The spacious, reliable, reasonably priced Skoda Octavia has always been the most unremittingly sensible of sensible family cars. But add a ‘vRS’ badge to the back and it becomes something else entirely.
The regular Octavia isn’t unattractive, but it is sufficiently bland that it blends into the roadscape background. The subtlely extended bumpers, black trim and rear spoiler on the vRS raise it just far enough beyond anonymity to let you know it’s something a bit special. It’s purposeful without being in-yer-face.
Likewise, the interior is largely standard Skoda fare. So it’s hardly exciting in there, but everything falls readily to hand and it’s beautifully made. It is enlivened, though, by some fantastically supportive and comfortable sports seats.
The 2.0 TSi turbo-engined Octavia vRS, tested here, produces 218bhp and 258lb/ft of torque. While identical to the closely-related VW Golf GTi, those numbers are quite a way behind the Ford Focus ST and SEAT Leon Cupra.
Not that it matters overmuch. It’s raw figures of 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds and 154mph flat-out are respectable enough. And it’s a usefully flexible engine that can trickle along in a high gear, then produce muscular thrust without having to change down a gear.
Ride & Handling
As any good hot hatch should be, the Octavia vRS is capable of covering ground indecently quickly. But it goes about its business in its own way.
Where some of its rivals chatter enthusiastically through the steering and chassis, the vRS doesn’t say that much. But what it does say is worth knowing and said in good time. Add in rock-solid stability and its relaxed manner gives you complete confidence. It’s not fun to drive per se, but it is very satisfying.
Around town, there is little extra heft in the steering than lesser Octavias, and even on 18-inch wheels, the ride is comfortable and composed.
Step on the throttle and the turbo engine emits a pleasingly hard-edged growl. In early versions of this third-generation vRS, the noise settled down when cruising. But for 2014, Skoda has added a sound pipe that directs noise from the engine into the cabin.
The amount of noise it generates under power is incongruous, and it never entirely goes away. If you’re not in the mood, it could get annoying. Still, it does at least drown out whatever road and wind noise there may be.
Space & Practicality
The fact the Octavia is one of the most popular minicabs in the country, indeed Europe, tells you all you need to know. Rear seat space betters many cars from the class above and the hatchback we drove has a truly enormous 590 litre boot. That’s considerably bigger than even the Ford Focus ST estate.
And it’ll do 45.6mpg (we average 35 or so). Though if that’s not good enough for you, you could always get the 60mpg-plus diesel. And if you need a bigger boot, get the estate.
The vRS comes with 18-inch wheels, Bluetooth, DAB radio, dual-zone aircon and rear parking sensors as standard.
Spec-for-spec, the Focus ST is quite a lot cheaper than the vRS, and is more exuberant to drive and look at. The SEAT Leon Cupra is considerably faster, but a couple of grand more expensive. The Volkswagen Golf GTi offers a near-perfect blend of fun and practicality for less than £2,000 more than the vRS.
There are plenty of proper family cars that are fast and satisfying to drive. If you want those qualities in a car that costs less than £30,000, the Skoda Octavia vRS blends them together better than any other car.
Skoda Octavia 2.0TSi 220PS vRS
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Power/Torque: 218bhp; 258lb/ft
Economy/Emissions: 45.6mpg; 142g/km
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Top speed: 154mph