Skoda Octavia a blend of performance and practicality

| Image 1 of 3 |
Offering the prospect of hot hatch thrills with practical wagon packaging, the Skoda Octavia vRS 230 wagon is an interesting machine. Photo: David Thomson

Drive a sizzling hot hatch or a two-seater sports car in your 20s and early 30s, before surrendering to a life in which motoring choices are family rather than fun-focused; this has been the motoring-life trajectory of millions of folk around the world, Kiwis included, for years. The only major change in recent times has been that medium-sized SUVs and semi-SUVs have largely supplanted conventional wagons and specialised people- movers as the surrender-to-sensible choice.

For those moving to a family-friendly motoring style, Skoda provides a semi-SUV alternative to a full wagon or full SUV in the form of the Octavia Scout. The Czech brand also serves up an enticing have-your-cake- and-eat-it-too option with the wagon variant of the sporty Octavia vRS 230 that is the subject of this Drivesouth test.

For those who don't want to let go of that hot- hatch feel, the underlying DNA of the Octavia vRS 230 wagon will surely impress: as well as sitting on the same underlying MQB platform as the current Volkswagen Golf, it features the iconic Golf GTI's 2.0-litre turbo engine under the bonnet, along with a six-speed DSG automated manual gearbox.

On the vRS 230, that engine is supplied in ‘‘performance'' tune, producing peak outputs of 169kW of power from 4700-6200rpm, and 350Nm of torque from 1500-4600rpm. The ‘‘230'' in the name refers to the engine's peak output in metric horsepower, and it is an output that makes it the most powerful vRS yet.

Sitting 15mm lower than the standard Octavia, and with its suspension beefed up with firmer damping, stiffer springs and chunkier anti-roll bars, the vRS 230 relies on a twin sports exhaust, 19-inch alloy wheels, low- profile tyres, red front brake callipers and black grilles and door mirrors to reveal its sporting intent. Bodywork modifications are far more restrained, little more than a very discreet rear wing.

Inside, the front of the cabin is given a sporting lift with red stitching for the leather seats and steering-wheel trim. There are alloy pedals and the front seats, snug heated and power-adjusting sporting buckets, also feature red inserts and vRS badging.

Standard equipment levels are reasonable given the vRS 230 wagon's $57,990 price tag. LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a power-operated tailgate, satellite navigation, an eight-speaker infotainment system and Bluetooth connectivity with voice control are all provided.

Keyless entry and push-button start, a premium 10-speaker sound system, and fully adaptive radar cruise control are extra-cost options. So too are lane-keeping assistance, autonomous emergency braking, and automated parallel parking. Mind you, even without these safety features, the vRS 230 holds a five-star NCAP safety test rating.

Sitting up front there's such a focused, sporting feel to the cabin that it is easy to forget the practicality that lurks behind. The rear seats are roomy enough for two adults, or three people (best if they are children) at a squeeze; forward visibility from the back seats is compromised by the tall front sports seats. Then there is the massive boot, able to carry 588 litres of luggage with the rear seats raised and 1718 litres when folded flat. Those who need even more carrying capacity can take advantage of a range of accessories that fit the wagon's standard roof rails.

When the engine first comes to life, it settles into a subdued and fairly unremarkable four- cylinder thrum. Left to operate in standard mode, both the engine and gearbox are tractable for fuss-free around-town work, during which the vRS 230's firm ride is the main giveaway that it is no standard Octavia.

Heading for the open road and (for maximum effect) selecting sport or track mode, the engine will happily show what it is truly capable of in two distinct ways.

The first is aural: augmented by a performance sound generator that uses the car's sound system to make it sound racier inside the cabin than outside, the engine snarls nicely as the rev counter swings upwards, albeit with an odd rasping note at the upper end of the rev range. There's a decent amount of exhaust crackle and pop during gear changes too, especially when the paddle shifts are deployed to trigger downshifts into second and third.

The substance that underpins this soundtrack is an engine possessed of excellent throttle response, a generous torque spread and a free-revving nature. Thanks to these attributes when worked hard, the engine often seems to be delivering more than its 169kW/ 350Nm peak outputs or fast but not stunning 0-100kmh sprint time of 7sec would suggest is likely.

Impressive straight line performance sits alongside a promise of decent economy, with the vRS wagon managing a 6.5l/100km standard cycle return. Mind you, that economy figure is going to be unachievable if advantage is taken of the performance on offer. Economy certainly took a dive on the most important and revealing part of the Drivesouth test, which comprised an extended open-road run before venturing off the main highway and on to hilly winding back roads.

The vRS 230 wagon dispatches the main highway with surefooted ease and ample pep for snappy overtaking. It's not the quietest cruiser though, as its fat low-profile 225/35 R19 tyres pick up a fair amount of coarse-chip road rumble. The tyres and sports-tuned suspension also deliver a firm ride: the wider Volkswagen Group, of which Skoda is a part, has a solution for this particular issue in the form of adaptive damping, but this feature is not part of the Octavia vRS 230 package.

Pointing the test car in the direction of some favourite back roads, I was impressed with how close it comes to mirroring the lithe, engaging handling that is such an attribute of the Golf GTI on which it is based.

Threaded along such roads, the test car was eager and responsive accelerating between the bends, and crisp and obedient turning into them. Its variable ratio steering, while a little lacking in feel, is accurate and well weighted. The levels of lateral grip provided by the front tyres is excellent, and the electronic front differential, making a first appearance in the Octavia with the vRS 230, plays a vital role in optimising grip under acceleration as well as taming torque steer and facilitating sharp, incisive handling.

Commendation of the vRS 230's handling is delivered with a qualifier because, when pushing really hard, it becomes apparent that the back of the car is not quite as well controlled as the front. This is most obvious when heavy braking is followed by an immediate transition into a bumpy or poorly surfaced corner, and the rear of the car goes a little light and loses its usual composure.

This aspect of the vRS 230 wagon handling is actually pretty typical of what one will find when a front-wheel-drive wagon is pushed, and is absolutely no cause for concern in everyday driving. It does, however, mean that the Octavia vRS 230 wagon isn't quite as dynamically able as a top-notch hot hatch.

Still, when one factors in the practical benefits of a roomy cabin and serious load- carrying ability, the customers that this car is aimed at should find it right on the mark.

Skoda Octavia a blend of performance and practicality
At a Glance

Overall: ★★★★
Design and styling: ★★★★
Interior: ★★★★
Performance: ★★★★
Ride and handling: ★★★★
Safety: ★★★★★
Environmental: ★★★★
For: Responsive engine, roomy and nicely finished
cabin, engaging handling
Against: Firm ride, coarse-chip road rumble, engine
note that sounds a little artificial at times
Verdict: An impressive blend of performance and
Engine: 1984cc four-cylinder turbocharged
direct injection petrol,
maximum power 169kW@4700-6200rpm,
maximum torque 350Nm@1500-4600rpm
Transmission: Six-speed DSG automated manual,
front-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes,
ABS, ESC, TCS and Hill Hold Control
Safety rating: Five-star European NCAP
Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 225/35 R19 tyres
Fuel and economy: 6.5 litres per 100km on ADR
combined cycle, capacity 50 litres
Emissions: CO2 147g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4685mm, width 1814mm,
height 1452mm



RATING (4/5)