Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - RS range
The very definition of understated performance, and practical to boot
Room for improvement
Some quirky interior features don’t translate well, need to buy optional pack to spec it properly
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14 Jul 2015
By TIM ROBSON
Price and equipment
THE Octavia RS acts as the performance flagship for the relatively thin local Skoda line-up, and as such is thoroughly stocked with go-fast kit.
Based around the VW Group’s ubiquitous EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine which powers (amongst many other things) the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the front-drive Octavia RS can be optioned with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG as tested here.
It can also be ordered with a 135kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine.
It shares its MQB underpinnings with the Golf, too, employing MacPherson struts up front and a five-link rear end. It rides 13mm lower than its regular Octavia stablemates – low enough that scraping the front bumper bar on low parking blocks is a distinct possibility.
Based on the spec of the Elegance variant, the RS comes standard with leather-appointed sports seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen-based infotainment system, parking sensors front and rear, a rearview camera and dual-zone climate control.
The chassis also scores a sports tune-up, with lower springs and firmer dampers, as well as an electronically locking front diff.
At first glance, the Octavia’s spec is pretty basic you need to buy the $1900 Tech Pack to get adaptive cruise control, auto parking assist, keyless entry, auto lights and wipers, an upgraded stereo, and a Drive Select Mode button.
Other options on offer include a $1000 Black Pack, which nets 19-inch black rims and additional, equally black trim pieces, while there are boxes to tick for auto tailgate openers, a sunroof and the like.
One key upgrade over the vehicle which launched in May last year is the fitment of a driving mode selector, bringing the Octavia in line with most of its MQB platform brethren. In the RS’s case, switching to Dynamic mode sharpens both the throttle and gearshift maps and turns up the noise.
Prices start at $37,590, plus on-road costs for a manual sedan and $39,890 for the DSG-equipped version tested here. The diesel is an additional $1100, and there is a $1500 premium for the wagon body style.
It’s black on black in the Octavia RS. From the headlining through to the carpet, the darkness is broken by judicious swathes of faux carbon-fibre, which doesn’t look so great around the transmission tunnel, but comes up a treat on the front and rear door cards.
The Octavia scores the latest of VW Group’s infotainment centre screens, along with an RS-specific dash panel treatment. While you’re left in no doubt that you’re in a VW Group product, the RS is distinctive enough to be different.
RS-specific sports-orientated front seats are low-slung, broad-based and sufficiently long in the bolster for even the biggest drivers, while the chunky leather-bound steering wheel houses shift paddles on DSG models and plenty of controls. The pedal pads are alloy and rubber-studded items that feel meaty underfoot.
Rear seat passengers aren’t neglected, with airvents, broad seats and plenty of leg and shoulder room. The boot area also sports small niceties like cargo net hooks, a rear 12V socket and a built-in torch.
The large hatch gives the RS a real point of difference in the sector. The rear glass is just elevated enough to make the space useful – it’s like having a hatchback, only it’s twice as long in the boot.
A start button that’s mounted where the key should go oddly undermines the RS’s keyless entry system, while the centre console cup holders are quite simply too small to be useful for anything other than a takeaway espresso. It’s an odd flaw in an otherwise cleverly packaged car.
Engine and transmission
The 2.0-litre EA888 four-potter does its thing in the RS with alacrity and vim.
It makes 162kW and a very handy 350Nm, and it’ll do 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds. A real bonus it consumes just 6.4 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres in DSG guise.
A different exhaust system gives the Skoda a different character to, say, a Volkswagen Golf GTI, and the low, guttural growl of the twin exhaust pipes is invigorating under load. It can be a bit tiresome under light throttle, but the four-stage RS Driving Mode selector allows you to turn everything down and cruise in comfort.
It’s backed by a seven-speed DSG that works very well, especially in conjunction with the steering wheel mounted paddles, though it’ll still occasionally baulk when you’ve changed your mind about shifting up or down.
The RS is a rarity in the sector in still being offered with a manual gearbox option, but the slick-shifting six-speeder suits the quirky character of the car down to the ground.
Ride and handling
The Volkswagen Group’s MQB chassis is a great place to start, and Skoda’s engineers have imbued the Czech-built Octavia RS with enough character to separate it from other performance orientated versions of the same platform that are peppered throughout the VW Group.
The longer wheelbase of the Octavia lends it a stability and solidity that sets it aside from the proliferation of hot hatchbacks out in the market for about the same money. It feels like a more substantial car in all respects.
On the road, the Octavia really is an outstanding car. Its balance between a comfortable ride and razor-sharp handling is almost perfect, its steering set-up is nigh-on excellent thanks to its mechanical variable-ratio rack and an electronically controlled front diff, and it's quiet, refined and easy to drive.
Braking is firm and fulsome, with large front rotors and sliding callipers giving the RS a firm, meaty pedal feel. You even get painted callipers (but not fancy one-piece multi-piston items, sadly).
The front tyres can chirp and scrabble if you’re too hard on the gas, but the overall balance of the car is dead on target for its RS badge. It’s firmly sprung and damped, but not unduly so, while its roll stability is excellent. It’s lively and entertaining, and a little unruly if you want it to be, but that’s part of the RS’s appeal.
In wagon form, especially, it’s a genuine high-performance sleeper for similar money to the infamous Volkswagen Golf GTI. Heck, it’s got the same engine.
Safety and servicing
Nine airbags, a rearview camera, a fatigue detection mode and post-collision brake control are all standard on the five-star ANCAP-rated Octavia.
As a brand, Skoda is still finding its niche in the Aussie market – but smart buyers already know about the Octavia RS, with waiting lists stretching out as long as four months.
It’s a handsome, functional family car with more than a hint of mongrel about it, and it’s one of the performance car bargains of the decade.
Renault Megane RS220 wagon from $37,490, plus on-road costs
Warmed-over version of the Megane wagon with some RS bits, but smaller and not as well packaged as the Octavia.
Volkswagen Golf GTI rom $40,990, plus on-road costs
The same chassis and running gear as the Octavia RS, yet manages to come across as an entirely different car. More refined than the RS, but doesn’t have as much character.
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