Skoda Octavia vRS 245 vs Ford Focus ST
A power boost has put Skoda’s Octavia vRS hot hatch in the sights of the Ford Focus ST, but which is better?
The Skoda Octavia vRS has been one of our favourite hot hatchbacks for years, thanks to its practicality, affordability and pace. But it had started to fall behind rivals on power in recent times – at least until the brand announced this year that it was going to build an even hotter model. The newcomer is called the vRS 245, and sits above the vRS 230 in the range as the fastest Octavia yet.
This latest version has 242bhp, which puts it in the firing line of one of Britain’s best-loved front-wheel-drive hot hatches: the 247bhp Ford Focus ST. While the ST is now getting on, it’s still a tough competitor. Both models are aimed at those after a driver’s car that’s usable and won’t break the bank to run – but which one is the better choice?
|Model:||Skoda Octavia vRS 245 Hatch||Ford Focus ST-3 2.0 EcoBoost|
|Engine:||2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol||2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol|
|Transmission:||Six-speed manual,front-wheel drive, limited-slip differential||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive|
|0-60mph:||6.8 seconds||6.4 seconds|
|Options:||Metallic paint (£380), adaptive cruise (£565), Canton stereo system (£500), Dynamic Chassis Control (£850), space-saver spare wheel (£100), wireless phone charging (£300)||Metallic paint (£525), ST Black Style Pack (£850), heated steering wheel (£115), Premium Ford SYNC3 sat-nav (£195), rear-view camera (£250), driver assistance pack (£450)|
Skoda Octavia vRS 245
- • For: Strong performance, impressive practicality, lots of standard equipment.
- • Against: Short on steering feel, driving position too high, diff could be more aggressive.
Skoda launched the facelifted Octavia earlier this year, and with it came a power hike for the hot vRS model. The new flagship was boosted to 242bhp to seal its place at the head of the line-up, and this is the car we’re testing here.
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The power output makes it the fastest Skoda ever, with a 155mph top speed, while in greasy conditions at our test track it sprinted from 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds. It struggled with wheelspin off the line a little, but once it was rolling the Octavia showed the full potential of its enhanced engine. The 30 to 70mph test through the gears took just 5.5 seconds, and it covered 30-50mph in third in 2.7 seconds.
Although the Focus was faster from 0-60mph with a time of 6.4 seconds, the cars were closely matched in gear, and on the road both have an impressive level of grunt. The Skoda’s engine isn’t the most characterful, though. While it delivers a strong mid-range hit, from 4,000rpm the Octavia takes off with a frantic top end. The engine sounds flatter than the Ford’s, but in Sport mode the note is enhanced to give a deeper, bassier tone.
Selectable driving modes mean the Skoda works well as a daily driver, and although you have to pay £850 for adaptive dampers, we reckon that’s an option well worth having. In Comfort mode the Octavia vRS’s chassis is compliant and fairly forgiving, riding bumps more smoothly than the Focus ST, which is much firmer and feels unsettled on a typical A or B-road.
Put the Skoda in Sport mode, though, and it tenses up. It’s still not as firm as the Focus in this setting, but while it resists body roll better in fast corners, the softer damping mode is better suited to road driving.
The steering also gets heavier in Sport mode, and is nicely weighted, but it doesn’t have as much feel as the Ford. It’s the most disappointing aspect of the car; while the chassis is very capable, it just isn’t as communicative as the Focus ST.
There’s strong traction on the way out of corners thanks to the car’s electro-mechanical limited-slip differential; it lets you put the power down early and hooks the car around bends, improving agility, too, but it could be even more aggressive still. However, there isn’t as much torque steer as in the Ford.
Step back into everyday life and you’ll find the Octavia is a better fit than the Ford, thanks to its frankly enormous 590-litre boot. To top it off, the cabin is nicely designed and trimmed, and you get plenty of kit, too, including sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB, heated sports seats and parking sensors.
- • Touchscreen tech: Well designed and stylish eight-inch touchscreen is simple to use and feels years ahead of rival’s.
- • Steering: Octavia feels composed on the road, with huge performance. There isn’t masses of feedback, but it is fun.
- • Styling: Inside, standard sports seats and a clean interior design give the Skoda a premium look and feel.
Ford Focus ST
- • For: Sharp handling, strong, characterful engine, involving driving experience.
- • Against: Harsh ride, small boot capacity, old-fashioned interior.
Ford’s ST badge carries a lot of weight for hot hatch fans, especially here in the UK thanks to a back catalogue of high-performance hits. In recent years, the Focus ST has been overshadowed by the excellent Focus RS – but it’s still one of the best front-wheel-drive five-doors on sale.
The Ford’s steering has lots of feel, and it’s fast. Every corner is a delight; you feel connected to the road and in touch with how the car is moving around beneath you. The chassis set-up contributes to that, too, and lets you control the car’s line with the throttle. While the Skoda is engaging and fun to drive, the Ford has the edge if you’re an enthusiast – but it loses out in other areas.
The trade-off for this detailed communication is a harsh ride, because big bumps crash through the suspension (not helped by our car’s optional 19-inch wheels), so it doesn’t feel quite as composed on rougher roads. It’s much firmer and less forgiving than its rival, and adaptive dampers aren’t available to dial this back.
Still, the Ford was faster from 0-60mph, completing the benchmark sprint in 6.4 seconds. It was a little quicker from 30-50mph in fourth, taking 3.7 seconds to the Skoda’s 4.1 seconds, but in-gear performance in both cars is very strong.
The Ford’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine sounds good and pulls strongly from the bottom end. It’s a more characterful unit than the Skoda’s, but the boosty power delivery and fast steering mean you find yourself fighting more torque steer on a cambered, rutted road.
The manual gearchange is smooth and makes the ST’s powertrain enjoyable to exploit, but the Skoda does have the edge; its shift action slots home more smoothly, which makes it satisfying, but also easy to drive day to day.
While the Ford definitely delivers driving thrills, it’s not as versatile as the Skoda. The 316-litre boot is much smaller than the Octavia’s, plus passengers in the rear will feel more cramped due to the more compromised packaging.
The Octavia vRS also has a more modern interior, especially because of the high-resolution touchscreen fitted in the centre of the dash; the Ford’s display looks and feels older in comparison.
The Ford might offer more fun, but you’ll have to pay more to run it, because it’ll be more expensive to fuel than the Skoda.
Add in higher company car tax, and although the Focus is cheaper for cash buyers and on a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) payment plan, the Octavia is the winner here when it comes to costs.
- • Infotainment: Ford features eight-inch SYNC3 sat-nav and infotainment screen, but it looks rather dated here.
- • Driving: Focus has a firm ride, although it provides plenty of feedback and copes well on most surfaces.
- • Styling: Design feels a little less modern overall, but materials used are of a good quality and cabin is tidy.
First place: Skoda Octavia vRS 245
The Octavia vRS 245 is fast, fun and even better dynamically thanks to its new diff. It has the measure of the Focus ST, but that’s also because it offers more space in the boot and a higher-quality cabin, while it’ll be cheaper to run for business users and private buyers. It’s a brilliant all-rounder.
Second place: Ford Focus ST
The Focus ST is as good as ever at showing how great a front-wheel-drive hatchback with a big engine up front can be, but it is getting on a bit. The outdated interior and harsh ride mean it falls behind the Skoda here, although it is still more fun and keen drivers will love its engaging handling.