Divisive headlights mark out excellent new Skoda Octavia vRS.
Skoda’s excellent Octavia – based on a Volkswagen Golf-sized platform, but offering all the space of something like a Volkswagen Passat – has recently been given a striking facelift and after the regular cars in the range received the new look, it’s now time for the top two models to have the same treatment. The off-road Scout we’ll deal with elsewhere, so here we’re looking purely at the performance iteration, badged vRS.
You can have this desirable Skoda with either a 184-horsepower 2.0-litre diesel engine or a 230hp 2.0-litre TSI petrol; this latter unit is up on grunt by 10hp compared to the pre-facelift model, so that trims the 0-62mph time by two-tenths of a second.
The vRS is available as both a five-door hatch and also an estate, with a six-speed manual gearbox fitted as standard and a six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic optionally available for £1,390 – if you want the 4x4 vRS models, you get the diesel engine and the DSG transmission only.
Later in 2017, a more focused, more powerful vRS 245 – with 245hp, hence the badge – will arrive, although for now, having driven a wide variety of facelifted Octavia vRS models, we’re going to focus on our favourite: the manual 230 hatchback.
The big talking point as you approach the revised Octavia (although this applies to any 2017MY Octavia, not just the vRS) is those split headlights. Skoda should at least be commended for not carrying out a hard-to-spot mid-life overhaul, but it’s clear that these two-piece lamp clusters are not going to be to all tastes.
The rest of the Octavia is very lightly airbrushed, still leaving the crisp, attractive fastback look of the big Czech car. The vRS now has full LED headlights with a crystalline design (inherited from the Kodiaq SUV) and it comes with the key signifiers that it’s the hot model, such as a discreet body kit, twin trapezoid exhaust outlets, large alloys of at least 18 inches in diameter, a rear boot spoiler on the hatch, and subtle badging.
Inside, full Alcantara seats are now standard and the top-of-the-range Columbus infotainment is presented on a gorgeous 9.2-inch (eight inches as standard) touchscreen in the centre stack that’s really easy to use and packed with decent features, like satellite navigation with Google mapping and SmartLink+ phone connectivity. There’s also a wireless charging facility for smartphones and a ten-speaker Canton high-end sound system.
Additionally, Performance Mode selection, 10-colour ambient lighting, and the super-sport three-spoke leather multifunction steering wheel, with paddle shifts and heating functionality, are all chucked in. As are a host of driver assistance systems, including (but not limited to) Blind Spot Detect, Trailer Assist, Park Assist 3.0 with Rear-View Camera, and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Perhaps the best news about the 230 hatchback manual is that, not only is it our favourite model to drive, but it’s also the cheapest Octavia vRS at £25,130 on-the-road. An estate is £1,200 more than the equivalent hatchback, diesel commands a £30 premium over petrol, and the four-wheel-drive system will set you back £1,580. However, that means even the top money for an Octavia vRS – the 2.0 TDI 184 DSG 4x4 Estate, at £29,330 – is still below the 30-grand threshold. That’s incredible value for money, all things considered, and it puts you in a great frame of mind before you’ve even turned a wheel of the Skoda in anger.
How does it drive?
Brilliantly. There are obviously much more potent cars in this sector and ones that will give you a more involving drive, but the Octavia vRS runs even the finest dynamic machines from rivals very close – and then it adds in comfort and composure in great big dollops to seal the deal. Only the hardest of hearts could fail to love the Skoda.
The shining star in the firmament is the engine. It might only have gained 10hp from its old ‘standard’ application (there was a vRS 230 launched towards the end of the life of the pre-facelift car that matched this updated Octavia), but it feels so much zingier than we ever remember it. The way it pulls so cleanly and in a crisp, linear fashion, the way it revs out so sweetly without becoming coarse or shuddery, the way it will haul the vRS from town speeds to huge velocity in one glorious rush of acceleration if you hold the car in fourth… it’s mesmerizingly good.
And the Octavia vRS correspondingly feels every bit as potent as its on-paper figures suggest; in fact, it feels even more lively than that. A slight niggle is the artificiality of the soundtrack at lower speeds, but once you’ve got the four-cylinder motor singing round to the 6,000rpm redline a few times, you’ll soon forget about any such gripes.
In terms of slickness, the six-speed manual gearbox is not one of the finest exemplars of its type, yet it snicks home with enough precision and authority to make it a pleasure to use. And the pedals are just right for heel-and-toe downshifts, the brakes biting beautifully as you come down the ratios and blip the throttle as you go. It’s marvellous fun.
It even feels like Skoda has improved the steering, because there’s a lovely heft and weight to the set-up, plus utterly faithful responses. Sure, it could do with a touch more feedback, but it’s certainly up there with the best systems on front-wheel-drive cars in this segment. And body control is good too – not so firm that the Octavia vRS feels jittery on poor surfaces, yet rigid enough to prevent lean and scruffy understeer from appearing when you barrel in hot to a tight corner.
Throttle back in the Czech motor and its whole case doesn’t fall apart. The ride is on the firmer side of comfortable yet it’s never unpleasant, even in town and running on 18-inch rims, while wind and tyre noise are both well suppressed at motorway speeds. In truth, we couldn’t tell much of a difference between the Comfort and Sport settings of the adjustable Dynamic Chassis Control dampers, but both of them offered a great trade-off between ride comfort and dynamic acuity to make this particular observation redundant.
In short, just a few tiny, tiny areas that could be further improved denote the Octavia vRS 230’s otherwise exceptional driving abilities – and we think the limited-slip differential equipped 245 model might just address those. If it does, and the price is right, it’s going to be a belting car.
Should I buy one?
Definitely yes. In fact, we’d go so far as to say we prefer the Octavia vRS to the Volkswagen Golf GTI. There are faster hot hatchbacks and there are rivals that are sharper to drive than this Skoda, but very few cars offer such an appealing blend of high-end, all-round abilities as the Czech motor.
Those simply after the vRS badge cachet could stick with a diesel estate with a DSG transmission and it would be a wonderful daily driver, but if you want maximum thrills from your fast Czech car, you need this sublime vRS 230 hatchback with a clutch pedal in the driver’s footwell. For the money, it’s a nigh-on unbeatable performance machine.
Gallery: 2017 Skoda Octavia vRS First Drive