Month 8 running a Skoda Octavia vRS: the conclusion of our long-term test review
The Skoda Octavia started with an unfair advantage in life. After all, aren’t many motorists partial to that blueprint for best-car-in-the-real-world status – the sporting estate, especially in frugal diesel trim? Past experience suggests this breed can offer a potent mix of everyday practicality, sports-car hustle and miserly running costs.
So did the Octavia in vRS diesel estate form tick all the boxes? Is it something you should consider ahead of the identically powered BMW 320d M Sport Touring, especially since it costs £8k less? We’ve spent the last eight months finding out.
The Kermit-green wagon had three keepers at CAR. Former associate editor Damion Smy ran the Skoda first, before departing to work on our Aussie sister mag Wheels. He was a fan of the echoing space onboard, but less keen on the DSG auto ’box and stop/start, which left him stranded at roundabouts with the engine kipping. It’s not a problem you suffer in manual cars, as a brush of the clutch pedal has the 2.0 TD starting in an instant.
This is a peculiarity of many auto-equipped cars with stop/start, but did leave me in the lurch a couple of times too. Nothing actually broke in our time with the car, apart from the steering wheel’s vRS badge coming loose. And we never got to the bottom of erratic cruise control, which mysteriously switched itself off on a few occasions of its own accord. Strange…
Mechanically, the Octavia performed faultlessly. It started first time, every time – as a brand new, 14-reg car should – and in the last high-mileage months economy improved to 45mpg, despite the perky performance on offer. VW’s top-spec 2.0 TDI offers 182bhp and a fulsome 280lb ft of twist from just 1750rpm, enough to feel properly swift for a 1.4-tonne family estate. Not 330d-monumental shove, but certainly fleet enough and accompanied by a lightly synthesised guttural roar.
When the DSG ’box wasn’t conspiring with the stop/start to send the vRS to sleep at roundabouts, it proved once again that twin-clutch transmissions cog-swap amazingly quickly. It’s telling, though, that we rarely used the thin, plasticky paddles – we honestly left it in Drive most of the time.
One thing the vRS is missing is the adaptive dampers that come with a Golf GTI Mk7; we might’ve been tempted to play with the settings more if the driving mode button on the dash changed the suspension as well as the throttle response. Eco brought a mushy accelerator, Sport a riot of twitchiness. Once again, we stuck with the default setting for virtually the entire test. It’s that kind of car, the vRS. There’s grunt aplenty and a keen, well-weighted helm but you’re never going to write home about the steering feel or liveliness of the chassis. A BMW or Merc sports estate is still a sharper tool to drive.
Which brings us to my biggest gripe on the Octavia vRS: the ride. It is badly tuned, our 18in Gemini anthracite alloys and sports suspension crashing and bashing over every expansion joint and hole in the road. It’s far from relaxing and ruined the experience for me. We briefly swapped notes with sister title Parkers, whose equally bright vRS rolled on 19s. They were only marginally less comfortable than us.
But that’s enough glitches. The Octavia vRS was a fabulously roomy and practical companion throughout 2014, resetting family thresholds of what’s considered a reasonable luggage allowance. The split-level boot (a cheeky £150 option) was clever and we loved the logical design of features such as the parking-ticket holder tucked in the A-pillar and the windscreen de-icer hidden in the fuel-filler flap. And those Golf roots bring a raft of tech that astonishes every day: the touchscreen sat-nav and DAB radio are the best available at this price.
We racked up sufficient miles that we had to get our car serviced at Wings of Peterborough. Turns out you can spec your Octavia on long-distance annual intervals or 12,000 miles. Ours had the latter and a summary oil service took an hour and a half while I waited, leaving me £144 lighter of wallet and gorging on free wi-fi and coffee.
Towards the end, Chris Chilton ran the vRS. ‘Love the space, can tolerate the iffy ride, and even forgive the rubbish winter-weather traction,’ he noted. ‘But if it wasn’t going back I’d be investing several hundred quid on Dynamat soundproofing to banish the horrific road noise. Now we know where Skoda makes its savings.’
Loud and lusty, roomy and boomy. That kind of sums up our Octavia vRS wagon.
