Skoda Octavia vRS hatchback
"The Skoda Octavia vRS satisfies the head and heart thanks to its blend of performance and practicality"
- Just as practical as standard car
- Impressive performance
- Good fun to drive
- Some rivals are more refined
- Lacks desirability of VW Golf GTI
- Not most economical in the class
In a world of wildly gaping air-vents, enormous alloy wheels and huge, aeroplane-style spoilers, The Skoda Octavia vRS stands out from the crowd by blending into it. It's one of the most understated performance hatchbacks you can buy, serving to please motorists on the hunt for a speedy, exciting car that doesn’t shout about its capabilities.
Even with a TDI diesel badge on the boot, it delivers effortless pace, yet practicality isn’t sacrificed. Like the regular Octavia, the vRS has one of the biggest boots in the business – and there's an estate version if you need even more luggage space.
As Skoda is part of the VW Group, the Octavia shares parts with the Volkswagen Golf, so the vRS could be described as a more practical, less expensive Golf GTI or GTD. What’s more, an update in 2017 refreshed the looks, increased the power of the 2.0-litre petrol engine and improved quality still further. Costing less than a similarly powerful and well equipped BMW and Audi, the Octavia vRS offers excellent value for money.
Updated versions can be identified by a new grille and split LED headlamps in keeping with the Czech brand’s latest corporate look, plus restyled rear lights with a C-shaped signature. It’s now more distinctive, but still a subtle looker compared to the latest Honda Civic Type R. The interior has been improved with Alcantara suede upholstery and ambient lighting, as well as a larger eight-inch screen for the infotainment system.
The 2017 update also saw a small power boost for the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which now produces 242bhp, channeled to the front wheels through a clever XDS+ electronic limited-slip differential for sportier handling. A Challenge version with standard adjustable suspension sits at the top of the vRS tree and we think it’s the most exciting Octavia vRS so far. Meanwhile, the 2.0-litre diesel is unchanged, delivering 181bhp and respectable fuel economy for a car with such impressive performance.
There’s also a four-wheel-drive version of the diesel. It’s best seen as a capable all-weather cruiser – the kind of car that would be ideal for a family skiing holiday. The four-wheel-drive system adds traction in cold, damp or slippery conditions, but doesn’t necessarily make the Octavia vRS feel faster or more fun on dry roads than the standard model.
The vRS diesel is popular with company-car drivers and it’s not hard to see why, with a 31% Benefit-in-Kind rating making for affordable performance motoring. Private buyers should also enjoy its 50.4mpg fuel economy and every version of the vRS costs the same £145 a year in road tax.
Hop inside and there are just enough changes to ensure the high-performance model is marked out from the regular Octavia, but nothing is over the top. A sports steering wheel, figure-hugging seats and subtle vRS logos all add to the effect. Importantly, nothing has been lost in practicality terms and there are neat touches like an umbrella under the passenger seat and a boot light that doubles up as a torch.
It’s a similar story on the road, where the extra performance potential of the vRS is evident, without needing a smooth race track to keep the suspension from bouncing uncomfortably. We’d still avoid the optional 19-inch alloy wheels, though, as they make things a bit firm over bumps. For around £850, you can fit Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which allows you to select a few suspension settings for a more comfortable or sportier drive; it works well. Even in sport mode, the big Octavia doesn’t feel as sharp to drive as the Hyundai i30 N or Peugeot 308 GTi, taking a fraction longer to dive into corners – but on the other hand, it’s also more relaxed.
The Skoda Octavia finished 28th out of the 100 cars ranked in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK. Safety is another tick in the box, with a five-star result from Euro NCAP in 2013, including a 93% score for adult occupant protection.
With promising reliability, decent economy, up-to-date safety and a big boot, the Octavia vRS is amply qualified as a family car. And when you factor in its engaging road manners and impressive turn of speed, it makes a compelling Golf GTI alternative.