The Skoda Octavia vRS is the hardcore version of the family-sized offering from VW’s Czech brand, but the real question is whether to go for the petrol or the diesel. Can the oiler offer kicks and savings as well, or is it a contradiction in terms?
How much is the estate?
Pay £800 more than the hatch version, and you’ll have this spacious estate. Add the diesel engine (£270 extra), and that’s a total of £24,385. For the cash, it’s hard to beat for rear passenger space and luggage capacity – it’s way bigger than a Focus ST Estate, which is a similar price. Yet once the kids are strapped in and the bags packed, it’s less sombre: this is the flagship performance model, of course, shaded only by the petrol version.
What’s this car’s spec?
Our test car isn’t a standard vRS: Sprint Yellow paint (£495) means you won’t lose this estate in any car park, and it’s contrasted by a (£150) Black Pack, which sees the grille, mirrors and roof rails dipped in dark paint. They go with the 18in alloys, the same size as the standard wheels, but they’re wrapped in Continental winter tyres. This car, all up, is £29,000.
What does the vRS get inside?
The new Octavia’s cabin is excellent with good quality tactile surfaces, from the dashtop to the door pulls – the doors themselves close with a nice firm thud, and it feels well put together. It doesn’t exude high-end (nor should it), but it’s a well-executed cabin apart from a few clues that this is still a Skoda – such as the lack of detail on the door trims, which are all mono-grey, and the rotary knob on for the £950 panoramic roof on our test car that seems like a cost-cutter. The biggest downfall is the seat fabric: it’s cheap and shiny like your first ever business suit.
The same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel as the old model. Now, it makes 181bhp – up from 168bhp in the old version, but still less than the petrol vRS, which remains king with 217bhp. There’s a six-speed manual gearbox in our test car, or you can pay £1390 and have your self a DSG with paddleshifters. Either way, there’s 280lb ft of torque that pulls this steed from 0-62mph in 8.2sec: not bad for family-sized estate. It’s the fuel figures that bring the diesel some more points: a claimed 61.4mpg and 119g/km, which compares to the petrol vRS’s numbers of 45.6mpg and 142g/km of CO2. Real worlds? We managed 32mpg over a hard flogging in country roads…
What’s it like as a performance car?
The vRS is fighting a battle on two fronts, and it does commendably well in both. From the driver’s seat, you’re positioned well, if a tad high, and the switchgear is solid and the overall visibility good. That D-pillar is a tad thick and the rear windscreen thin, but you still won’t miss a thing. Fire up the diesel engine, and you’ll find it’s quite refined. Still, no manufacturer seems to have been able to polish a four-cylinder diesel to the smoothness of larger engines, and one you’re on the road, it’s clearly an oiler in front of you. That said, it sends back a delicious burble when you’re on it.
Throttle response is strong, but not amazing. This is a punchy wagon, even if you need to drop a gear or two to wake it up. It delivers its torque so smoothly and with such refinement that there’s never a neck-snapping moment, but a realisation that you’ve actually reached a decent speed.
What about ride and handling?
The ride on our 18in, winter-tyre shod wheels will get to you. It’s jiggly, never settles and means that you’re constantly adjusting the wheel. You have to be attentive, too, especially over mid-corner bumps, which are sent back through the wheel. The vRS also lacks composure under brakes – and, the manual’s gearing is gapped so that you’ll be teetering on whether to downshift or not.
There’s a tad of body roll, but it’s well controlled, as is the noticeable acceleration nose lift. Yet the vRS also lacks composure under heavy braking, so tackling corners calls for smoothness and patience as you ease it in, keep the nose settled over bumps, before you can power out. Traction is pretty good, but it’ll still wheelspin with the ESP off, and in Sport the steering is tad sharper, but it’s not night and day to the Comfort and Normal modes.
What about as a family wagon?
It’s an even better car for moving adults, kids, animals and potentially sandbags. The rear passenger space is amazing: legroom is continental, with only headroom threatened by that gradually sloping roofline. The rear seats fold completely flat, and the floor is low and flat too: there are not lips, drops and interruptions to halt progress when you’re sliding that chest of draws into the 1740-litre space. For roominess, it’s hard to beat.
The vRS diesel is a strong, competent all rounder. It has style (perhaps not in yellow), is quick, and is relatively frugal with more space than most families will need. It’s not quite as polished as it could be, and the petrol is naturally smoother and punchier, yet for the cash, you won’t find a better mix of pace and space.