Octavia has earned the right for more but the latest plug-in vRS goes partway
Life can be terribly unfair, states Iain Robertson, and never more so than in big, bad corporate world, where meritorious effort is often regarded as little more than an expectation, something that diligent Skoda has experienced head on for years.
When moneylender Shylock demanded his pound of flesh from Antonio, for an unsettled debt, in Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’, regardless of the literal demand, for which Portia had a convenient, legal solution, it was wrapped up in the anti-Jewish social politics of the day but pleased theatre-goers accordingly. While Michael Portillo appears to have carved an excellent train-riding niche for himself on BBC2 TV, the sometime Westminster and Chelsea MP and loyal Thatcherite should and would have been a most worthy Prime Minister, rather than an occasional political commentator.
Both Skoda and Seat brands were acquired by VW Group in short order. Seat was unworthy, whereas Skoda was just underfunded. Although I appreciate that both firms have worked hard to earn their respective positions in the VW hierarchy, it is more than fair to suggest that Skoda pulled a series of aces from its hat, whereas Seat squabbled on the side-lines, even squandering its adoptive parent’s funding in a display of corporate waywardness that warranted a clear-out sale at very least! Sadly, both brands have lost their respective national identities over the past twenty years, subsumed as they have been by the Volkswagen corporate machine that is exceedingly good at churning out melanges of sausage meat with more than their fair share of sawdust and floor scrapings!
While heralding the introduction of the whisker over £35k Skoda Octavia vRS iV in hatchback and £1,200 costlier estate car forms, I am highly conscious of a massive rate of inflation that has taken place for the brand. The last Octavia vRS I owned a little more than a decade ago was £10k less expensive, while the first one I bought in the mid-1990s was only half the list price of the latest iteration. Both were ‘cutting edge’ in their respective periods and packed with Czech charisma. Yet, they deserved more accord than they received, notably from within the corporation.
You do not need to look too far and wide across the VW Group product ranges to realise that, when VW formulates a fresh production, or engineering recipe, it is only a matter of time before one, or more of the sister brands also boasts it. Almost from the outset, Seat was gifted its ‘sunny disposition’ (more by geography than attitude) and provided with the ‘power’ options. Yet, Skoda possessed its ‘accented’ (‘v’)RS, a small group of letters harbouring far greater performance value than the yet-to-appear Cupra. In addition, while absorbing Group performance packages was Seat’s lot, Skoda was re-engineering what VW supplied to create subtle but mightily effective little differences that extended into better brakes, better handling, more fun and greater reliability…but never hardcore punch.
In fact, Skoda has played a Cinderella role within the Group, even supporting aftermarket situations until that avenue of pleasure was closed off. Seat’s plug-in hybrid Formentor, which is what the latest Octavia vRS is all about, is powered by a 306bhp version of the PiH package, whereas Skoda can only boast that, armed with 242bhp, it is ‘the most potent Skoda yet’. Sorry, VW, but Skoda deserves more. It deserves a bigger slice of the cake. It has earned the right but it is simply not receiving the recognition internally.
Powered by the VW corporate 1.4-litre 147bhp petrol-turbo engine, mated to an 85kW electric motor and driving through a six-speed (why not the seven-speed?), twin-clutch, automated-manual transmission, its electrification is managed through a 13kWh lithium-ion battery pack that is said to provide 39-miles of pure EV motoring, although, as I found, it struggles with much more than 30-miles, which, to be fair, is still more than most average commuting trips. Connected to a 3.6kW charger, the vRS iV can be recharged from empty to full in just 3.5-hours, while a domestic three-pin can achieve the same status in around five hours. To be frank, I admire the practicality of the PiH package.
Used as a boost to performance, the upwards hike from 221 to 295lbs ft of torque is tangible and the combined 242bhp is enough to whisk a full-throttle Octavia from 0-60mph in a posted 7.0s, propelling it to a top whack of 139mph, which is possible on a decreasing number of German autobahns allowing such speeds. However, the key benefit of part-electrification lies in how far each gallon of unleaded can be stretched and a WLTP range figure of 176.6 to 256.8mpg is truly impressive, even though most owners/users will still return a no less impressive 95-110mpg in a mix of normal motoring conditions. A CO2 rating of up to 36g/km highlights a low tax, low BIK levy for business users. Now, if you can imagine a non-fossil fuel source, all the joys of the ‘Infernal’ Combustion Engine and a world of zero EVs becomes a distinct possibility!
However, this is a hybrid car, which means that it can self-charge its battery pack and the driver can also tailor its rate of recharge, if desired. The electric bits do weigh up the Octavia but judiciously re-valved dampers and re-weighted springs ensure that both hatch and estate handle as well as any other Octavia model and as responsively as any vRS designated version ought to. There is no harshness to the car’s ride quality and the steering provides good feedback and a pleasant ‘feel’ at the helm.
Naturally, the exterior detailing highlights the vRS status, while the generously equipped interior is up to Octavia vRS standards. Naturally, the full complement of ADAS electronica is included and the digital instrument panel is supported by a large-scale touchscreen at the top of the centre stack, through which to access any and every function feasible.
Conclusion: The vRS lineage is a strident one. The latest iV would benefit immeasurably from the punchiest performance package in VW’s parts bins but do not let that dissuade you from enjoying what is a strong and enduring Skoda offering.