Those equating sense of self worth to a badge still aren't going to get the Skoda Octavia vRS. A quarter of a century on, jokes once traded in the school playground still have currency. Even if those now telling them are happy enough to drive a VW or Audi sharing identical engines, running gear or more.
You can now add 'style' to the practicality and pace
A stance made all the more daft upon sight of this
third-gen Octavia vRS
. A long-time favourite of those ready to embrace cut price VW GTI tech and pace in generous and unpretentious packaging, it's now got a decent sense of style in its armoury too.
With heavy exposure to other MQB platform cars using the same EA888 direct-injected four-cylinder we were keen to have a go with the new vRS too. And then accidentally booked a diesel one.
Finally a chance to drive the petrol though, this time in hatchback vRS spec with the six-speed manual gearbox rather than the optional DSG. An estate makes more sense of the Octavia's pretension-free practicality and is actually roomier than the average British house - fact! OK, perhaps not. But both it and the hatch tested still cost about a tenth as much. In fact even the estate is two grand less than the Golf GTI with which it shares an engine.
Snob value be damned, it's a fine vehicle
The horsepower figure plucked out of the VW marketing hat for this application of the 2.0-litre four is ... 220hp, keen MQB spotters quick to notice that, as ever, the torque figure remains steadfast at 258lb ft. From 280hp SEAT Leon Cupra to 230hp Golf GTI it remains steadfast, feeding the conspiracy theory that Wolfsburg maintains the brand hierarchy via spec sheet horsepower figures rather than actual on the road performance.
So the Octavia goes like a spacious Golf R but costs 10 grand less? Not quite. But of all the cars using this engine/platform combo it's undoubtedly the best value for money.
Despite Skoda's place in the VW hierarchy, much of the tech available on the fancier relatives is also offered on the Octavia. Sadly that includes the loathsome lane-keeping assistance that tweaks the steering by a degree here and there, much like an annoying wheel grabbing track day instructor. At first acquaintance on the motorway it feels like the car is tramlining through truck grooves before you realise what's going on and sigh with relief that you can turn it off.
At least you can dial out the fake engine noise
It's only real use? Well, the 15 seconds of 'hands free' driving it'll grant you before disengaging is enough to reach into the glovebox, grab your bag of Seabrooks, open them and place the bag in your lap for some cruising altitude sustenance. Not that we'd ever advocate such a foolhardy act of course.
But how's the vRS on terrain more testing than the M4? Here's why Octavias are beloved of folk like mountain bikers, for whom a typical journey involves a three-hour motorway schlep followed by a last half-hour of quality Welsh blacktop to reach the latest trail centre.
At motorway speeds the vRS gets dangerously close to achieving the official 45.6mpg and is relaxed and comfortable with space to stretch out for all onboard. And then fun and nimble enough for the designated driver to make everyone else feel distinctly queasy once more challenging roads are found.
More unmarked police car than minicab
An extra 49mm in the wheelbase over a Golf means the Octavia isn't quite as nimble and chuckable but then it's always felt from a class above in size terms anyway. And it's true enough that the damping doesn't quite have the finesse of other MQB cars either. It's still decent though, low-speed brittleness opening up to pleasing long-travel float and decent body control that keeps everything in check even through violent direction changes.
As in all applications the engine is linear and functional in its power delivery once on-boost, the binary transition to that state able to unleash ugly scrabbles and tramping from the front axle if the road is wet. No fancy 'diff' here - just an ESP-based simulation. Which is about as authentic as the ear buzzingly intrusive engine noise in vRS mode, thankfully also switchable via the individual setting.
Sporty functional? Buzzwords a-go-go!
Working class hero
Even with the hateful interventions cancelled out the steering never really feels terribly authentic but the vRS has a nicely languid ability to make significant progress along decently challenging B-roads. The closest obvious rival is
the Focus ST
, also available as an estate of course. The Skoda doesn't quite have the Ford's handling authority or aggressive nature but both share a sense of sporty practicality that has us sounding dangerously close to a tick box on a marketing spreadsheet. Next you know we'll be preaching 'lifestyle appeal' from the rooftops.
Ducking that one, from the ice scraper concealed in the filler flap to our test car's optional rubber boot flooring the Octavia just has a sense of the workhorse about it though, albeit one spruced up and now considerably more stylish than it once was. Indeed, in Rallye Green Metallic and with the optional anthracite 18-inch Gemini wheels it's got a sense of style and confidence never before seen in an Octavia, without diminishing the back to basics charm and appealingly raw pace of previous models.
Business as usual then. And business is good.
SKODA OCTAVIA VRS 2.0 TSI HATCHBACK MANUAL
Engine: 1,984cc four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual/6-speed dual-clutch auto (DSG), front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 220@4,500-6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@1,500-4,400rpm
0-62mph: 6.8sec (DSG 6.9sec)
Top speed: 154mph (DSG 152mph)
Weight: 1,350kg (DSG 1,370kg)
MPG: 45.6mpg (DSG 44.1mpg, both NEDC combined)
CO2: 142g/km (DSG 149g/km)
Price: £23,755 (£24,655 as tested comprising space-saver spare £75, double-sided boot floor £75, Mitsumi Apple device connection and electric sunroof £750).