Czech me out!
Having reviewed a whole stream of white-coloured press cars over recent weeks, I was delighted when my latest test car, the Škoda Octavia vRS hatch, rolled up in a wonderfully sporty, vivid and invigorating shade of electric blue. Red brake callipers make any decent car look even more meaningful, but spoilers can sometimes make or break a car. The Octavia vRS is well-respected without any hint of chaviness about it and I think the whole sport package is pulled off rather well, in a classy, desirable kind of way. In my view, it looks great from most angles, especially to the front and sides. This generation of the Octavia has been around since 2005 and was facelifted in 2009, but the rear could perhaps do with some fresh cosmetic work once again. This is the kind of sports hatch that can be appreciated by both younger sections of society and also the more mature. Obviously, if you want slightly more discretion, just opt for one of the more subtle colour choices. Size-wise, despite being quite large at 4.57m in length and just over 2m wide including wing mirrors, it’s a fairly easy car to drive, even without parking sensors. And being made by Škoda who are part of the Volkswagen Group (VAG), it has an exceptionally solid and reliable image to it. Although not perhaps quite as meticulously built as an Audi, the Octavia looks inarguably solid with nice tight panels. As with the rest of their current range in general, Škoda have given the Octavia some lovely finishing touches such as ‘Octavia’ inscribed into the headlights – and the vRS being the sporty, range-topping model, it comes with chrome finished twin exhaust tips and very tasteful daytime running light strips (DRLs for short). Enough of the words – enjoy the photos!
The family racer
Step in, noticing the vRS kickplates as you do so, close the reassuringly ‘thuddy’ doors and the cabin of the Octavia is what you would expect from the VAG group – namely, high quality, functional and conservatively luxurious. Unlike, say, many contemporary French cars, there are no conversation pieces when it comes to the Octavia’s interior. But despite the lack of quirky clocks and the like, it’s a very nice place to be.
The soft black leather sports seats (£860 option) are very comfortable and despite not being electronically adjustable on this model, I managed to quickly find a comfortable position with suitable lumbar support. The vRS logos embossed into the steering wheel and the front and rear seats make you feel like you’re sitting in something special. If you want to customise your vRS even further, you can specify it with a two-tone interior. It was brilliant to be driving a car with a typically-styled conventional handbrake, not one which is raised up so ridiculously high you end up pulling it into your rib cage when parking up. All of the dials, buttons and controls fell nicely to hand and everything felt very well put together, like it would retain its quality for decades. The vRS comes fitted with a leather handbrake, gearstick and gaiter. Sure, the mostly black interior was a bit on the sombre side and even the Carbon-look inserts didn’t do much to brighten it up. But the majority of Octavia vRS buyers are mainly interested in how it drives, so the fuss-free simplicity of the interior works well. This particular car didn’t come with a multifunction steering wheel, but I didn’t really find it a problem. Just a shame the wing mirrors didn’t fold electrically. The Maxi-dot trip computer can be cycled through using the button on the end of the right-hand stalk, with cruise control and the like operated via the stalk on the opposite side.
This press car was rather standard in its internal specification, with no sat nav, no parking sensors and only the basic Bolero radio system coupled to a 6CD changer. The audio is controlled by a touchscreen unit at the top of the centre stack and as per the Yeti and Superb that I reviewed earlier this year, the green hue of the screen is lovely. If you can afford it, it’s worth upgrading to the Columbus sat nav system. The ‘Phone’ button simply muted the stereo in this particular car, as a Bluetooth phone system didn’t appear to have been fitted.
Storage wise, the door bins front and rear were all a decent size, there’s a felt-lined cubbyhole at the bottom of the central fascia with a dampered ‘door’, the illuminated glovebox wasn’t the biggest I’ve ever seen but was still pretty good, the armrest in the middle of the rear bench folds down to reveal a felt-lined storage draw which is only shallow but pretty useful, and Škoda have integrated other useful storage such as the cooled ‘Jumbo box’ and a box under the passenger seat.
If you want a family hatch with a sporty exterior but bags of practicality, look no further, as the Octavia has a massive boot. Normally, our weekly shop tends to fill about 70% of any boot, but it only filled around 50% of the Octavia’s, leaving my jaw on the floor – in a good way. If you want to carry larger items, the rear seats split 60:40 and fold fairly flat, more so than in some other cars – and there’s a ski hatch for longer items. Depending on how tall the front occupants are, you may need to remove the rear seats’ headrests in order to get the rear seats to fold down fully flat, which is a bit of a pain. The parcel shelf easily comes out, leaving you with a gigantic cavern of a rear, to fill with whatever objects you so desire. Being a hatch, there is a lip which hinders load-in slightly, but overall, the boot is hugely impressive. With the back seats upright in place, there’s 585 litres of luggage space and plenty of room for three average-size rear passengers on a medium journey and the seats are nice and soft whilst still being supportive. Seats folded and 1,455 litres are available. I really appreciated the proper pockets on the back of the front seats, which are much better than the nets some manufacturers give you. The boot also contains useful bag hooks and storage nets, enhancing its practicality even more, and this model did come with a spare wheel under the boot floor as opposed to a repair kit, albeit a 16” spacesaver (£75 option).
