Skoda Octavia VRS

Fast family car has long been a hit – so is latest model the best yet?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

There’s always been something very satisfying about the Skoda Octavia vRS. It’s a performance car for those in the know. These latest changes don’t mess too much with a winning formula: the visual upgrades are well judged and give the model more presence, while subtle adjustments make the driving experience a little sharper. With real practicality and storming pace, the vRS continues to be fast, comfortable and good value

Meet the hottest Octavia yet! This is the latest version of Skoda’s much loved vRS – and it benefits from a thorough freshen-up all round.

The model has been a strong seller ever since its launch in 2000, with more than 60,000 finding a home worldwide with owners looking for an under-the-radar fast car. Such a loyal following means Skoda doesn’t want to mess too much with a tried-and-tested formula – so, as with the recently updated hatchback and estate range, it’s the looks of the vRS which have received the most attention.

To answer criticism of the outgoing car’s lack of road presence, the new model gets a larger chrome grille – which takes inspiration from the flagship Superb – and sleeker headlamps. The latter are now available with adaptive xenon bulbs, too.

Other new features include foglamps which turn with the steered wheels, plus LED daytime running lights. At the rear the tail-lamps are smarter and more distinctive, while fresh five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels complete the look.

A new metallic paint colour, called Anthracite, joins the range and completes the visual upgrades. The result is a car that’s more purposeful, although it will never rival the Golf GTI for understated style.

Inside, it’s pretty much business as usual. Quality is impressive and neat details such as the vRS-badged sports seats remain.

Under the skin, Skoda hasn’t seen the need to boost power, even though similarly priced competitors offer ever-higher outputs. So, the 197bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, taken from the Volkswagen Golf GTI MkV, is carried over. Our test car featured the firm’s 168bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, mated to the six-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox. As with the petrol model, though, a six-speed manual is also available.

Skoda has managed to shave 20kg off the weight of the petrol version, while 15kg has gone from the diesel. Together with a slightly more slippery shape (thanks to that new front), these changes improve fuel economy by 1mpg.

The suspension set-up has been lowered and tweaked for an even sportier experience, too. As a result, the Octavia vRS is extra fun to drive, with slightly sharper steering and a little less body roll in corners. It’s still not as involving as the Golf GTI – it is too big for that – but it manages to grip hard and change direction as a hot hatch should.

In addition, it continues to give a comfortable ride, covering long distances with ease. And while it may not boast as much power as rivals, it certainly isn’t lacking in pace – the gruff-sounding 2.0-litre diesel provides plenty of punch, with 0-62mph taking 8.4 seconds.

However, it’s the engine’s flexibility that impresses most. Stacks of mid-range urge provide real response in any gear for smooth, fast overtaking. Enthusiastic drivers will prefer the six-speed manual, but whichever transmission you choose the car quickly settles down to a quiet high-speed motorway cruise.

Add in a comfortable cabin, brilliant refinement, an enormous luggage space and – as you have told us in our Driver Power surveys – a dealer network that offers unparalleled customer service, and the vRS truly is a great buy.

Rival: Seat Exeo

Sharing the same engine as the Octavia vRS, SEAT’s rebodied Audi A4 offers a lot of car for the money. It’s more of an executive express than a sports saloon, but is well worth a look.

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