Skoda family practicality coupled with hot hatch fun

Octavia vRS offers proper back seats, decent boot and relatively affordable price

Skoda Octavia vRS: While it manages to keep up with the rest of the hot hatch pack, it has never watered down its practicality

Make: Skoda

Model: Octavia v RS

Year: 2016

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: July 18, 2016

Wed, Jul 20, 2016, 01:00

   

There are some sounds that makes the small hairs on your neck stand up and your teeth clench. Nails drawn across an old blackboard or a dentist’s drill pressed hard against the enamel of a tooth. For car-proud urban motorists, it is the metallic scrape of a sparkling alloy against a kerb.

If the contact between cement and metal is the side of a footpath, then the fault lies squarely with the driver. However, there is something infuriating and heartbreaking about having it happen in a car park as you negotiate the ridiculously tight ramps and unnecessary chicanes.

There are now several car parks dotted across the island that I reckon are only suitable for a Renault Twingo. Clearly, the designers are told to maximise the number of parking spots at all costs. In doing so, however, they are not only infuriating customers who own anything larger than a Kia Picanto, but are also causing heartbreak to hundreds of motorists who care about their cars.

The reality is that modern cars are getting bigger. The VW Polo is now the same size as the old generation Golfs, owners of family hatchbacks are moving into crossovers and those with more than three children have decided the days of leaving some behind are over so they opt for seven-seat people carriers. Clearly, some car-park owners are determined to nip such consumer choices in the bud.

The reason for this rant was that I had to endure the painful screech in a car park while testing the new Octavia vRS, proudly shod in 19in alloys. The blame lies with me, of course. I should have been more careful, yet I wasn’t re-enacting a car-park chase from Fast and Furious. I was gingerly ascending the ramps, conscious of the risk of clipping the wheels.

The shudder from the metallic screech still resonates and reignites my annoyance at the car-park operators who sign off on ramps designed with little care for their customers’ cars.

It certainly hurt more that the alloys on this hot hatch vRS are among the standout features. Yet this was still in essence a Skoda Octavia, a popular family car that should not struggle to wind its way through a regular car park. It is not as if I was expecting more consideration when parking a Hummer.

In fact, the beauty of the vRS is that it is such a practical family car. In the hot hatch market, practicality usually ranks alongside the colour of the floor mats. Yet for many buyers, the beauty of these cars is that they offer proper back seats, a decent boot and a relatively affordable price.

Over the last decade, there has been a power race in this category, which has resulted in ever-harder ride quality, larger, more unforgiving driving dynamics and a little less everyday comfort. That’s where the vRS has stood out from the crowd. While it manages to keep up with the rest of the pack, it has never watered down its practicality.

The test car featured the 2-litre 184bhp diesel engine, an offshoot from the VW Group’s performance diesel range. Where once the hot hatch market was the sole preserve of petrols, diesel now forms a sizeable chunk of the market thanks to its high levels of torque (that surge of power that pushes you back into the seat when you floor the accelerator).

The vRS diesel is certainly quick, but for sheer raw power it is not going to topple the likes of the Ford Focus RS. Yet the balance between practicality and sportiness – and everyday livability – is better than anything on offer from the more potent hot hatches. This has all the family appeal of a regular Octavia, but packing a lot more punch.

In a choice between the six-speed manual transmission or the dual-clutch DSG automatic, many buyers still like to keep their left foot busy with the clutch, but the reality is this DSG – available across the VW Group range – is too impressive to forgo. It pushes the price up by €2,680 and adds €70 a year on to your motor tax, but it is money well spent when it comes to the diesel variant.

With the longer rev-range on the petrol version, there is a stronger case to be made for sticking with manual.

The addition of four-wheel-drive to the mix improves 0-100km/h acceleration times but also pushes up the fuel-consumption figure. As an option at €2,620 more than the equivalent two-wheel drive, I’m not entirely convinced that it is a must-have addition to the range.

Given the strong practicality angle being played by Skoda with this car, I think I would go all the way and spend a little extra on opting for the Combi estate version for €37,175, or even upgrade to the 230bhp 2-litre TSI petrol version for €39,495.

Diesel seems well suited to the “affordable fun” ethos of the Skoda brand, and it works well with this car, but if it is a hot hatch you want, then the 2-litre petrol remains the jewel in the vRS crown.

The ride quality on the vRS is smooth, although not as refined as the VW Golf equivalent. And those – slightly tarnished – alloys mean you do suffer a little on badly surfaced roads. It is one of the few criticisms we had of the car, along with the fact it could do with a little more vRS detailing in the interior.

In terms of optional extras, the RS Challenge pack priced at €965 seems like a wise option to give the car the features and characteristics people expect on a hot hatch.

All told, the vRS is perhaps the best balance for family practicality with hot hatch fun. It is this mix that harks back to the original principles of the genre and weighing up the reality of ownership, Irish roads and purchase price, it is hard to see why many buyers would look much further.

The vRS range – with petrol and diesel options – has got the mix right for the vast majority of Irish car fans. Just be very wary of the multi-storey car parks.