the most powerful hot Skoda ever. Still, 230PS isn't much for a hot hatch these days, so what else can the vRS offer?
We might as well start with the headline power increase. The additional 10PS is released through a less restrictive exhaust system plus tweaks to the engine's electronic brain. The motor will now rev for an extra 200rpm and while peak torque is unchanged, it's available over a wider rev range. If those figures don't sound like much, you won't be surprised to find that the 0-62mph figure is only improved by a tenth of a second over the continuing 220PS vRS model - it's rated at 6.7 seconds if you opt for the manual hatchback. Top speed in the 230PS variant climbs by 1mph to the magic 155mph mark. More noticeable is the electronically controlled mechanical limited slip differential that gives the vRS improved traction off the line. During cornering, it can also help limit understeer by pulling the front of the car back on line as the diff starts to lock up. There are also bigger brakes to help slow the car sooner, although those hoping for suspension tweaks will be disappointed. Even with larger wheels standard, the springs and dampers are identical to the standard vRS. The option of adaptable dampers is also conspicuous in its absence, yet more proof that Volkswagen doesn't want the vRS to overshadow the Golf GTI.
Design and Build
Underneath the Octavia vRS sits the Volkswagen group's 'MQB' platform that is also found under the Audi A3 and of course the Golf. To put it simply, here's a sensibly styled Golf GTI 'Performance Pack' model, but one with a bigger boot, more spacious rear seats and the option of an estate bodyshell. At first glance, the vRS 230 doesn't look much different to the normal vRS. The biggest change is the addition of attractive 19" 'Xtreme' alloy wheels in black with polished metal highlights. Behind these sit red brake callipers, while the rear spoiler, door mirrors and the front grille are now black. Behind the 'Sunset' tinted windows are heated leather sports seats with electrical adjustment and sporty red detailing, satellite navigation and park assist. There's also xenon lights which contribute to a subtle change in look that is still different enough to tell those in the know that you've gone for the '230' over the normal vRS. You could argue that Skoda could have done more to differentiate this 230PS model but let's face it; you don't buy an Octavia (even a vRS) to scream 'look at me'. With that in mind, we'd say the changes are well judged.
Market and Model
Value has always been one of Skoda's strongest selling points. While the Czech maker's cars may not be downright cheap as they once were, they still offer a good 80-90% of the appeal of a Volkswagen at a price that undercuts the German brand. It's surprising then that at first glance, the £2,120 premium that Skoda charges vRS buyers to go from the standard 220PS model to this 230PS variant seems like a lot of extra money when the 'Performance Pack' option that changes the engine of a Golf GTI in exactly the same way costs less than £1,000 more. Still, Skoda would argue that you need to look past the mechanical changes and take into consideration everything that is included with the vRS 230. To spec a normal vRS with heated electrically adjustable leather seats, 19" wheels and park assist, you'll spend more than what it would cost to upgrade to the '230' model. That isn't even factoring in the increased performance and crucially, the limited slip differential. Bear in mind too that the resulting car you get works out over £1,000 cheaper than an equivalent five-door Golf GTI without a 'Performance Pack' fitted. On top of all that, the Octavia is also noticeably more practical as a family hatch thanks to it being that little bit bigger. All said, you could conceivably argue the proposition here to be a bit of a bargain.
Cost of Ownership
If cheap running costs are your biggest concern, then you might be better off considering the diesel vRS which offers decent performance with impressive economy. If petrol power is your preference or you just want the quickest Octavia available, the 230PS petrol version still isn't at all bad. Indeed, even with the additional ponies under the bonnet, economy and emissions are unchanged over the normal vRS. Go for the six speed manual gearbox and that means CO2 emissions of 142g/km and fuel economy of 45.6mpg on the combined cycle. Unlike many Volkswagen Group products, these figures actually worsen should you opt for the 'DSG' automatic gearbox. Emissions increase to 146g/km while economy drops to 44.1mpg, not the worst penalty, but a penalty nonetheless. The warranty is a standard three years and 60,000 miles (with the first two years unlimited mileage), although this can be extended to five years or 100,000 miles for an additional fee. Skodas also tend to hold their value better than many rivals, while reliability is also better than average too.
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. In creating the vRS 230, Skoda haven't suddenly released all of the untapped potential within the Octavia or significantly altered the car's character. Like putting a Performance Pack on a Golf GTI, there's just a little bit more go and a front end that is a bit more resistant to running wide or spinning up an inside front wheel under hard acceleration. If that sounds like faint praise, then you are very much mistaken. There's nothing wrong with the normal vRS: the 230 just gives you more of the good stuff with little to no penalty. Yes, it is more expensive but the increased levels of equipment make the price difference seem more than acceptable. If we were in the market for a vRS, we'd definitely tick the box for the '230' package.