Skoda’s Octavia vRS has built up something of a cult following. Seems a bit unlikely, but factor in its hot-hatchy character, diesel economy and innate practicality and you’ve got to wonder what its rivals are – especially in estate format. Now it’s been facelifted and comes with VW’s latest common-rail engine. We’re testing it with the dual-clutch DSG paddleshift transmission.
A diesel-powered Skoda estate. Sporty. You sure?
Just take a look at that 0-62mph sprint time: 8.4sec ain’t bad. And it certainly feels quick, accelerating with proper guts and lungeing round the tacho from every up-shift. Course, it’s a diesel so you can’t rag it as you would with a high-revving petrol engine – but then you’d be buying the 198bhp TFSI, and sacrificing 10mpg. Instead you shift up at 4500rpm, before the torque drops off a cliff, and you land straight back in a vat of pulling power.
And speed is only part of the story. The Octavia is also extremely good at going round corners. The steering is light and accurate but no great telegraph of road surface info, so if you only pootle you’ll wonder what the fuss is about. But turn up the wick and the chunky Skoda digs in and drags you through with the kind of verve that gets you grinning. It's not as sharp to steer as a Golf GTI but you can definitely feel the family genes: it’s agile, quicker to change direction than it initially feels and only dissolves into wishy-washy understeer if you’re particularly clumsy.
Okay, you’ve sold me. Now what about that dual-clutch gearbox?
It’s the six-speeder, not the more effective seven-speed dry-clutch unit you can have in the less powerful 1.8 TSI. It works here just as well as it does in other VW Group applications: quick to respond to the paddles, or behaving like a proper auto if you leave the selector to itself.
It’s great on the charge when you’re using the paddles: that way you can always time your shift perfectly and keep yourself in the diesel’s juicy torque-band. Left to its own devices it’s less effective, tending to cling on until you hit the rev limiter, which is neither satisfying nor necessarily the quickest or most controlled way of getting about.
Because this is such a torquey, low-revving slogger (and because it’s noisy at high revs), the dual-clutch gearbox isn’t really the diesel’s greatest ally – there’s no doubt it’ll feel a lot better in the petrol turbo. Unless you do a lot of town driving, you’re probably going to prefer the manual oil-burner. And that’ll save you £1110 too.
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How about the rest of it?
The vRS estate suits the Octavia’s revised styling better than the boggo hatch: all the colour-coding works well with the dropped suspension and big fat alloys. The only real news here is the subtle detailing in the newly shaped headlamps, which carry inset Octavia badges. Sounds naff, looks good.
Anyway, if you fancy any Octavia estate, quick one or not, it’s the boot you’re interested in. And it’s massive. Boxy, flat, low-floored and possessed of a Ford Mondeo-esque 605/1655 litres of cargo volume. And it trounces the Ford Focus estate’s 482/1525 litres.
Elsewhere, the dashboard looks and feels more VW than cheapo commie cousin, the whole car is solidly built and faultlessly finished, and there’s plenty of space for heads and legs front and rear. In fact, only the tarty white-panelled seats upset the atmosphere in the cabin, but only because a car as rational as this deserves something a bit more demure. And you can’t complain about the equipment list, the only notable optional extra to which is sat-nav.
Anything you can complain about?
I’d like stronger, more feelsome brakes please. These work but don’t always feel like they’re going to, and they often need a firmer shove than feels right.
It’s also a touch noisy, not horrendously so, but certainly shown up by the hush VW has achieved in the latest Golf. There’s no getting away from the growl and drone of the engine (even when it’s more of a background rumble at a cruise), and road noise is noticeable too, not just as a roar through the floor but also through the doors, as if there’s some insulation missing. It’s the only area in which you suspect obvious cost-cutting, and it’s not bad enough to be a deal-breaker.
There’s nothing sexy about the Octavia – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, this is a car that appeals strongly on a cerebral level rather than an emotional one. But that doesn’t mean it’s dull: an estate-shaped, diesel-powered hot hatch is just too mad to be dull, and it’s a lot of fun to drive.
No, this is a rational car like a Merc C-class diesel is a rational car. There are lots of sensible, valid reasons to consider it, only one of which is that you can still enjoy your time behind the wheel. It doesn’t force any compromises elsewhere – even the firmer ride never gets uncomfortable – and it offers excellent value for money. Even better, in fact, with a manual gearbox. Hell, a 123bhp Ford Focus 1.8 TDCi in wretchedly basic Edge trim costs more than this even with the DSG ’box. Which puts a perfect perspective on matters.
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