Skoda Octavia vRS 245: Review

Somewhat distinctive headlights aside, you've probably noticed that the latest Skoda Octavia vRS facelift doesn't comprise all that much. However it's a car that's always popular on PH, that we know well from our long-termer and, to be frank, you don't decline invites to drive Vallelunga. Behind Hans-Joachim Stuck.

More on that later, but a quick refresh of the vRS 245 first. Like the updated Golf GTI Performance Pack this car is up to 245hp (from 230 previously), and also features the option of a seven-speed wet clutch DSG in place of the old six-speed.

For the Skoda specifically you get the VAQ 'diff' and the DCC adaptive dampers as standard as well, there are incentives to spend the extra £2,410 from the vRS 230 to this car.

A fairly ordinary initial drive acts as a worthwhile reminder of what the Octavia is good at: the 2.0-litre EA888 is punchy and willing (useful when Italian slip roads turn out to be more like junctions), the car is really refined at motorway speeds and those DCC dampers do an admirable job of keeping the natty 19-inch wheels and the big estate body in check.

Indeed it's quite a while before a more interesting bit of road emerges, not helped by a nav issue that leaves us stranded near the airport. Still, with a brief chance to prove itself the vRS makes more than a good fist of the whole fast estate thing. While it would be nigh-on impossible to detect the 15 additional horsepower, the engine remains keen in its upper reaches and really quite quick; a new and slightly more vocal exhaust is a welcome addition too. There are those who can get more from this engine too...

The initially snatchy brakes are better with bigger inputs, the dampers offer a very good control and comfort compromise and you're soon hustling along a large, hearse-spec Skoda estate rather fast. In fact, with such a small weight penalty, the estate doesn't appear to lose anything compared to the hatch down a country road.

However, there's a problem. The VAQ system that is intended as a central facet of this car's appeal, that contributes to cars like the Leon Cupra and Golf Clubsport S being as exciting as they are, just doesn't feel to do that much. It was a problem raised with James's long-term vRS and doesn't seem to have been rectified here: even in the more aggressive of its two modes, there's more wheelspin from the inside tyre and less confidence in the front axle than with similarly equipped products. Curious. Where you learn to trust that something like a Leon Cupra will pull itself out of the bend, scrappily or otherwise, that faith never quite manifests itself when driving the Skoda. Perhaps a stickier set of tyres would help, though Pirelli P-Zeros - 235-section at each corner - are hardly budget rubber doughnuts.

Sadly the issue doesn't disappear on track. Indeed even when Mr Stuck gives his warning about not turning off the traction control, he says it's because you will waste too much power spinning up the inside wheel. Perhaps not the best corporate excuse to give, but it's correct, especially out of Vallelunga's slower hairpins at the end of the lap. Yes, it was turned off. For investigative purposes. No doubt the car is more precise than one with a conventional open differential, but that almost brutal tenacity we can associate with VAQ certainly isn't present here.

That's not to say the vRS is bad on track; far from it. There's never a point that it feels slow and, let's be honest here, this is still a large family bus: the composure and ability it has on track are easily good enough. It just seems a slight shame that this ability could be improved - presumably through a more aggressive VAQ setting - without squandering its on-road civility.

For what it's worth the seven-speed DSG is a significant improvement over the old dual-clutch gearbox, both on track and road. Upshifts are quicker, downshifts are possible sooner and the whole thing feels more intelligent than before. No longer will it change up at the slightest hint of wheelspin, or change down at inopportune moments. It still doesn't offer full driver control - the 'box changes up at the limiter and will kickdown in manual mode - but it's a tangible improvement on before.

So where does that leave the Octavia vRS? Kind of where it was before in fact, albeit with a nicer interior. That sounds like damning it with faint praise, when it really shouldn't: the Skoda remains fast, comfortable, practical, good value and decent to drive. It's just a touch disappointing that there couldn't be a little more edge in the fastest Octavia ever, though of course that could be tricky given the stablemates with which it shares so much. Speaking of which...

While the Skoda is still highly recommended for those who need practicality and performance, we'd sacrifice some of the space on offer in the Octavia for the greater thrills available in a Leon Cupra ST. Don't forget there's a fast, all-wheel drive Golf estate as well - you might have heard about it...

: 1,984cc, turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: 6-speed manual (7-speed DSG), front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 245@5,000-6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 273@1,600-4,300rpm
0-62mph: 6.6sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,445kg (1,465kg) [EU, including 75kg driver]
MPG: 42.8 (44.1)
CO2: 150g/km (146g/km)
Price: £27,595 (£28,985)

: 1,984cc, turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: 6-speed manual (7-speed DSG), front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 245@5,000-6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 273@1,600-4,300rpm
0-62mph: 6.7sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,467kg (1,487kg) [including 75kg driver]
MPG: 42.8 (44.1)
CO2: 150g/km (146g/km)
Price: £28,795 (£30,185)

Stats in brackets refer to DSG version





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Comments (56) Join the discussion on the forum

  • culpz 07 Jun 2017

    Jesus that new front end is ugly!

    I've honestly never really been attracted to the fast Octavia's. The fast Leon's, on the other hand, are the best of the VAG range at current for me.

  • Oddball RS 07 Jun 2017

    Never been a fan of either tbh, this looks cheap and nasty outside, and SEAT products look cheap and nasty inside.

  • Jimboka 07 Jun 2017

    Quite tempted by one of these, as a long term keeper.
    I had a 2008 which I kept for 8 years, I believe the new ones are far more refined as the old one was a bit noisy on motorways etc.
    I miss the estate practicality also. Time for a test!

  • Alucidnation 07 Jun 2017

    Turning off tc makes the car wheel spinny 'shocker'.

    It's a fast road estate car that probably wasn't intended for using on a track ffs.

    Having said that, its not for me.

  • ManicMunky 07 Jun 2017

    Front end is fugly, and they're still too expensive

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