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Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - RS range

Our Opinion

We like
Value, space, TDI refinement and torque, TSI smoothness and punch, improved cabin quality, fine sports/comfort balance of chassis, stealthy RS styling
Room for improvement
Some road noise at speed, pointless facelift, why call it RS when European vRS badges are still on the car?

25 Aug 2009

THE Skoda Octavia has been one of the Australian new-car market’s hidden gems since its launch at the tail end of 2007.

What other model offers Volkswagen Golf abilities and technology in a larger and roomier package, for less money?

Some people might even argue that this Czech-built small car hatch or wagon is a better looking item than the German one.

You’d think that some of the 800 or so Golf buyers each month would have been swayed to, ahem, check the Octavia out.

Of course, the downside of going Skoda is uncertain resale value, especially up against one of the used-car market kings of residuals, but all in all there are many compelling reasons to bypass Golf for Octavia.

Several months ago a facelifted version arrived for the bread-and-butter Skoda versions, and now this extends to the model that has consistently accounted for a higher percentage of sales within the range than originally forecast, the RS.

Badged vRS in other countries, this Octavia has always been a quasi Golf GTI thanks to a shared 147kW/280Nm 2.0-litre TFSI turbo four-cylinder petrol drivetrain, which imbues the hairy-chested Czech with quite scintillating performance.

Now the petrol-powered Octavia RS facelift switches to a variation of the new Mk6 Golf GTI’s 2.0 TSI powerplant, meaning identical outputs but in a cleaner, more economical and quieter mechanical package.

Mated to the six-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox, the RS TSI is an energetic and engaging point-to-point goer, providing rapid acceleration and instant responses through a fairly wide rev range, especially if you are ready to plant your foot to the firewall. The fact that relatively little engine noise accompanies all this is also remarkable.

We sampled the six-speed manual version too, and found it just as enjoyable yet a little more involving than the DSG, due to weighty yet slick gear changes. It would be a tough choice to choose between these two excellent transmissions.

It gets tougher still, though, because coming right up to the RS TSI’s behind is the RS TDI, using pretty much an identical version of the latest VW Group common-rail turbo-diesel as fitted to fancier Passats as well as Skoda’s own (and impressive) Superb TDI.

Also matched to a DSG transmission, this is one heck of a sporty diesel unit. Performance figures of 125kW and 350Nm are not to be scoffed at.

This engine, remember, formed the basis for the lovely old Golf Sport GT TDI – and both outputs inject the RS TDI with exceptionally strong performance at both ends of the engine’s rev spectrum.

Better still, it is incredibly muted, with little diesel ‘din’ entering the cabin. So, refinement levels are right up there with the petrol models, but with the bonus of excellent fuel economy and lower carbon dioxide emissions.

But … even though the RS possesses unique chassis settings compared with its more mundane Octavia siblings, Skoda has not gone all the way to Golf GTI levels of sportiness, settling instead for a comfort-orientated driving experience.

Driven along country NSW roads, we applaud the RS’s nicely weighted steering and rock-solid stability, as well as a firmish but supple ride quality.

Body control is not on a par with the incredibly contained Golf GTI, though, and the handling is not quite as agile or darty as well, so you might be better off expecting the RS to be a ‘very warm’ hot hatch experience rather than a hot one.

As we said last time, this Octavia isn’t hardcore, and nor is it meant to be. And that’s exactly what Skoda wants, considering its rather female-heavy and young-family-focussed demographic.

Similarly, one of our few RS reservations is the level of road noise drone coming into the cabin – although not on all road types.

In either five-door Liftback or chunky Wagon variety, we give the simple and elegant dashboard upgrade a big thumbs up, while comfort levels, ergonomics and space use remain Octavia strong points in the latest version too.

The changes Skoda has brought upon the Octavia RS Series II only enhance the qualities that have made this series one of our secret favourites over the past 20 months or so.

It amazes us that more are not sold each month, but Skoda says word is finally filtering through and that now dealer enquiries are on the rise.

Entertaining, practical and versatile, we reckon the Octavia RS is a jewel, making for an especially appealing family car for drivers who like to have good, honest fun.

Now it’s time for Skoda to do a better job of spreading the RS word.

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