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First drive: 2017MY Skoda Octavia vRS 230. Image by Skoda.

First drive: 2017MY Skoda Octavia vRS 230
Look past the gawky headlights and Skoda's Octavia vRS is a blinding hot hatch.

 



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2017MY Skoda Octavia vRS 230

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Facelifted with that, um, 'challenging' front end that has been grafted onto all MkIII Skoda Octavias, the vRS models nevertheless remain compelling propositions for 2017 and beyond. Still pulling that 'D-segment-sized car on a C-segment chassis and for C-segment prices' trick that makes the Octavia so endearing, you can have the performance version of the Czech in diesel guise or with the uprated, 230hp petrol motor instead. Our advice is this: go for the latter, and keep it simple. You really won't be disappointed.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Skoda Octavia vRS 230 hatchback manual
Pricing: vRS from 25,130 (for car as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 149g/km (200 first 12 months, 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 43.5mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
Power: 230hp at 4,700- to 6,200rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1,500- to 4,600rpm

What's this?

The Skoda Octavia vRS, one of our favourite performance cars at any level or price, simply because it's an understated machine that does so, so many things very well indeed. And it has been facelifted, along with every other MkIII Octavia, for the 2017 model year. This presents a problem. We've always liked the look of the fastback Octavia and the third-gen in particular, but we are not so keen on the new quad headlamps. This might sound like we're making a big deal out of not much and, to an extent, you'd be right, because there's little else to complain about with the Octavia, as we shall soon come to see. But as fans of the vRS, the clunky split lights at the front are an eyesore on an otherwise damned fine-looking machine.

Within, Skoda has updated the infotainment to include the 9.2-inch touchscreen display for the Bolero top-of-the-line system, which has already been put into service in the Volkswagen Golf 7.5. It's a lovely feature with intuitive, easy-to-use functions, so we heartily approve. Furthermore, the hot Octavia now gets full Alcantara seats with 'vRS' logos, a load of driver assist safety systems (Trailer Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Park Assist 3.0 with a rear-view camera and Blind Spot Detect, among more), a heated, 'super-sports' (read: slightly flat-bottomed and finished in perforated leather) steering wheel and other sundry bits and pieces to improve the ambience.

Then there are a couple of technical upgrades. The rear track is wider by 30mm; this is standard on all facelifted Octavias, not just the vRS, and it promises better stability at speed. But the petrol vRS also gets an additional 10hp, hence its name of vRS 230. This is not to be confused with the pre-facelift vRS 230, which was a tuned-up special edition of the old 220hp model; it did have 230hp, granted, but it also had an electronically controlled differential and various suspension and wheel upgrades to sharpen the drive. That car's role will be taken by the vRS 245 (yes, 245hp) version of the facelifted Octavia, due out later this year, so the vRS 230 is now simply the 'standard' car without the fancy differential, the firmer suspension and fancy wheels. Confused? You should be.

Just to outline: you can still get 10 different vRS models in the UK. Eight are made up of the front-wheel-drive variants, so there's the petrol 230 in hatchback or Estate formats with a manual gearbox, then the same body choices but with the six-speed DSG automatic transmission, and finally the 184hp TDI diesel in the corresponding four splits. Further, you can have 4x4 traction, but this is reserved for the TDI vRS only and you have to have the DSG gearbox, so there are only two choices: hatchback or wagon. A vRS TDI Estate with the DSG makes the most sense as a daily driver with plenty of performance punch in reserve for the odd occasions you might need it, but allow us to explain why we unequivocally think you should be going for a vRS 230 manual hatchback...

How does it drive?

In an age when there's a whole flotilla of hot hatch warships occupying the seas between 300- and 400hp, 230hp might sound distinctly underwhelming. Especially in a hatchback as big as the Octavia. But hold your fire: first of all, there's a place for the slightly less insane mid-sized hot hatches, like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Ford Focus ST and the Peugeot 308 GTi 250, none of which are much punchier than the Skoda; and secondly, 230hp has never felt as quick as this.

The Octavia vRS is an absolute beast in its lower four gears. It has monster traction, beautifully spaced ratios in the manual gearbox, a willingness to go to its redline and even beyond without complaint and incredible performance reach; fourth gear will take you from town speed to enormous velocity in one glorious, long pull of crisp, linear acceleration. And while there's an unwelcome artificiality about the engine/exhaust note of the vRS 230 at lower revs, once it soars up to 6,000rpm and takes on its hard-edged alto voice, you'll forgive the 'EA888' four-pot practically anything. They're calling this the vRS 230? Hah! It feels a lot more like 270, at the very least. Has anyone got a rolling road handy that we could borrow for a minute or two...?

Straight-line pace is not the Octavia's only trick, though, as it would appear Skoda has improved the steering too. It's beautifully weighted and sharp as a tack in its responses, aiding turn-in to the highest possible degree. With very little to report in terms of scrabbling loss of inner-wheel traction under full throttle, and a complete dearth of understeer, the vRS 230 makes you wonder how on Earth the XDS e-diff is possibly going to improve the Skoda's front end when the 245 finally arrives. Body roll is also rigidly controlled and the brakes are fabulous, while we can even report first-hand on genuine, wind-lock-off, mid-corner throttle adjustability in the Octavia's chassis. Sure, it might not be up with the leading lights for on-paper 0-62mph times, but for the thrill of driving quickly along a B-road, the Octavia vRS 230 has few equals.

And yet, it still functions perfectly agreeably as a day-to-day hatchback. The ride tends to the firm side, but it's never outright uncomfortable, and the suppression of wind and tyre noise is first rate. OK, so we couldn't tell much difference between Comfort and Sport in the Dynamic Chassis Control adjustable damper settings; however, as both modes led to the Skoda conducting itself with a dignified balance of ride comfort to body control, we don't think it really matters. Finally, to complement this thoroughly likeable and easy-going side of the vRS Octavia's nature, it remains the biggest car of its type by some margin: with 590 litres of boot space as a hatchback (some estates would kill for this sort of cargo capacity) and enough room on board for five large-sized adults, this is the apogee of practical performance cars.

Verdict

Aside from those headlights, the Skoda Octavia vRS 230 is a five-star car. It's as simple as that. Spacious, comfortable, great interior, loads of toys, decent price, stonking chassis, fantastic drivetrain: seriously, what is there not to like? Oh yes, that's right... the headlights. Sigh.

Anyway, do you want the best news? While no iteration of the vRS retails for more than 30,000, this 230 hatchback manual - easily the best to drive of the lot - is the cheapest of all. Picking this Skoda, over and above its stablemates and even the eminent Volkswagen Golf GTI, therefore has to be the no-brainer to rule all no-brainers.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

5 5 5 5 5 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 15 Apr 2017









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2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.

2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.2017 Skoda Octavia vRS. Image by Skoda.








 

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