Skoda Octavia RS wagon at the head of the class

Price: $57,990
Engine: Four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, 1984cc, 180kW, 370Nm. 0-100km/h, 6.7sec
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG automatic
Fuel and economy: 6.6l/100km
Dimensions: Length, 4689mm; width, 1994mm; height, 1468mm


I got into a conversation just recently with a work colleague, he’s also a car enthusiast, when time allows we are always talking about things automotive.

After asking me how I was enjoying the Skoda Octavia evaluation car, he raised a really good point by saying out of any car manufacturer, Skoda has probably done the best job of turning around its image.

That harks back decades, the central European company had a reputation that wasn’t entirely complimentary.

However, today, it is a class leader in terms of design, quality, reliability, efficiency and refinement.

None of that surprises me, Skoda, now manufactured in what is known as the Czech Republic, fell entirely into Volkswagen Group’s hands in 2000. Since then the company’s product has been on a constant programme of improvement, bearing in mind that Volkswagen took an interest in Skoda in 1991, and the product that has been leaving the factories since then has been outstanding, with the Octavia being a classic example of that.

In New Zealand, we have two Octavia wagons – Style TSi and RS. Put simply, they are both four-cylinder petrol-powered with a turbocharger driving to the front wheels, the TSi has a 1.4-litre unit, the RS has a 2-litre engine, and it is the subject of this evaluation.

The TSi has a power output of 110kW and drives through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The RS gets something special under the bonnet, it has the engine that makes the Volkswagen Golf GTi so special. In the Octavia it is rated with 180kW and 370Nm, it drives through a seven-speed direct-shift transmission.

What makes the RS engine so special are the points at where the outputs are reached, power peaks at just 5000rpm extending to 6500rpm, maximum torque is available all of the way from 1600rpm to 4300rpm. The consequence of all of that is that there is so much immediacy at all points of the rev band, you don’t need to have the engine singing high to extract acceleration.

Such is the bottom end power, the engine wants to pull from low revolutions and that is a good thing, it feels strong under the accelerator pedal and hauls solidly right to the red line. However, that’s not necessary, it’s great to manually (paddles) short-shift the gears and feel the turbo forcing air into the cylinders vigorously.

In terms of acceleration, the Octavia wagon will launch to 100km/h in 6.7sec and will make 120km/h from 80km/h in 4.1sec. These are feisty times and rewarding to feel, performance is constantly vivid. Of course, the Octavia has various drive modes that can be selected at will, all are self-explanatory – comfort, normal, sport and driver-programmable individual.

I used normal and sport most of the time I was driving the wagon, simply because there is a nice audible throb delivered constantly in those modes. It isn’t loud, but it does let you know something special is sitting up front.

Normal and sport modes don’t deliver a harsh ride. Yes, the Octavia wagon has progressive dampers which alter the way the wagon rides. Personally, I couldn’t tell a lot of difference, in all modes the ride is compliant and comfortable.

In order to beat the weather bomb that was forecast recently, I took to the roads at dusk, and as darkness encroached misty drizzle made the roads greasy in places. They weren’t ideal conditions, but it was a good test of how the Octavia wagon handled the conditions.

I have a friend who has just traded his Volkswagen Passat wagon for a 2017 Octavia RS, and he tells me how much he misses the 4Motion system of the VW, he says the RS doesn’t put power to ground as well when the road surface is slippery.

The conditions I drove in were ideal to test that theory, and I think it’s fair to say that Skoda has done a lot with the latest generation Octavia to make it work when grip is low, the electronics working well so that I never had any issues. I guess that also has a lot to do with the quality of the low profile Good Year tyres (225/40 x 19in), they have a solid tenure and offer plenty of feel so the driver is fully aware of what is happening underneath.

On board, the Octavia is chock full of technology. The evaluation car was carrying a lot of extras, and it’s fair to say Skoda’s option list is extensive.

However, even in standard form the Octavia wants for little, it carries all of those wonderful features that have been developed through the VW Group and, what’s more, the fit and finish is absolutely sublime. I particularly like the gearshift lever, well it’s more like a button really, just requiring a gentle flick of a switch to activate. The Octavia makes you feel good to be in and it looks after you with high comfort levels and user-friendly in-cabin dynamics.

It is also a genuine five-seater car, and the load space is cavernous and adaptable so that all of those belongings we tend to carry with us can be stored securely.

That’s just one of the reasons why I like wagons and I particularly like the Octavia RS. Its performance and versatility make it many different vehicles in one.

I’d also be very interested in driving the TSi wagon, sometimes those with what would be deemed the mainstream model often turn out to be the pick of the bunch.

In all cases it’s certainly time to forget all those old disparaging Skoda jokes.