Skoda Octavia vRS review
It's not the fastest or the most fun, but the Skoda Octavia vRS has great practicality and usability to make it an accomplished all-rounder
The Skoda Octavia vRS isn't an easy car to get excited about, but that's precisely where its appeal lies. While other hot hatches and estates are more engaging or characterful, the vRS offers composed pace while remaining practical, solid and good value.
Its sober styling inside and out means the vRS won't turn heads like a SEAT Leon Cupra would, but it looks smart in an understated way and is solidly built. It's also one of the roomiest in its class, while the Golf GTI-sourced petrol is punchy, efficient and smooth. It's a shame the diesel is a bit too straight-laced, but the vRS 230 petrol gives a little bit more driver appeal and a whole lot of extra kit.
The Skoda Octavia, now in its third generation, is a dependable, solid and spacious family car that doesn't try to cater for keen drivers too much. The flagship hot vRS version, however, aims to inject a bit of speed and involvement into the mix.
Launched in 2013 alongside the VW Golf GTI it shares its engine and chassis with, the Octavia vRS is available in five-door hatch or estate format, with 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol or diesel engines and now four-wheel drive has been added into the mix. As of last year, Skoda also offers a vRS 230, which adds an extra 10bhp, bigger brakes, an electro-mechanical front differential and lots of extra equipment.
Built on the Volkswagen Group's much vaunted MQB platform, the Skoda Octavia vRS is closely related to the VW Golf GTI and SEAT Leon Cupra, or VW Golf GTD or Leon FR TDI, depending on whether you opt for 2.0-litre petrol or diesel power. The 5-door hatchback Octavia is significantly larger than any of those cars though, making it a very appealing prospect for buyers prioritising space and pace. If the already commodious hatch won't do the job in terms of carrying capacity, the Octavia vRS Estate almost certainly will.
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The petrol powered Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TSI will sprint to 62mph in 6.8 seconds and has a top speed of 154mph. With the optional DSG twin-clutch gearbox performance and fuel economy are blunted but the difference is very slight. It's a similar story with the 2.0-litre TDi diesel derivatives which are slower (8.1s 0-62mph and 144mph with the six-speed manual gearbox) but usefully more economical.
Engines, performance and drive
The six-speed manual is the gearbox to go for in the Octavia vRS – the six-speed DSG has to be beefed up to cope with the 350Nm and 380Nm of torque that the petrol and diesel engines develop respectively, so it adds weight.
It’s also not as smooth as the seven-speed DSG for less powerful engines. All Skoda Octavia vRS models get XDS+ which you can really feel braking the inside front and rear wheels to help sharpen cornering. They all get a sound generator too, this pumps a synthesised engine noise into the cabin but can be switched off if you'd prefer you engine noise natural. For even more grip four-wheel drive is now available on diesel vRS models, but it costs almost £1,500 and hits fuel economy.
Generally, grip is very good and the vRS corners with impressive agility for a big car. Control weights are good too and it never feels heavy on the road. It's not an out-and-out thriller like the Renaultsport Megane or even the Leon Cupra, however, and there's no option of adaptive dampers in the range so it feels less sophisticated than its hot VW Group siblings.
Refinement is also strong but the 19-inch rims transmit extra boomy noise into the cabin, so the Golf GTi is a more refined choice. The ride has a firm edge at lower speeds but smooths out the faster you go.
The vRS 230, launched in 2015, features similar upgrades to the Performance Pack on the VW Golf GTI. The brakes are beefed up, there's a new sports exhaust, and changes to the engine mapping allow an extra 10bhp. It's not noticeably quicker, but it feels punchier in the mid-range and makes a sportier noise. Overall the 230's upgrades are enough to give it a shade more driver appeal and make it feel more like the Golf GTI.
Both the petrol and diesel engines in the Octavia vRS are shared with the latest Golf GTI and GTD, but because of the Octavia’s extra weight, there's a slight penalty in terms of speed and efficiency. You'd have to be driving very quickly to notice, however.
That said, the petrol in particular is very potent, with lots of torque from low revs right to the redline. it even sounds good, especially in VRS 230 form. The diesel is smooth and adds an effortless dimension to progress with its thumping mid-range torque, but it doesn't sound or feel particularly sporty. If economy is your main concern, go for this.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Octavia vRS is heavier than its Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon relatives and its official mpg figures are a touch less competitive as a result. However, the diesel manual version emits a respectable 119g/km of CO2, increasing its appeal for fleet buyers.
If you drive it gently, the Octavia vRS will cost little more than a regular model to run, although the harder you drive it, the more you’ll need to spend on fuel, not to mention wear and tear items. The weight of the car is telling if you take it on track, where its brakes and front tyres in particular take a hammering. For most drivers, however, it should prove relatively cheap to run.
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The Octavia is cheaper to buy than the Golf, but slightly more expensive than the SEAT Leon overall. Its key selling point is that it offers much more space than both.
The Octavia vRS petrol is group 29 for insurance - similar to the VW Golf GTI and better than cars like the Peugeot 308 GT and Ford Focus ST. The diesel is even better at group 26, combining with lower fuel economy to reduce costs. The Insurance group for the vRS 230 will likely be a shade higher.
While it doesn't have the badge kudos of VW, the Octavia vRS shouldn't drop too much of its value as it's well priced to begin with, Expect it to hold at least 40 per cent of its value after three years.
Interior, design and technology
If you're after a performance hatchback that will knock the socks off passers-by with its striking bodywork covered in scoops, skirts and spoilers, the Skoda Octavia vRS isn't it.