By Tim Pollard
Month 7 running a Skoda Octavia vRS: a Scottish adventure
Road trip time! The Pollard household decamped to the Skoda for a journey north for a bit of late-season Scottish sunshine. That last bit was a joke. What actually happened was that we arrived at Kennacraig in Argyll to catch a ferry to Islay just as Hurricane Gonzalo beat across the Atlantic. We made the crossing just in time, with only the lightest of swells to turn us the same colour as the vRS.
The Octavia spent the week criss-crossing this most beautiful of Hebridean islands, threading along the primitive roads bisecting the moors and bogs and distilleries. The tail end of the storm meant the roads were streaming with water, but the Octavia’s 280lb ft never felt a handful. It’s a very planted, stable kinda car, its boot vast enough to make packing an argument-free affair, its heated chairs comfy enough to alleviate M6 ennui.
One surprising detail our adventure highlighted was a door drainage problem. We’d already noticed that the Octavia’s front sills gather water in a storm, releasing a flood when next opened, but on Islay the result was torrential. The cabin stays dry though.
Islay is the capital of Scotch whisky, so it seemed remiss not to visit a few distilleries. And here the boot’s underfloor stowage area proved a boon for smuggling bottled wares home out of sight of the missus.
So the vRS has cemented its reputation as a great long-distance companion. But I’ve also grown to love the digital touchscreen as the hub to all my phone/DAB/traffic/iPad/navigational queries. It makes other displays look old-tech, especially in a car at this price.
By Tim Pollard
Month 6 running a Skoda Octavia vRS: Greenline vs green vRS
Can you really mix performance with parsimony? That’s at the heart of our extended test of the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate in diesel DSG trim. Skoda claims an average appetite of 57mpg and 129g/km of CO2, which is usefully cleaner than a similarly gearboxed 217bhp petrol vRS (44mpg, 149g/km). But how different is it from the squeaky-clean Octavia Greenline eco specialist?
To find out, we booked one in for a week and tested the two back-to-back. Would the Greenline’s stellar gearing, faired-off aero and eco rubber save us money in the real world? We averaged a best of 57mpg and a low of 52mpg in our time together (against a staggering 88mpg/85g/km claim). The vRS hovered around the 44mpg mark, suggesting that ultimate fuel misers may still prefer the Greenline eco special.
Our sportier diesel feels markedly quicker, its 73bhp horsepower advantage paying off, and it out-handles and brakes its sandal-shod cousin. But we preferred the more relaxed gait of the Greenline, its balloon-like eco tyres cushioning us from craters.
No poop Sherlock, you’re probably thinking. You’d expect the Greenline version to be cleaner than a vRS, and it is. But if you want something fleet of foot, with muscle as well as miserliness, the dual-role diesel vRS is the more rounded car.
By Tim Pollard
Month 5 running a Skoda Octavia vRS: why England's cricketers ought to trade their Jags for a vRS like ours
Here’s a curveball. Our Octavia vRS had a surprise summer encounter with a ruby red Jaguar F-type, belonging to cricketing legend Graeme Swann, who was helping out at my club’s net practice.
Turns out he retains an ambassadorial role with England despite having thrown the towel in on his bowling career, hence still qualifying for the Jag-sponsored wheels. Swann loves the rorty F-type, but said he was hopeful he’d get an F-type Coupe next. ‘Handy for its bigger boot,’ he winked.
Apparently the England camp mostly drive F-types (not ideal for bulky kit bags) or XJs (the most old-man of Jags for young sportsmen). They should take a leaf out of the cycling world’s sponsorship deal with Skoda!
Sporting types need lashings of space, right? Our car’s 610-litre boot trumps any Jaguar’s (even the XF wagon’s 550). Pace to make sure they don’t miss the coin-toss? Our vRS is modestly fast for everyday use and is still averaging 44mpg to make sure we don’t break the club finances.
Swann wasn’t convinced by the colour, though. Nothing the fitment of cricket whites wouldn’t fix.
