PH enters the world of the'performance dad'...
It was back in 2001 that Skoda decided its increasingly worthy but often yawn-inducing image needed a shake-up, and the Octavia vRS was the model with which its assault on the 'performance dad' market began. With an engine from an Audi TT with nigh-on 180bhp, and some lairy paint options, the car was Skoda's answer to the Volvo 850 T5.
When the second-generation Octavia vRS arrived in 2005, the game suddenly got a lot more sophisticated. With a punchier 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, a sharper chassis and a much nicer interior, there was suddenly a fun and sophisticated alternative to your average family saloon or wagon. 'Economy dads' could now also choose a punchy (albeit rattly) 168bhp turbodiesel.
Which brings us to this, the second Octavia vRS's mid-life facelift. The biggest change is that bold new grille and headlight combo (complete with dubious-but-fashionable LED daytime running lights), while inside there's a new leather-wrapped wheel and some timely upgrades to the interior trim, instrument and infotainment system (the 'Bolero' sound system is particularly good).
Other than a slightly lower ride height and 20kg shaved from the petrol vRS's kerb weight, little else has been changed on the Octavia. And that's a good thing, because the Octavia vRS is, dynamically speaking, rather an unsung hero.
Although the 2.0-litre turbocharged motor might be carried over from the previous-generation Golf GTi, it's still a strong powerplant. Its 197bhp and a healthy 206lb ft of torque that spreads from 1700rpm all the way to 5000rpm ensures that the Octavia is an effortlessly swift motorway cruiser with plenty of overtaking punch. Drive fairly sensibly and an MPG figure in the mid-30s should be easily achievable, too; unless you do stratospheric annual mileage there's simply no need for the diesel version.
But consummate mile-munching ability is only part of the key to the Octavia vRS wagon's appeal. The genius of this car is the way it so easily blends pace, entertainment and practicality. This is a car that will swallow a thoroughly respectable 1655 litres of luggage with the seats down, and yet will accelerate to 62mph in a hot hatch-esque 7.3secs on the way to a 147mph top speed. To put that into perspective, the Octavia has 270 litres more carrying capacity than a BMW 325i Touring, yet would give the Bee-em a serious run for its money in real-world driving. Oh, and the Octavia will give you almost a grand in change from £20k, while even a poverty-spec 325i wagon will be pushing £30k.
You won't feel particularly shortchanged when you take the vRS down your favourite b-road, either.
Granted, the Octavia vRS isn't exactly a Caterham R500, and VW group products rarely flow down the road with the aplomb of a well-sorted Ford, but this is as swift, surefooted and responsive a chassis as you'll find in any VW group product. The brakes are strong, the steering is accurate and judiciously weighted, and the mid-corner grip is superb. The only downsides are a mildly fidgety ride and a slightly obstructive gearchange, but those are really just niggles.
It's a sad but inevitable truth that we can't all drive around in exotic mid-engined, two-seat sports cars. Even those lucky enough to posess something as exciting as it is impractical will most likely have the need for a sensible alternative from time to time. That's the beauty of the Octavia vRS. While it effortlessly satisfies that need for practicality, it also manages to provide a respectable amount of driving fun. As an alternative to the automotive lobotomy that is the MPV, the Octavia vRS has got what it takes.