The latest Octavia is a handsome but rather bland car and while the tweaks to the vRS version do help to lift its profile, it's still understated compared to rivals. Of course, that's exactly what many buyers want, and the reason why so many are used as undercover traffic police cars.
The new front and rear bumpers add sharpness and a bit of extra visual width, while you can now get 19-inch alloys as an option for the first time. There’s a small rear wing and twin-tailpipes but the best way to increase the visual impact of the vRS is to opt for one of the brighter paint colours.
Inside it's more of the same and if anything the vRS tweaks are a bit too limited. You get sports seats, aluminium pedals and a vRS badge on the steering wheel. That's about it. But the ease of use and solid feel of the standard Octavia's cabin remain, which is a good thing.
The VRS 230 is a bit sportier to look at inside and out, however. Racier 19-inch alloys, a small boot spoiler and gloss black trimmings help lift it (decals are optional), while the cabin gets leather sports seats with red stitching and a flat-bottomed wheel.
The standard vRS comes pretty well equipped, with xenon headlamps, 18-inch alloys and LED running lights as standard. You also gets dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and automatic post-collision braking. The vRS 230 adds standard satnav as well as heated electric leather, which almost justifies the £2,500 price jump on its own.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Every Octavia vRS comes equipped with a seven-inch touchscreen that controls the stereo, media player, Bluetooth phone connection and vehicle settings. It's very intuitive to use and detects your finger moving towards the screen, adjusting the buttons to suit. As with all VW-Group systems, the combination of a screen and physical buttons is well-judged and most people will find it very easy to get on with.
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It's a shame that satnav is an optional extra on all models except the vRS 230, however. The mapping software is quick and simple to use, but like many built-in systems some will find a cheap navigation app on their phone will do much the same job. The stereo sound quality is generally good, but there are large gaps between the different volume settings that can frustrate.
Between the dials there is also a central screen which shows a wealth of info including sat-nav directions, servicing mileage and trip information on your current journey.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The regular Octavia is one of the most useable and practical cars in its class and the upgrade to vRS spec doesn’t change that. The benefits of that boxy body are clear to see: its both roomier for passengers and can carry more luggage than almost anything at this price point. Plus, being a Skoda, it gets some neat little touches, such as an ice scraper in the boot and ticket holders around the cabin. General storage is good, too, with decent oddment bins and plenty of storage.
The Octavia vRS is, like the regular Octavia, significantly larger than most C-segment hatchback rivals in terms of length.The hatchback’s saloon-like profile doesn’t give away the fact that it’s essentially a Golf underneath, and the platform has been stretched.
The regular hatch is 4,659mm long, a huge 404mm longer than the Golf MK7, although it’s only 15mm wider. The wheelbase is only 49mm bigger, however, so it’s clear to see most of the space has gone into the enlarged boot. The vRS is actually 26mm longer than the regular Octavia due to its chunkier bumper design, but the space inside is identical and the best in its class.
Legroom, headroom and passenger space
There’s a reason why the Octavia is often used as a minicab. There’s loads of space for two adults (and enough space for three) in the back thanks to excellent head and legroom, while not even the tallest driver should have any complaints in the front. The Octavia vRS is much the same, although the sporty seats marginally impede rear legroom. Still, you’ll struggle to find a hot hatch with this sort of space.
There’s even more benefit to the Octavia is you open the rear hatchback. Whereas the Golf and Leon have 380-litre boots, the Octavia swallows up a massive 590 litres with the seats up. Fold them down (which is easy enough to do) and you’ll have 1,580-litre loadbay, which is better than a number of fully-fledged estate cars.
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The opening is large and there’s no big lip to lug items over, while the boot is overall a good shape. The only fly in the ointment is that the seats aren’t totally flat when folded, but it’s a minor complaint considering the space on offer. Features such as a loading hatch in the middle of the rear seats and a storage net in the boot also add a practical touch.
Reliability and Safety
Both Skoda as a brand and the Octavia itself have finished consistently highly in our Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys in the last few years. In 2015 the Octavia finished in 11th place in the survey overall, an excellent result which is bettered only by the SEAT Leon in this class.
Owners tell us reliability and build quality are top-notch, and the dealers generally provide exceptional service. We’re not hearing of any major mechanical or electrical issues so far, apart from a few minor gremlins with the sat-nav mapping. It should offer a dependable ownership experience on the whole.
The Octavia features further peace-of-mind in the form of a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. The adult and child occupant protection rating was extremely high, while it did just enough in the pedestrian and safety assist category to warrant the highest rating.
The usual array of airbags is offered on every model, while vRS spec cars get features like hill-hold assist, dynamic headlights, lane-keep assist and post-collision braking to prevent further accidents after a crash.
The Octavia vRS gets an average (but not exceptional) three-year warranty, with the first two years mileage unlimited and the third year limited to 60,000 miles. Some rivals beat that with a five-year warranty, but Skoda’s one is pretty much par for the course in this sector. You also get a three-year paint warranty and 12 years of protection against corrosion.
You will be required to service the Octavia vRS after 12,500 miles in the first year, and then both petrol and diesel models on the fixed interval scheme need attention every two years or 20,000 miles. Some cars will be part of a variable scheme, however, which can see the mileage limit increase or decrease depending on how its used. Skoda dealers fare exceptionally well in our 2015 Driver Power survey, so you should get good service and decent value from each visit.