Skoda Octavia vRS 230 review
Skoda turns up the heat with Skoda Octavia vRS 230 hatch, and we drive it on British roads
If you expected a complete revelation with the Skoda Octavia vRS 230, you’ll be disappointed – it’s far more subtle than that. The diff and sports exhaust provide an extra layer of driver appeal, but this isn’t a track-orientated car by any means. Instead, it works nicely on the road; and combined with the wealth of extra equipment and the Octavia’s practicality, it makes an impressive all-round package. This is the hidden gem in the VW Group’s hot hatch stable.
It appears that there’s an element of favouritism within the VW Group stable of hot hatchbacks. After all, the 261bhp VW Golf GTI Clubsport is just around the corner, there's already the scorching Golf R, while SEAT has also upped the ante with its Leon Cupra 290. So where does that leave Skoda?
The brand’s Octavia vRS has been left to its own devices since its launch in 2013, but there’s now a new vRS 230 model, which gets a small power boost and the Golf GTI’s Performance Pack add-ons. Externally, the new car features unique 19-inch rims, a rear spoiler, gloss-black grille and door mirrors plus optional red 230 decals on the sills.
Look a little closer, and you’ll spot bigger brakes and a new sports exhaust system. Mechanical changes are limited, yet they do make a difference and include a rejigged ECU for an extra 10bhp (up to 227bhp) and a new electro-mechanical limited-slip diff.
We previously drove the vRS 230 on a track in Slovakia, so didn’t learn an awful lot about its everyday ability; but this is our first time with the car on UK roads. Like all Octavias, the 230 has to do without the adaptive dampers available in other VW Group models, yet it’s clear the incremental upgrades make up for it.
At low speeds, the car is as easy to drive as the standard model with an identical suspension setup, but the larger alloys give the ride a slightly firmer edge – although it’s never crashy and improves when you pick up the pace. The steering is well-weighted and the 2.0 TSI petrol has plenty of low-down pull, but all those things can be said about the standard vRS.
Pressing the vRS button does make a difference, however, as the exhaust takes on a raspy note and it feels that bit more urgent thanks to an improved throttle response. If the heavier steering that comes with it doesn't appeal, you can select Individual mode to select your preferred combination of dynamic tweaks.
While a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds (0.1 seconds quicker than regular vRS) is actually two-tenths slower than the Golf GTI, it feels every bit as fast and the precise six-speed manual gearbox allows you to exploit the power. There's not that much outright fun to be had, but it all makes for a nicely composed and quick point-to-point car.
The diff makes its presence known coming out of tighter and slower corners, ensuring power is delivered smoothly and without wheelspin. It doesn’t feel dramatically faster anywhere than the standard vRS, yet there’s certainly an added layer of involvement.
The changes to the cabin revolve around a wealth of additional kit. On top of the vast range of equipment featured in the standard vRS, the 230 gets a touchscreen with navigation, electric heated leather sports seats, parking sensors and rear privacy glass.
The extra goodies only add to the Octavia’s smart, high-quality feel. There isn’t quite the level of polish you’ll find in the Golf, but it’s easily a match for the Leon in terms of finish and ease of use.
Add all of that up, and the £2,500 price rise over the standard vRS seems like a very reasonable premium.