By Tim Pollard
Month 4 running a Skoda Octavia vRS: a French road trip
What better way of getting to know a car than jumping in and driving 1500 miles? After 16 years of writing about cars, I’ve discovered no better way of getting under the skin of a new model than living in one for a sustained European road trip. And so it was that Team Pollard poured our worldly goods into the bright green Skoda Octavia vRS for a family holiday in France. And the packing took rather a long time, since the estate’s boot is truly gargantuan. At 610 litres huge, the Octavia’s luggage compartment swallows more than A6 or 5-series wagons, and nearly as much as a Mercedes E-class Estate. For the first time in living memory, our family of four failed to fill the boot on a vacation road trip – and there was nary a roofbox in sight. Impressive.
After such a good start, things could only go downhill. And they did. I’ve already grumbled about the vRS’s bobbly ride and as we trundled down to Dover, we continued to pitch and bounce and generally patter seemingly over every single nugget of tarmac and ripple of expansion joint. Damn that standard sports suspension and 18in Gemini alloy wheels…
But something happened as the motorways of England gelled into the autoroutes of France. The big Skoda quickly settled down and smoothed away the road imperfections. And it wasn’t just on the dual carriageways; the vRS underwent such a character bypass on the Continent that I can only assume the smoother French roads suit its suspension better, perhaps aided by a full load. The calm lasted all the way back until we turned off the British motorway network on our way home.
This left me thinking two things. Firstly, Skoda really should come and fine-tune its cars’ chassis in the UK, like sister brand Audi did when it faced criticism from hard-riding Brits. Secondly, I rue Skoda’s decision not to offer the Golf GTI’s adaptive dampers on the vRS; I suspect they would go some way to countering its stiff secondary ride in the UK.
But enough moaning about bumps and lumps. Another transformation happened the moment we drove off the Eurotunnel in Calais: the Octavia cleverly switched its headlamps to suit driving on the right – all by itself! The bi-xenon headlamps with dynamic angle control talk to the sat-nav and adjust automatically. A bright idea we applaud.
The bulk of the journey was passed in quiet refinement. Previous keeper Damion Smy griped on these pages about the DSG gearbox, but away from his London milieu the twin-clutcher performed faultlessly. It just slurs through its six ratios, my only complaint being that a taller seventh cog wouldn’t go amiss to quieten things further at a high-speed cruise.
We drove all the way from the Midlands to Brittany and back, a round journey of some 1500 miles. And with a mix of motorway munching and Breton back roads, we still managed to average a stately 43mpg. I think that’s impressive for a fully loaded, fast-cruising 182bhp estate. It was stinking hot, too, so the climate control was in constant action, bringing the glass-roofed cabin’s temperature to comfortable limits swiftly after a day on the beach.
Equally pleasing is the state of the (£800 optional) leather upholstery. Beach holidays are notoriously punishing for a car’s cabin, but the neatly quilted hide in the Octavia cleaned up a treat. You’d hardly know it was peppered in a chocolatey, sandy residue now. Perhaps the highest praise is that we didn’t regret not flying once.
By Tim Pollard
Month 3 running a Skoda Octavia vRS Estate diesel: change of hands
So it’s my second stint back on CAR and, as you've probably gathered from the update below, I’ve landed back with a green slice of Czech real estate. I’ve always been a fan of big, spacious diesel wagons, so I was pleased when features ed Ben Pulman handed me the keys.
Our lime-green Octavia vRS is certainly an eye-catching hue, but you’re shielded from the worst excesses of greenery behind the wheel. And it’s here that the Skoda really shines. The kit tally is generous, I like the sober, under-played vibe and it feels solidly built. It is roomy, too – well suited to transporting my two primary school-age kids. Who needs a Superb when little bro has so much rear legroom?
The Octavia has always been a shrewd choice and this third generation has only added to the polish that’s accrued under VW’s ownership. Mind you, the prices have swollen too. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that our car lists at £26k, bumped up to £31k by a few extras.
Dislikes to date? After the first 200 yards I shuddered at the ride quality. I’ve got a good few months left to discover whether our vRS’s dampers really are filled with cement or if the local roads have changed in the 18 months I’ve been away.
By Tim Pollard
Skoda Octavia vRS diary notes: the headlamps switch automatically to driving on the right!
We discovered a brilliant detail when we took our vRS to the Continent this summer: the headlamps switch to driving on the right all by themselves.
Our Octavia is equipped with the top-end sat-nav and dynamic lights, which talk to each other. No sooner had we driven out of the Eurotunnel than I saw a notification that the beam pattern had adjusted itself.
No more messing around with black tape or sticky lens conversion kits in Dover! It's this kind of detail that I love on the Skoda. The company's made plain its desire to make family life better and features like auto-adapting headlamps certainly tick that box for me.
The parking ticket holder in the A-pillar is another example. Simple design doing what design does best: solving everyday problems and making owning a Skoda that little bit easier.
By Tim Pollard
Month 2 running a Skoda Octavia vRS Estate diesel: Damion Smy is not a fan of DSG
Let me unequivocally state: I hate DSG. Gasp. Shock. Horror. How could you? That’s right: while most swallow the PR spin, I still find the Direct Shift Gearbox a hazard, an inconvenience and occasionally sinful. A few generations ago, you could buy a Skoda in some markets with a ‘DSG’ badge, but it wasn’t: it was a proper auto. Now, in the vRS, there actually are two input shafts, making Hulk a true purveyor of trickle-down Veyron tech.
Yet it just doesn’t work. Not with the start/stop. So much so that the green machine was mid-roundabout, in central London, and decided to give up the ghost. I plant the throttle to finish off the circle, and there’s nothing: a flaccid, limp, lifeless piece of plastic being flattened in vain against the footwell. Trouble was, there were other cars on the roundabout – nearly a billion, it suddenly seemed. After realising that I was a bright green sitting duck, I shifted to Neutral, turned the key and re-started the diesel. It’s happened once more since, and has shaken my faith. Thank God I wasn’t in Paris peak-hour…
By Damion Smy
Month 1: welcome to CAR magazine’s Skoda Octavia vRS Estate diesel
Green. Bright green. It’s not a default colour, and nor is the Skoda Octavia vRS a default car. For that, there’s the VW Golf GTI (which I am a sucker for), the kind of car that non-car people buy because other people tell them to. Shame is, it’s just so good I’d still have one despite every numpty thinking someone else had told me to buy it. Or would I? There’s the brilliant Golf R – a car you choose, not sleepwalk into – but for the ultimate all-round ability there’s the vRS. The current car, introduced in 2013, is built on the Golf’s MQB platform, and runs the same 2.0-litre TDI as in the Golf GTD. That means it’s stellar underneath, under the bonnet – at least on paper.
I’m given the long-term oilers because of my long commute, so bring on the swathe of hybrid supercars. Until then, there are cars like this. The vRS mixes a claimed 56.5mpg (we’ll see about that) with an official 0-62mph time of 8.3sec for this, the DSG version. To me, that’s short of warm-hatch acceleration, yet a king-of-the-hill achievement for a diesel estate. So let’s find out of it’s any good.
This example takes the £26k base price and ups it to £31k. I could have a less practical Golf R or Audi S3 for that. Yet the Octavia offers a massive 1770 litres out back, pipped only by the new Peugeot 308 SW. And, to look at, I think ‘Hulk’ is far cooler. Whether you’re on the motorway, with people thinking you’re an unmarked member of the force – clearing the fast lane like you’re about to explode – or in town, the vRS is highly respected. Most people think it’s another also-ran, and don’t figure on 181bhp or, more crucially, 280lb ft of torque.
They don’t bet on paddleshifters, a Sport mode that weights up the steering quite well, or loads of grip from the 18in wheels – which are the much more fantastical, five-spoke, machined, no-cost option versions. They’re much more interesting than the standard drab alloys. Making up the extras is the Black Pack (£150) featuring a black grille, roof rails and window surrounds, and ‘sunset glass’ (that’s privacy glass to you and me). You have to pay a whopping £1350 for sat-nav, £950 for the Panoramic Sunroof (which I love) and £800 for the leather seats (with heating). And, after all that, you actually have to pay extra for the Rallye Green metallic paint: it’s £525. If you want bright and brash for less cash, there’s always the flat yellow instead…
The green Octavia is a few roads away from the mainstream, but I’m keen to see if it feels like a performance estate or just a handsome pretender. It could turn out to be practical and expensive to run; or fast but not so practical. I didn’t mention earlier that you have to pay a cheeky £150 for a ‘variable boot floor’ and a rude £50 for a cargo net. There was a time when Skodas used to be bargains, but the vRS is borderline. It had better be top value from this point on.
By Damion Smy