Skoda Octavia Hatchback vRS (2013 - ) review
The Skoda vRS can't match the brawniest hot hatches for power these days, but it's still fast, fun and capable of daily family-ferrying duties. Affordable to buy and run, too.
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Those who like their hot hatches to be small and svelte will instantly baulk at the Octavia vRS’s sheer size. Like the regular Octavia hatchback, it’s grown even bigger than rivals like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, and is now pushing more toward Passat and Mondeo size. That said, it still looks aggressively handsome. The big intakes, beefy bumpers and LED lighting makes the front end look suitably mean, while the big alloys add an extra dash of visual drama. Go for the most powerful 230 version, and you’ll get a few more bits of racy garnish, the least subtle of which being a great big ‘230’ decal down the side of the car.
Like the rest of the Octavia range, the vRS impresses with its sheer quality. All the materials look and feel very high in quality, and there isn’t a single panel that lets the side down. This is one very classy cabin. With sporty aesthetic touches like aluminium pedals and polished kick plates, it also feels reasonably racy. The dashboard is logically laid out and easy to use, while the driving position has bags of adjustment. Visibility is good in all directions, too.
The Octavia’s mammoth size means it’s one of the most practical cars of its type. All five seats are surrounded by bags of headroom and legroom, allowing passengers to stretch out, and generous shoulder room means you can fit three people across the rear bench without having to huddle up too much. The boot is correspondingly enormous at 590 litres, and it has easy access and a useful square shape. The rear seats fold down to extend the loadbay to 1,580 litres, but the load area you’re left with is stepped. The vRS is also available in estate format, boosting these figures to an even more generous 610 litres and 1,740 litres.
Ride and handling
You might be worried that the sheer size of the vRS has a detrimental effect on its agility in the bends. Don’t be. The vRS feels crisp and assured in the corners, with tons of grip, excellent balance and wonderfully responsive controls. The car rides fairly serenely, too. Granted, it’s a shade firmer than the normal Octavia, but compared with other hot hatches, it smoothes out rough surfaces very well.
The vRS finds itself rather outgunned by the latest generation of super-powerful hot hatches such as the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R, but it’s still competitive with the lower-league offerings like the Focus ST and Golf GTI. In fact, the car is powered by the same engine as the GTI, a 2.0-litre turbo with 217bhp. It makes the vRS good for 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds, and the fizzy acceleration feels good for every last tenth of that. The smooth, consistent power delivery makes it effortlessly flexible, too, meaning no matter how many revs are on dial, it’s always ready to get up and go. The 230 has the same engine, uprated to give 227bhp, but you’ll struggle to detect the extra power. There’s a diesel-powered vRS, too, which has 181bhp and does the sprint in 8.2 seconds. The power delivery doesn’t quite have the sparkle of the petrol versions, but it still feels very quick indeed and compensates with vastly superior fuel economy. All versions come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, and can be specified with a six-speed twin-clutch transmission as an option, which adds another tenth to the sprint in both cases. The diesel can also be had with four-wheel drive to provide a little extra traction in tricky conditions.
No hot hatch is going to be the last word in efficiency – that’s not really the point – but the vRS is still reasonably frugal when compared to other performance hatchbacks. With emissions of 142g/km and an average fuel return of 45.6mpg, the petrol is a lot cleaner than rivals like the Ford Focus ST and Renaultsport Megane, and it’s not far behind the VW Golf GTI despite being a lot bigger. It also costs you far less to buy than the Golf, and a little less than the other rivals, too. The diesel will return more impressive efficiency figures of 61.4mpg and 119g/km, and these numbers are seriously impressive given the power.
Skoda has been impressing in this area in the last few years, and that’s backed up by a reasonably high standing in Warranty Direct’s manufacturer rankings. The brand usually does very well in customer satisfaction surveys, too, and reliability is a key factor in these strong performances. The Octavia’s build quality feels as solid as it does plush, and that gives you even more confidence that this is a car that’ll last.
Like all Octavias, the vRS comes with an impressive array of safety kit. Stability control is provided as standard, as are seven airbags and a fatigue sensor. The Octavia has also achieved the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests. Still it’s a shame that the vRS doesn’t have the collision mitigation system that range-topping Elegance Octavias have.
As well as all the sporty aesthetic touches and sports suspension, the vRS also comes with a fair amount of luxury kit as standard, such as rear parking sensors, a multi-function steering wheel, climate control, four powered windows, cruise control, sat-nav, a wi-fi hotspot and rain-sensing wipers. The 230 adds a few more goodies, like heated and electrically adjusting front seats, plus front and rear parking sensors.
Many hot-hatch buyers want a car that has enough practicality to cope with family duties, but that’ll thrill them to bits when the family stays at home. On that score, the Octavia is simply sensational. It’s not the benchmark for driver pleasure in the hot hatch class - nothing like - but it’s still very enjoyable. It’s also more affordable, and higher in quality, than many of its rivals.