The boy in blue
Not all of you may know that various police forces across the UK have bought Škoda Octavia vRS cars for their fleets, and as you’ll have gleaned from the rest of this road test so far, who can blame them? As well as being great value at £22,135 for this particular model as described, the Octavia vRS is configured to be a potent and fun driving machine. The 2-litre TFSI petrol engine is taken from the Volkswagen Golf GTi, so it goes without saying that it’s a belter, as long as you’re not after a dramatic soundtrack at low speeds. This test car came with the 6-speed manual gearbox which was very smooth to operate. Get the ratios right and you should be able to hit 62mph in 7.2 seconds, which is very impressive, and no doubt why several police forces have made room in their fleets for stealthy black ones. The top speed of this 2-litre (well, 1984cc to be pedantic) petrol Octavia vRS is 150mph which is almost as fast as the electronically limited Germans can go, and it’s a fairly torquey engine producing 280Nm. The CO2 emissions are a bit on the high side at 175g/km but I doubt people opt for the vRS with emissions at the forefront of their minds. From my week with the vRS, driving it zealously at most times to say the least, I averaged just under 34mpg which is very good considering that Škoda quote 37.7mpg. So the Octavia vRS doesn’t gobble petrol down even if you drive keenly, meaning it’s still a sensible choice for commuters and family owners, blending performance and practicality very well indeed.
It’s a safe car, too, with ABS, Electronic Brake Control & Distribution, ESP, ASR traction control with MRS to reduce wheelspin, Electronic Differential Lock, Hydraulic Brake Assist, Driver Steering Regulation, bright Xenon headlights (£760 option) and XDS, which is a fancy diff’ lock mated to an advanced ESP system for enhanced overall traction.
The lowered suspension sitting on 18” alloys and quite a stiff setup mean that passengers will definitely feel all the bumps and troughs, but from the driver’s seat, the stiff ride doesn’t feel that bad. And the upside of the sports-focused suspension is that the Octavia vRS handles really well. Even after just a few minutes behind the wheel, most people will have been given enough confidence by the vRS to push it around corners with aplomb. The low profile tyres grip the road well, enhancing the reassuring ride at speed, and the brakes do a great job of bringing you to a stop effectively quickly. The steering felt slightly light at times, but nevertheless precise, and the gearbox was well set up with sensibly sporty ratios. There’s not much growl from the engine, with only a slight burble in lower gears – but if you want a relatively economical hot hatch which accelerates briskly in a smooth way and handles reassuringly well on B-roads, I don’t think the Octavia vRS will disappoint. On the motorway, too, it performs well, providing a smooth ride. There was a bit of wind and road noise at high speeds but nothing to annoy overly and it had enough poke on the motorway to make overtaking a doddle, pulling strongly when left in 6th gear. Visibility and manoeuvrability were good, too. It could just perhaps have been made more comfortable will a hill hold system and parking sensors.
The Octavia vRS proved over the course of the week to be a great all-round car, whatever I was using it for. Going to the supermarket, running errands in town, sprinting up the motorway or taking it for a purposefully feisty drive through the countryside, it performed its duty in a reassuringly capable manner. It looks great, has a tasteful and practical interior, masses of boot space and storage, and an appealing price tag. Some may say it lacks that final cherry of ‘je ne sais quoi’ but it’s definitely worthy of your shortlist if you’re in the market for a hot hatch.
© Oliver Hammond
Motoring Writer, Road Test Reviewer & Car Consultant
Specification of the Škoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TFSI Hatch tested in this review
Engine: 1,984cc, 4-cylinder petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Max Output: 200bhp
Max Torque: 280 lb ft
Top Speed: 150mph
0-60mph: 7.2 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 37.7mpg
Fuel tank capacity: 55 litres
CO2 Emissions: 175g/km
Gross Weight: 1,915kg
Max Towing Weight (braked): 1,400kg
Boot capacity: 585 litres (rear seats up), 1,455 litres (rear seats down, brimmed to the roof)
Dimensions: 4,569mm long, 2,018mm wide including mirrors, 1,462mm high
Standard Specification includes (but not limited to):
18” ‘Neptune’ alloys 225/40 R18 92Y
‘vRS’ 3 spoke leather sports steering wheel
‘vRS’ design bumpers
‘vRS’ design sports seats
Additional 4 loudspeakers
Alarm system with interior monitoring and backup horn
Body coloured door mirrors, handles and rubbing strips
Chrome finished inner door handles
Daylight running lights with LED lamps
Dual zone air conditioning
ESP (Electronic Stability Programme)
Front fog lights
Height adjustable driver and passenger seats
Illuminated glove box (with air-conditioning)
Rear boot spoiler (Hatch only)
Rear electric windows
Red brake callipers
Remote central locking
Split folding rear seats
TPM (Tyre Pressure Monitor)
Twin chrome exhaust
Tyre repair kit (no spare wheel)
Touchscreen ‘Bolero’ radio – 2 DIN with integrated 6 CD changer
XDS advance stability control
Extras fitted to this press car:
Space saver spare wheel £75
Xenon headlights and AFS II £760
vRS leather upholstery £860