28 Dec 2013

Driven - Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0TSI 220PS DSG

Alex Wakefield reviews the 2013 Skoda Octavia vRS

2013 Skoda Octavia vRS

The third generation Octavia has been with us now for about a year. This range of medium family hatchback and estate cars has struck a chord with buyers in the UK. The Octavia has always been a handsome vehicle, although conservatively styled. Towards the end of the first generation, the vRS model appeared with the same 1.8 litre 20 valve turbocharged petrol engine that was at that time, seeing service in the VW Golf GTI and Audi TT.

A second generation model followed, and the popularity of the car grew amongst those who wanted hot hatchback performance, with family car practicality. With a massive boot, and a more reasonable price tag than the VW and Audi models equipped with the same technology, the car also found favour with the emergency services, becoming a common sight on the motorway, piloted by police officers who have always had a requirement for sensible cars with above average performance capabilities.
2013 Skoda Octavia vRS

This third version has now set deeper foundations and rather than the Octavia being seen as a less expensive alternative to a Golf , it has developed a unique identity. The external styling of this high performance Octavia is distinct and confident, from the darkened front light surrounds, via the 18” alloy wheels, to the rear with for the first time, twin exhaust outlets. Yet, like the two versions which preceded it, it doesn’t shout or brag.

Inside, the cabin of our test car is very dark, with a black headlining, and black leather seats, but the optional electric glass sunroof offsets this somewhat. It’s a nice feature, giving a greater impression of space in what is already a very generous package. The dashboard is dominated by a large touchscreen satellite navigation system which is a must-have option. It’s responsive and informative, and incorporates a DAB radio system and telephone preparation. All occupants of the car will enjoy the above-average legroom, allowing them to stretch out, although headroom is a little limited in the rear. The boot is absolutely huge, offering 590 litres of space with the back seats up, and 1,580 litres with them folded down. The space is so significant in fact, as to render the estate model largely unnecessary.
2013 Skoda Octavia vRS interior

Opening up the glass roof lets in the outside world, although those hoping for a sporty cacophony from the twin exhausts will be disappointed. The only really noticeable external sound is the turbocharger whistling loudly as the 220BHP engine sends power to the front wheels. This latest model has an extra 20BHP over the last one, although much of this advantage is lost through torque steer. The driver has to hold on to the wheel tightly on full-bore acceleration, as the rim squirms in the hands quite noticeably. Otherwise, progress is extremely swift and uneventful. With the DSG gearbox fitted to our test car, the official 0-62mph time is a useful 6.9 seconds, and there is no reason to doubt claims of a 152mph top speed.

With the torque steer, the DSG transmission makes a lot of sense, allowing the driver to concentrate on keeping the car straight as speeds build up. In the Octavia, the system is a 6 speed, with nicely chosen ratios which make use of the turbocharged torque, but which also give the car a nice relaxed cruising capability. It’s a nice combination of confidence-inspiring sprinting ability, with long distance loping also firmly on the agenda. That latter aspect however, it dented by the lack of standard cruise control fitment, which seems rather mean on a car like this. The plastic gearchange paddles are a little disappointing, but in general the gearbox does what you want it to, and the changes are lightning fast.
2013 Skoda Octavia vRS

The motorway is likely to be the natural hunting place of the Octavia vRS but it can do B-roads well. It’s an easy car to throw around, although the above average exterior dimensions can cause a little anxiety when confines become tighter. The car feels quite wide and long, but the trade off is a smooth ride quality which allows you to concentrate on your road positioning. The beautiful, high quality steering wheel transmits a good impression of the road surface to the driver. The steering never feels excessively light but in hard cornering it can come across a little numb. For a front wheel drive car with too much power for two wheels, it’s not surprising to discover that understeer will result from foolishness, but you have to be deliberately provoking the car to unstick the front tyres.

At first, it’s easy to wonder if the Octavia vRS is just a little too competent. Everything it sets out to do, is done to a good standard, from the quality of the construction, through to the use of the performance, with the possible exception of the torque steer. Indeed, those unnecessary extra 20 horses are the only exception to a package which resists the urge to shout too loudly about what it can offer to those with a heavy right foot. But the more time you spend with the vRS, the more you realise that this has to be close to the perfect family car for those who don’t want to draw attention to themselves. It’ll put a smile on your face on those rare occasions where there’s an opportunity for a blast, swallow a Christmas tree, cross continents and, if the previous examples can be used as a guide, still look good in another decade.

It’s not the most exciting car in the world, true. But if you’re not made of money, and have space in your life for only one car, then it is hard to imagine a better fit into your lifestyle than the Octavia vRS.

Review by Alex Wakefield