Around this time last year I made a decision. You can read all about it in the report I wrote at the time, but suffice it to say that I bought a car: a 2006 Skoda Octavia vRS estate, in Black Magic and with the 2.0-litre EA113 turbocharged petrol engine from the MkV Volkswagen Golf GTI.
It needed a lot doing, from an urgent service and cambelt replacement to a full detail and paint protection treatment, and I’m pleased to say that, err, some of that has been done. The point was that, for £4150 with just 50,000 miles on the clock, Dave the Octavia was vastly, vastly cheaper than market value and I simply couldn’t say no. So: how have things gone over 12 months?
I’d budgeted for the major work that needed doing, so after caressing the car and its geriatric cambelt back from Southampton to south Wales I booked it in with a specialist for the work. I had the dicky thermostat (which caused it to run 20 degrees cooler than it should have on the motorway) and scorched header tank (a known problem; eventually they can burn through) replaced at the same time.
That was all the mechanical work it needed, but to tick a few small additional boxes I replaced a chipped door mirror, fitted my personal number plate, had a local garage replace a torn CV boot at the front and asked a specialist to investigate an ‘oil leak’ listed as an advisory on the most recent MOT certificate. The leak turned out to be a false alarm while the other bits were easy to sort. After three months a new MOT was due, which Dave passed with no advisories: result. In total, those first few months cost £720 in maintenance, but the car was then mechanically ship-shape. Or so I thought.
I bought the car just before a cold snap that saw it buried in about two and a half feet of snow. As the weather began to warm up, the air conditioning refused to blow cold. Fine, I thought; the old owner didn’t know or was too cheap to re-gas the system. Wrong.
It turned out that MkII Octavias share a common problem where the long, wiggly metal A/C pipe that runs from the base of the condenser to the rear of the engine goes porous. Mine might as well have been made of cloth, the way gas escaped. To change it you need to take half the ancillaries out of the engine bay and the part itself was a thoroughly annoying £200, plus a couple of hours’ labour. I suspect the previous owner knew all about it and just didn’t want to pay the bill.
I’ve done 12,000 miles in the car in the year I’ve had it. With 62,000 miles now behind it I can’t believe how fresh and sharp the drivetrain feels. The clutch bites precisely and predictably, the engine picks up cleanly from tickover and it pulls exactly like it should. Notwithstanding the characteristic ticktickticktick of the EA113 it’s as smooth, quiet and well-mannered as you could wish a hot hatch engine to be, first thing on a winter’s morning.
The upshot of how fresh it feels is that I haven’t been afraid to use its 197bhp when I get the chance. Dashing across the English Peak District a few weeks ago was a revelation in how well suited the Octavia vRS is to our roads. Third gear is perfect for overtaking 40-50mph traffic, hitting you quickly with a slug of torque and climbing all the way to 6000rpm with verve. The ride offers a very good compromise of comfort and control, but I think it’ll improve further when I get around to refreshing tired bushes on the front suspension.
Dave had lived a sheltered life with owners on the south coast, running fairly short distances and not often. He’d been serviced regularly but I’d be willing to bet Dave himself that he was only ever fuelled on standard 95 RON unleaded.
I immediately switched to 99 RON (Shell V-Power Nitro+, Tesco Momentum 99) – the older, fussier direct injection system on this engine works better with higher octanes, while newer versions don’t really care. I’ve used the Tesco stuff wherever possible: V-Power is a good 15p per litre more expensive than Shell’s regular unleaded but at Tesco the difference is about 5p, making Momentum 99 about the same price as regular Shell 95.
It took months for any changes to come to light. After barely driving it through the summer while working away, I slowly I realised through autumn that the top end of the rev range was opening up. Dave began pulling harder and harder after 5000rpm where he used to plateau. It was like my old dog had learned a new trick, and today he’s running better than ever. The colder autumn and winter air will also have helped – we’ll find out how much in the next few warmer months.
After 9000 miles Dave gave me an unexpected message: oil service due. I hadn’t researched the service intervals as I assumed it was 10-12,000 miles, like most VAG cars of the era I’d known. Ah well: a local specialist swapped the oil and filter for just over £116.
As is normal for any turbocharged VW Group petrol engine of the last 20 years, mine uses a little oil. It reliably sips about 500ml per 1500 miles from its 4.6-litre reservoir but some can use more than that without issue. As it stands, Dave’s tipple is fully synthetic at the Skoda-recommended 5w30 grade. Some owners of this engine swear by 5w40 but I see no real need to switch.
Plenty of people are put off the petrol Octavia vRS option by the increased fuel and road tax bills versus the diesel. Sure, road tax of £290 makes my bum clench at the moment I pay it, but then I have 12 whole months to enjoy how much nicer the TFSI engine is versus the £195-rate TDI. That extra £95 is so worth it. Insurance was £315 for the first year and £380 for the second, after I mis-read an awful road layout and caused a minor prang while driving another car. I’m only human.
I left the on-board computer’s ‘trip B’ function to record long-term data and I’m chuffed with the 34mpg indicated average for the last 12,000 miles. Anything over 30 was my target, so to hit 34 with zero fuss and without restricting my fun is a big win. The diesel owners I’ve seen feedback from tend to average only 10-12mpg better long-term, unless they do a lot of long runs.
The Falken ZIEX tyres on the front, already part-worn when I bought the car, were almost down to the wear markers by November. With rainy weather coming, only having 2-3mm of tread made me skittish so it was time for new rubber. With the inevitable Welsh snow in mind I stuck to Falkens, giving the Euroall Season AS200s a go.
As you can see, they passed the snow test. On completely untreated roads they were stable and secure on a light throttle. They aren’t so good in the dry, though, leaning noticeably more towards understeer than the summer tyres they replaced. Wheelspin comes much easier, too. With the barely-worn old ZIEX items off the back axle still in my garage, I expect I’ll soon re-fit them and buy two new summer hoops for the front.
Dave still needs a professional detail and a wheel refurb, but those expenses are tough to justify when your wife has recently given birth to a tiny dictator. Hopefully I’ll get chance to splash some cash in my second 12 months with the car.
A massive boot, impressive pace, a little engine character, interesting, great to look at, affordable to run, comfortable and likeable: this car has every attribute I need. Sure, I’d like faster steering and a limited-slip differential, but for a grand total expenditure of less than £5500 and for it to still feel this young, I can’t imagine wanting to sell it yet. The only thing I’d eventually swap it for is a MkIII Octavia vRS estate with cruise control. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.