Skoda Octavia

20 Dec, 2005 11:06am Ross Pinnock

Skoda's vRS name has really come to mean something to fast car fans - and it's taken only six years


The latest Octavia vRS builds on the strengths of its predecessor. As ever, it offers a roomy cabin, a vast boot and superb build, while sharper styling and Skoda's traditional value approach combine to make it an attractive proposition. Doubts about the brand's image should have been banished years ago; any buyers put off by the odd joke will find they're the ones being laughed at.
In a market where reputations can take decades to establish, Skoda's high-performance vRS badge is something of an oddity. While it can't rival Volkswagen's GTI logo for glamour, or the Ford RS brand for heritage, the vRS name has really come to mean something to fast car fans - and it's taken only six years.

Every successive vRS has outperformed its predecessor, and enthusiasts know the launch of a new model is something to get excited about. Take the latest Octavia vRS as an example - it's the Czech firm's fastest-ever car.

The big news is that the model uses the same 197bhp turbo engine as the MkV Golf GTI. This propels the hatch from 0-62mph in only 7.3 seconds, with a top speed of 149mph. On the outside, there are plenty of clues as to the pace on offer, the most obvious being the big 17-inch alloys. They fill the wheelarches well, and give a glimpse of the trademark green-painted vRS brake calipers.

At the front there's a revised bumper with a bigger air intake, while a neat spoiler adds muscle at the rear. The overall effect is purposeful rather than aggressive - especially in our test car's understated silver paint. Yet from any angle, what strikes you is the vRS's size - it's 23cm longer than the new Ford Focus, and both wider and taller, too.

The upmarket look continues inside, where silver instruments match the mock-aluminium centre console. Black headlining creates a cosy feel, soft-touch plastics are everywhere and the steering wheel and gearlever get leather trim.

Build quality is solid and there's lots of VW-sourced switchgear placed logically around the cabin. Rear passengers aren't forgotten, either, and the roomy interior will allow a pair of six-footers to sit one behind the other with ease.

The massive 560-litre boot will also appeal to family buyers. But we don't like the three different fabrics on the firm sports seats; these are at odds with the otherwise restrained style. Still, the chairs offer lots of adjustment which, combined with rake and reach steering movement, means an excellent driving position.

Turn the key and it's hard not to feel let down. The engine sounds like a different animal to the one in the Golf, and only becomes audible near the 6,500rpm red line. At idle, you barely notice it.

With 280Nm of torque on tap from only 1,800rpm, the turbo is unobtrusive, although a heavy right foot will set the warning light for the optional stability control flashing. Turn off the safety net and it's easy to spin the tyres, proving 197bhp can be unruly in a front-driven car. Economy of 35.8mpg is possible, as the six-speed box's tall top ratio makes for relaxed high-speed cruising. Yet you're never more than a gearshift away from a comfortable overtaking manoeuvre.

Lower, stiffer suspension ensures the handling is up to scratch, although the set-up is biased towards comfort. The Octa-via rides well, smoothing out ruts and bumps, yet resisting roll. But push too hard and the front wheels will lose grip. Refinement is first class and the Skoda is a great long-distance companion, with strong, progressive brakes.
As such, the new car isn't a typical hot hatch; rather, it's swift, capable and practical family transport. It arrives on 23 January - and not only will the vRS badge go from strength to strength, but Skoda's fastest-ever car is sure to become one of its most desirable, too.

Key specs

At £17,500, the vRS is great value. Climatic air-con, four airbags and a CD player come as standard, while the options list includes cruise and stability control, xenon lights, sat-nav and curtain airbags. What's more, buyers get the choice of five exterior colours.
* Engine: 2.0 4cyl turbo, 197bhp
* 0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
* Econ./CO2: 35.8mpg/187g/km
* Price: £17,500