The added visual meanness of the new Octavia vRS is immediately obvious. Skoda hasn’t gone completely nuts with it, but there are more moody black trim pieces, some black badging, a neat spoiler that’s like a downscaled version of what you find on a BMW M2 CS, and some alloy wheels that look like (in the nicest possible way) a rejected design pinched from Lamborghini Centro Stile.
If you’re hoping that means more power and driving aggression, you’re going to be disappointed. The non-electrified vRS produces 242bhp, exactly the same as the previous-generation vRS 245. Torque is identical at 273lb ft, meanwhile, and the 0-62mph time unsurprisingly stays stubbornly at 6.7 seconds.
Not necessarily a bad thing - the output of the final version of the MkIV vRS was nicely judged. For more poke, there was always the option of the Octavia’s more flamboyant Seat Leon Cupra cousin. Sure enough, the MkV has a decent amount of go from that smooth, flexible ‘EA888’ inline-four turbo engine. It’s a nice thing to rev out, although the sizeable helping of mid-range torque means it’s fast anywhere north of 2500rpm.
The only trouble is, you can barely hear it. The new vRS is a lesson in what happens if manufacturers don’t augment the noise a little in modern, well-soundproofed cars. Granted, some such efforts can be pretty ropey, but the old car’s ‘Soundaktor’ (a little vibrating magnetic coil sitting in front of the bulkhead) did a good job of enhancing the TSI engine’s pleasant din. For whatever reason, Skoda hasn’t bothered this time around (edit: we’ve since been told only the first few off the line like ours do do without the Soundaktor - later cars will all have it).
There are no ‘farts’ on the DSG’s upshifts, nor are there any burbles from the exhaust. It’s all very restrained - even more so than you’d expect from a vRS. Sticking the car in sport mode doesn’t seem to make any difference to the soundtrack, either.
It’s the same deal when it comes to cornering. Nail it out of a tighter bend, and the standard-fit ‘VAQ’ electronically-controlled locking differential will shuffle torque across the front axle as necessary, but not with any great deal of aggression. The ESP is pretty nannyish in its standard setting, too, and if you want to switch it to the more lenient ‘Sport’ setting or turn it off entirely, there’s no dedicated button - it requires several prods and swipes of the sub-par touchscreen infotainment system.
I expected a stickier front end, but to be fair to the vRS, our time in it thus far has involved typical greasy autumn-spec roads. There’s plenty to like about the chassis, anyway. The ride on the adaptive dampers is on the whole very good, giving more than enough firmness while remaining softer in all modes that the passively-damped Audi S3 we had in a few weeks ago. And if you chuck it into a faster bend a little quicker than you think you should, the vRS just shrugs it off with a feeling of unflappable stability a commendable lateral grip. The steering is fast and predictable, if lacking in feedback, much like it was in the old car. It does feel a touch heavier, though.
When it comes to the way it drives, the gains on the old car are marginal. Infinitesimal. The bigger differences are all in the cabin - hot damn, is it nice in there. We’ve already been impressed with the way the standard Octavia upsets the natural VAG order by making the VW Golf 8 feel a little cheap, with neat cabin design laced in high-quality materials. The vRS takes that theme and runs with it, enhancing proceedings with darkened trim and snazzy red stitching.
Shaking things up even further, we’d go so far as saying the interior is nicer than the S3’s. Very recently, that would have seemed like an impossibility, but today, a fast Skoda really is a nicer place to spend time in than a fast Audi.
Perhaps that’s the best way of viewing the vRS. Not as a hot hatch, where it doesn’t quite hit the mark, but more as a budget luxury car with a decent turn of speed and a sorted chassis. And despite all the added niceness, the pricing is still really impressive - even with some options and a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, it comes in a few grand under a base, manual Golf 8 GTI.
It’s not the last word in B-road tomfoolery, but that doesn’t stop the Octavia vRS being more appealing than ever.