Every other month, we seem to find another reason not to buy the brilliant VW Golf GTI. Last time it was the Golf GTD, with GTI looks, near-GTI levels of performance, and the promise of 67mpg and 109/km CO2; now here's it’s the new Skoda Octavia vRS, which is like a Golf GTD, only bigger and nearly £3k cheaper.
What's the spec of the new Skoda Octavia vRS?
You can have your Octavia vRS with the same 217bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol out of the GTI, but sooner or later you’ll come over like a Dickensian street urchin and start wanting more, start hankering after the hot Golf’s 227bhp ‘Performance’ engine and its electronically controlled mechanical front diff, neither of which are available on the vRS.
So be a bit sensible and go for the £270 more expensive, TDI-powered Octavia instead: it’ll do 10-20 miles more on each gallon of fuel; it’s a chunky £2680 cheaper than the equivalent five-door Golf GTD (and £3.2k less than the GTI); and remember the vRS badge first became cool when Skoda offered the original Fabia supermini as a diesel-only hot hatch.
How does the diesel Octavia vRS drive?
The dynamic differences between GTD and vRS TDI are almost imperceptible. Both use the same smooth and refined 181bhp and 280lb ft 2.0-litre that’s mighty in the mid-range, strong enough to scare a Fiesta ST, Clio RS or 208 GTI, but runs out of puff much above 4000rpm.
The bigger Octavia hefts along 63kg more than the GTD, but you’ll never notice it’s six-tenths slower to 62mph, and the extra £10 you’ll pay in annual road tax (because it emits 10g/km more) is negligible.
What else does the cheaper vRS miss out on?
Neither the petrol nor diesel vRS has the Performance GTI’s clever e-diff that pulls the car into bends, and being the poorer Eastern European cousin means the Octavia doesn’t get the GTD’s (and standard GTI’s) trick XDS+ electronics either, which brake the inside wheels to reduce understeer and increase agility.
Instead the Octavia has the older XDS tech that nips only the brakes on the front axle, yet the system still does a good job of helping the vRS corner tightly and with little obvious torque steer.
The vRS can’t be had with the GTD’s optional adaptive dampers, but they’re an £800 extravagance on a diesel Golf and not needed on the Octavia as it strikes a decent balance between motorway comfort and B-road composure.
There’s a little more wind noise in the vRS, and if you’ve a GTD to hand and fastidiously swap between the pair you might notice the plastics used in the Skoda aren’t of the same peerless quality you’ll find in the Volkswagen. But the Octavia trumps the Golf on cabin space, with yards of rear leg room and a 590-litre boot that’s bigger than a 5-series Touring’s.
The Octavia vRS is a fine car, but this liftback model wouldn't be our choice; buy the vRS Estate. It’s only £800 more than the hatch, does without its slightly garish rear wing, the boot is even bigger, and if you spec the no-cost Candy White paint then the outside lane of the motorway will clear before you and your innocent police impersonation.