Slick Octavia passes road test with flying colours
The RS is probably one of the best all-round cars to come on the market
The landscape around us is on a slow roast, cracking and shimmering under a hot July sun. Some way back the road ceased its gentle rise and fall of open farm land and is now climbing into steep rocky crags, looking as much like a Lord Of The Rings special effect as it does a real, corporeal landscape.
It’s actually Wales, but following a day of hot sunshine and long drives it’s starting to feel a bit surreal. Still, the road that runs along the valley floor on the approach to the ferry terminal at Holyhead is twisty, open and mostly smooth so it forms an ideal playground on which to try Skoda’s new Octavia RS.
The Octavia is something of an odd beast. It will actually outsell the supposedly more desirable Volkswagen Golf GTI, with which it shares its entire mechanical package. But according to Skoda Ireland, its customer base is largely drawn from lower income brackets than the regular Octavia.
Previous generations of the Octavia RS can essentially be summed up as like a Golf GTI but a bit bigger, a bit cheaper and a bit more practical. All of which is the case with the new version, but more so. It’s a lot bigger than the Golf, with a longer wheelbase and a significantly bigger boot.
Based on the same MQB architecture as the Golf, Audi A3 and Seat Leon helps to keep the Octavia’s weight down to a minimum, and the stiffly-sprung suspension keeps things on an even keel, even when presented with mile after mile of Welsh switchbacks. The steering feels weightier than that of the Golf GTI, as if there’s a little more muscle in its structure. It’s not a thoroughbred sports car by any means, but the spacious Skoda is fun to drive – properly so.
Big, high-backed bucket seats up front mean that long journeys are done without the usual twinges and tweaks of back ache or numb bum and the rear seats are almost equally comfortable. Cruise at the motorway limit and, aside from a lot of tyre roar from those standard 18in rims on coarse surfaces, you may as well be in a limo. Only the firm rebound of the springs as you cross expansion joints reminds you of the RS’s sporting intent.
Solid and reliable
That ride gets a lot firmer around town and there’ll be no mistaking the quality of any road surface you cross, but it’s not overly stiff. And it seems a fair trade-off for the calm and assured body control when you’re in the twisties. In many ways, the Octavia RS now feels rather like a more grown-up version of the old Subaru Impreza Turbo; solid and reliable with a slug of performance and sense of usefulness. The difference of course is that the long-dead Subaru’s thirsty petrol flat-four engine is here replaced by a 184bhp 2.0-litre turbo diesel that mixes strong (but not outrageous) straight-line performance with realistic 55mpg economy and Band A tax bills. That’s a tough package to argue with, but spare a thought for the 2.0-litre petrol turbo version, which packs a throaty 220bhp punch. Sadly, its 142g/km CO2 rating pushes it into Tax Band C, which will make it uncompetitive with the mechanically identical, but cleaner, VW Golf GTI.
Spacious and comfy
Either way, you’re getting one of the best all-round performance cars ever. The Octavia RS is spacious and comfy enough to be your daily family transport, tax and fuel efficient enough to keep the company accountants happy and fast enough to bring a smile to your face. Perhaps only its image holds it back?