New Skoda Octavia vRS 2017 review
The Skoda Octavia vRS is the latest model to receive 2017 updates, with new tech and a modest power boost for the Czech hot hatch
The Skoda Octavia vRS is just as good as it’s ever been, but with a few choice upgrades from the previous vRS 230 model now standard, it’s a better driver’s car than before. With just 10bhp more than before it doesn’t feel any faster in the real world, but it didn’t need to - the Octavia is best at providing an enjoyable drive when you want one but settling back into family life when you don’t. It’s just as practical as before, and has more kit as well.
Skoda recently introduced a round of updates for the Octavia, adding some new tech and a subtle redesign to the practical family car range. Now it’s the turn of the hot vRS model, which gets the same set of changes as the standard car along with a small power boost.
The Czech brand previously offered the vRS 230 as a separate model, but the power upgrade that came on that car - an extra 10bhp, up to 227bhp - is now standard. The diesel version is still available too, though it’s unchanged and still produces 181bhp. A 242bhp petrol version is also on the way soon, and that will take over as the most potent vRS model available.
The new grille, LED headlights and C-shaped rear lights mark out this facelifted model, and inside there are some new Alcantara seats and ambient lighting to add to the sporty feel. All cars get 18-inch wheels as standard (19s are optional), a 15mm lower ride height and a wider rear track.
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It’s a relatively minor upgrade over the previous model, although Skoda has focused on addressing the areas that needed changing, rather than fixing what wasn’t broken. Matching the vRS 230’s power output means the hot Octavia completes the 0-62mph sprint one tenth of a second faster than the old 217bhp model. The benchmark dash takes 6.7 seconds, and thanks to the punchy 350Nm of torque from only 1,500rpm, it’s an easy car to drive quickly – requiring very few revs to make decent progress. Even though it runs out of steam as you get to the top of the rev range it’s still fun when driven hard.
Pressing the vRS button on the dashboard adds a raspy note to the exhaust, improves throttle response slightly and adds steering weight. That’s all very well, but it’s the electronic differential that makes the biggest different to the driving experience. It lets you power out of corners a bit earlier, which on dry roads is a boon. On the wet, smooth roads of our test route in Austria the Octavia tended to understeer when pushed hard, but there’s enough grip to keep things in check.
The steering feels natural, but it could be quicker, meaning the Octavia vRS doesn’t feel as agile as a Volkswagen Golf GTI. There’s a bit more body roll, ensuring it doesn’t feel as composed in a quick turn, and the XDS+ differential isn’t as aggressive as the VAQ one you can get in the Golf either. The forthcoming vRS 245 model will get that system as standard, though.
The Octavia vRS is still fun to drive, but it has more of a focus on all-round ability than its rivals. The Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST are sharper to drive, but the Skoda is better over lumpy tarmac and has a much bigger boot. There’s more space inside for passengers, and adults can easily sit in any of the seats without feeling cramped.
It’s got one of the most cavernous boots of any hot hatch, too, as that long hatchback shape creates loads of extra room in the back. Fold down the rear seats and it opens up to a total of 1,580 litres, which is more than a VW Tiguan SUV. Added to those roomy back seats, that means the vRS a great family car.
Fuel economy of 43.5mpg is pretty good for a high-performance petrol engine, but the 181bhp diesel vRS model returns 62.7mpg. It’s not as fast or as fun to drive, but it’s the one to go for if you regularly rack up big miles.
Even though it’s cheaper than a VW Golf GTI, the differences inside are small enough to make the Golf look a bit pricey. The materials are good quality, and the clean design means it feels upmarket in the cabin. The sports seats are comfortable and feel great as well.
Like in the Golf, the new infotainment system could do with more physical buttons, but it’s still a great-looking screen with a lot of functionality. The optional 9.2-inch Columbus screen comes with sat-nav and a Wi-Fi hotspot.