New Skoda Octavia vRS Estate 2020 review
Does the hot Skoda Octavia vRS Estate successfully combine fun and function?
We’ve yet to try the hatchback variant, but the latest Octavia vRS seems set to remain a left-field choice in the hot hatch market. It’s nicely finished, very practical and, while it’s not cheap, it is solid value. It’s not as involving or as fun as Ford’s Focus ST Estate, but it’s hard to not appreciate the refinement and sophistication on offer here. So perhaps we should put this down as a car that’s easy to admire and respect, but a slightly tougher one to love.
Manufacturers face a tricky balancing act when it comes to their performance badges, but you can’t accuse Skoda of not being committed to vRS.
The latest Octavia vRS is available with three powerplants – a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, a 1.4-litre petrol-based plug-in hybrid and, at some point in the first half of 2021, a turbodiesel edition that can be had with four-wheel drive. All of these iterations are available as hatchbacks or estates, too, giving the vRS nameplate great breadth.
We’re starting here with the petrol edition, in estate form and equipped with a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is in the pipeline too). The engine produces 242bhp and 370Nm of torque from 1,600rpm – enough to take the car from 0-62mph in less than seven seconds.
Those figures are punchy enough to match those of the Mk8 Golf GTI. And yet in hatchback trim, the Octavia vRS costs from £31,495 – a couple of thousand pounds less than its German sister model.
In the past, that type of advantage would have been reflected by a slightly cheaper-feeling cabin. But that’s no longer the case. Indeed, there aren’t even any garish flashes of Skoda ‘vRS green’ to be seen, just a bit of red stitching on the dashboard trim, some sports seats, and a slightly racier steering wheel. The vRS’s interior is sophisticated, smart and nicely finished, backing up everything we’ve experienced so far in this latest generation of Octavia.
The vRS’s on-road behaviour further reinforces this extra maturity – although depending on your expectations, you may conclude that this is not an entirely positive development. Because if you want your Octavia estate to feel like a full-blown B-road weapon, you’re going to end up being a little disappointed.
The signs are there from the moment you fire up the engine, because in contrast with some hot hatches, there’s barely any theatre at all; it could easily be a regular 1.5-litre Octavia instead of the performance flagship.
This relative absence of drama continues once you’re up and running. Rev the engine hard and it has that usual, slightly droning VW Group tone, but it’s near silent at a motorway cruise – drowned out easily by rumble from the low-profile tyres beneath.
Find some faster, twistier roads and the vRS’s rationale becomes even more evident. There’s decent low-down punch from the engine and, although the auto gearbox is a bit too keen to shift up early in day-to-day running, you can flick it into a sport mode to sharpen its focus, or use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to activate the ultra-sharp shifts yourself. It doesn’t quite feel as rapid as its raw performance figures suggest, though. Swift? Yes. Comfortable with the car’s size and weight? Absolutely, yes. But scorching fast, as is the norm for this class of car in 2020? We’re less sure.
The steering is pleasingly direct, although it’s a tad lighter than we’d like and still relatively uncommunicative. The standard limited-slip differential helps to keep the nose in check in corners, and you can certainly throw this Octavia around more than any other in the range.
But while the body control is decent and it’s happiest on fast, flowing roads; anything particularly bumpy or rapid changes of direction unsettle it. But the vRS rides better than some conventional Octavias, even on the standard 19-inch wheels, because it gets a sophisticated multi-link suspension. However, a Focus ST Estate brings more satisfying steering, B-road agility and involvement.
The vRS doesn’t want for kit, though. LED matrix headlights are standard, as are heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors, the digital instrument panel and a brilliant 10-inch infotainment system.
And of course, behind the front seats is one of the best rear passenger areas of any mainstream production car, along with an enormous load bay (600 litres, or 1,700 litres with the back seats folded down). The Octavia may not have the Focus ST beaten on driver thrills, but it hammers it (and anything else at this price, for that matter) on practicality.
|Model:||Skoda Octavia Estate vRS 2.0 TSI DSG|
|Engine:||2.0-litre 4cyl turbo|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive|