Octavia vRS manages to combine impressive performance with family car practicality and comfort
At my first sight with a Skoda vRS (some 20 or so years ago) it was clear the car was hiding its light under a bushel.
Or lights under the grille, to be more accurate, as this was a ‘Q’ car: an unmarked, high performance patrol car being used to give sinners in East Anglia a nasty surprise, It didn’t look much different to a standard Octavia and the vRS performance sub-brand was little known, no doubt luring the wrong-doers into a false sense of security (I emphasise the car in question was parked at a service area just off the A14: I wouldn’t have given it a second glance but for the two traffic officers who drove off in it).
But the latest Octavia vRS won’t be so easy to hide: visual clues apart, the 2019 model is the most powerful yet, sharing its 245bhp turbocharged engine with its cousin the Golf GTi Performance and capable of hitting 62mph in 6.7 seconds from a standing start.
That makes it a serious ‘hot’ hatchback but it’s much more than that, especially in the estate car guise of the test car. In its extra high specification ‘Challenge’ trim and with the excellent seven-speed DSG gearbox this model costs £32,435.
Not cheap, but with its extra space and practicality it has an edge over hot hatch rivals (its 590-litre boot even beats some larger rivals) and is considerably less expensive than its few high performance estate rivals.
No surprise, then that the latest Octavia has taken an industry award for ‘best medium estate’ and the vRS ‘best hot hatch’. The estate car tested combines the virtues which won both awards.
Rather than looking chunky, the fact that it was an estate actually emphasises the low, sleek lines of the car, with distinctive features such as 19-inch black alloy wheels, red performance brake calipers, VRS badging, adaptive LED headlights and distinctive bumpers and rear spoiler.
The interior has sporty features, too, such as aluminium pedals and a multi-function sports steering wheel – even a lap timer on the comprehensive digital instrument display. But there’s an upmarket feel too, with the alcantara upholstery and climate control.
That duality complements the car’s character. With 245PS and (thanks to turbocharging) 370Nm of torque available and engine speeds barely above tickover, the vRS’s impressive acceleration is smooth and linear, feeling relaxed rather than manic.
That is perfectly matched to the dynamic chassis and suspension which matches hot hatch rivals in its ability to tackle twisty roads with aplomb, yet is so well damped it provides a supple, roll-free ride which matches any rival estate, let alone a high performance version.
An electronic locking front differential helps to keep it on track, and there is, of course, a stability programme and a full range of safety systems.
You can select gears manually via steering wheel mounted ‘paddles’ but the DSG – in my view the ultimate automated transmission – is so efficient I rarely felt the need to use them. The exception was to change down to increase engine braking on long descents.
You can also set up the car’s performance and responses with a driving mode switch, which includes eco, comfort and sport options. Comfort seemed to suit all my driving needs and I confess I didn’t feel the need to go for the practically race-tuned ‘performance’ button. There are twin tailpipes tuned to produce a sporty growl, but only if you’re hard on the throttle.
Fuel consumption is, according to the new ‘real world’ testing procedure between 32.7 and 35.8mpg: my own test achieved almost exactly between the two. The car’s CO2 rating is 141g/km.
The vRS estate seats five adults in comfort and its boot can carry 590 litres of cargo, rising to 1,580 litres if you fold the rear seats down. The Octavia has also featured prominently in the Caravan Club’s tow car competition, underlining its all-round practicality.
The vRS is the performance flagship of the Octavia range, with a high specification to match but the Challenge version takes that a step further. A central touchscreen controller, satnav, auto-dimming and heated door mirrors, electric windows all round, illuminated glove box, a choice of ten colours for the ambient lighting system, front and rear parking sensors and heated front seats are all standard. Dual zone climate control, and privacy glass are also part of the package.
The ‘245’ Challenge version is the ultimate expression of the vRS, which is no longer one car but a whole range – the ‘standard car’ has a 228bhp turbo petrol engine and there are diesel versions using the VW Golf GTD drivetrain.
Prices start from £27,695 but the test car’s extra £4,800 gets you the most powerful vRS yet, the DSG gearbox and a practical estate body as well as lots of extra equipment.
It manages to combine impressive performance with family car practicality and comfort. In this sector of the market it has few serious rivals.