IAIN ROBERTSON 

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-6

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-6

The transformation that has taken place at Skoda’s Mlada Boleslav factory in the Bohemian foothills of the Czech Republic is second-to-none and long-time Octavia vRS enthusiast, Iain Robertson, finds it consummately easy to rave about the latest iteration(s).

When the first Octavia vRS rolled off the production lines in 2000, I knew that I would buy an example, in black, with its two-tone light/dark grey interior and vRS embroidered seat backs. At the time, Skoda was still a left-field choice. The full awareness of VW ownership of the former state-owned carmaker was still not abundantly clear. The time-honoured jests and japes about the Skoda brand were rampant but Skoda was a brand in the ascendant, helped immeasurably by what should have been two (‘RS’) but became three initials (‘vRS’), when Ford Motor Company grumbled in the background.

The small ‘v’ is actually a stylised version of the Czech language accent above the capital ‘S’ of Skoda, which gives it a ‘Schkoda’ pronunciation. Yet, that little ‘vee’ has become almost legendary in the past two decades. To a certain extent, Skoda is every bit as deserving a user of the Rally Sport designation, as Ford. After all, its motorsport history is actually greater and more successful than that of its famous ‘oppo’.

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-10

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-10

Intriguingly, the Octavia vRS encouraged Skoda to re-engineer significantly the VW Golf donor platform. One of the most prominent refinements involved a less nannying traction control system than the stock offering. In the vRS, a greater amount of ‘slip’ was allowed at the front wheels to (as a member of the Skoda engineering team informed me at the time) enable more fun to be introduced to the driving experience. It was fascinating that Skoda referred to the change in such a manner.

The first Octavia vRS was powered by a 180bhp version of the Golf’s 1.8-litre petrol-turbo engine. Its performance was brisk and the handling most engaging. Around 17,600 units of the Mark One sold across Europe. The die had been cast. The second generation proved the point, with more than 87,000 examples reaching grateful owners, although the range had increased with a 200bhp petrol-turbo, supplemented by a 170bhp turbodiesel in either hatchback, or estate car forms. My first-ever TDi, complete with green brake callipers (red was the preserve of the petrol variants), was an Octavia vRS and I specified an all-red version of the excellent Mark Three hatchback model, uprated from a standard 181bhp to 228bhp, using a factory-designated ECU map download, with which I was totally enamoured and so were over 172,000 other vRS owners.

Unsurprisingly, as VW’s prices continued to escalate slowly but surely, so did Skoda’s and, to be frank, the prospect of paying well over £25k for a car in that class, even though it represented much better value for money than its equivalent VW, Seat, or Audi in-house rivals, became untenable to me. Skoda is now almost on price parity with those other brands, with the introduction of the Mark Four Octavia.

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-7

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-7

Ignoring the pricing, which is hard to do, when at least one of the three available variations on the theme is likely to top £40,000 for the first time, allows me to concentrate on the first-rate chassis dynamics and model-specific details that have made vRS models so desirable over the years. However, first let me explain what the three engine options are: 1. The TDi now produces 197bhp accompanied by a delicious slug of mid-range punch; 2. The TSi petrol unit now delivers 242bhp; and 3. The plug-in hybrid alternative also produces 242bhp but with the added advantage of a 35-miles EV range, although it is the costliest Octavia ever.

The maximum speeds of all three are over 140mph, while the 0-60mph benchmark times are less than 7.0s. Needless to say, the e-vRS is by far the most accelerative (5.5s), even though it drives strictly through a 6-speed DSG automated-manual gearbox. The regular petrol-turbo version offers either a 6-speed manual, or 7-speed DSG, while the TDi relies on a 7-speed DSG only but with the option of all-wheel drive. It is a fascinating combination. If running costs are a primary consideration, the diesel is by far the best option, followed closely by the plug-in variant. Yet, typical of the VW hardware, each of the engines is optimised for frugality, as well as performance potential.

While the previous generations of Octavia vRS were lowered, stiffened and dynamically enhanced over the stock models upon which they were based, the latest styling of the Octavia is not only more streamlined but also seems to suit the vRS ‘conversion’ somewhat better. A black pack means that the front grille and window surrounds are standout features, while the full-width rear reflector bar in the lower bumper is now a vRS signature detail. While 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels are standard, 19’s are an option. The more potent pair of models are halted by 17.0-inch diameter ventilated brake rotors, while the diesel relies on 16.0-inch front and 15.0-inch rear discs.

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-8

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-8

In the cabin, heavily bolstered front sports seats, with integrated head restraints, are clad in cloth, while an ergonomic front seat option is upholstered in a mix of Alcantara and both real and faux leather. These latter seats also feature a depth adjustment and massage function. The easy-grip, three-spoke steering wheel has the DSG gearbox paddles, when specified, attached to its cross-spokes as usual, while multi-function micro-switches operate a number of key driver features. Naturally, a full complement of ADAS and connectivity features are standard.

There are no price announcements as yet and the long-awaited first cars are not due to land in the UK until late-August. However, the Octavia vRS is sure to be in great demand regardless. As a sporty hatch and estate car and now a range within a range, of which the plug-in version is sure to be the best business option, Skoda could be set to hit the top of the sales charts with the Octavia vRS and I, for one, am utterly delighted.

Conclusion:      The latest Skoda Octavia vRS is now a bang up-to-date, three-model line-up, with electrification taking centre stage for the first time. It is going to be a high price option but is unlikely to quell strong support from the company car sector.

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-9

Skoda-Octavia-vRS-9