We’ll kick things off with the Octavia’s biggest attribute: its chassis. A tiny bit more excitement in the drive wouldn’t go amiss, but it covers ground very quickly, and very tidily. The 217bhp and 260lb ft of torque from the 2.0-litre TSI engine rarely overburdens the front wheels, and you don’t experience understeer particularly often. The latter is thanks in part to the XDS ‘electronic differential’, which brakes the inside wheels during boisterous cornering. I’ve not once felt it doing its thing, but I have noticed how tricky it is to make the car wash wide compared to other non-LSD equipped front-drivers of this power.
The suspension, meanwhile, strikes a decent balance between comfort and composure. It does roll without you having to put much effort in, but not unacceptably so, and the ride is firm but never jarring.
The steering’s not a festival of feedback, but it’s direct enough and nicely predictable.
Because the Octavia’s boot is a hatchback, I load things into its luggage compartment as I would in any other hatchback. However, unlike most cars with that sort of boot arrangement - where the boot lid opens almost vertically - the Octavia’s saloon-like rump means the lid opens at more of a diagonal angle. I keep forgetting this, and smacking my head on the edge of the lid as I lean in. It’s annoying, but I’m aware that this is mostly my own fault…
Once you remember to duck, you’ll find the Octavia has an absolutely massive boot. As a new dad who’s expected to carry around all sorts of baby-related clobber, I can’t begin to tell you how useful that is. As mentioned recently, we will be swapping our hatchback for an Octavia vRS estate at around the three-month mark, but the hatch has so much capacity I’d question how many people actually need to spend extra on the bigger car.
The interior’s also spacious, comfortable and quite pleasant - despite maybe being a little dull - and has useful little items like a bin in the driver’s door pocket. Unfortunately the mobile phone holder isn’t of much use to me, as Skoda’s designers obviously hadn’t quite anticipated how big the modern crop of enormo-phones would become.
The Octavia vRS is a handsome - if understated - thing, but as it’s a fairly large car, those 18-inch wheels look a little lost in the arches. Larger wheels can’t be specced on the UK configurator, but Skoda’s official accessory catalogue does have a rather lovely set of 19-inch ‘Xtreme’ rims in it, if you’re willing to shell out £240 a corner (plus tyres!).
Last time I drove something with VW Group’s ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre TSI engine, it was the punchy Seat Leon Cupra ST with 276bhp. The more modestly-powered version here is still impressive. It’s one of the smoothest four-pot engines out there, with loads of mid-range grunt to make it very flexible. Makes a decent din too, but the noise which is added in Sport mode is a tad excessive; it sounds a bit like an angry, hungover bear is stuck in the air box.
I’ll be blogging about the whole manual vs auto satisfaction thing in more detail soon, but on a practical level, I’m not overly enamoured with the six-speed DSG gearbox our car has fitted. It’s not as slick as VAG’s seven-speed version (that ‘box can’t quite deal with the vRS’ poke), and it’s not the easiest car to manoeuvre; it jerks forward quite suddenly when you lift your foot off the brake. And then, when you do actually want to pick up quickly and give it a bit of right foot, there’s a noticeable delay before the power comes in. When it does come in, it catches you off guard, leaving you to noisily surge up the road, looking like a bit of a prat. Unless of course you’re in ‘Sport’ mode, but who wants to be changing driver settings just to pull out of a junction?
It may not be as much of a bargain as previous vRS Octavias, but the build quality inside and out has leapt forward since the second-gen model, and yet it still makes the VW Golf GTI it shares an engine and (albeit lengthened) chassis with look a bit expensive. Spec the Golf to the standard equipment level of the Octavia, and you’ll need to find an extra £3000-4000. Plus, several recent reliability surveys actually put Skoda ahead of VW. Residual values won’t be quite as good as the Golf, but you have to admit, it’s still damn good value for money.
The official combined MPG figure for the petrol vRS is around 44mpg. That’s the usual lab-obtained figure which bears little relevance to the real world, but I have gotten close to that figure on long motorway runs, which isn’t bad considering the engine hasn’t really had time to loosen up properly. However, drive it on some good roads with a bit more vigour, and that figure drops. Dramatically.
On one particular outing, I averaged around 17mpg, which is probably one of the biggest economy gaps dictated by driving style that I’ve ever seen. In fact, that’s Subaru WRX STI levels of binge drinking. I’m not overly surprised by this, as plenty of other publications and owners have noted that these EA888 engines are a hell of a lot more sensitive to driving styles than other motors.
Overall average MPG since the start of the loan with a mix of driving is a more palatable 32mpg.
Other than my misgivings about the gearbox, my gripes with the Octavia vRS are minor ones. It’s hugely practical, very easy to live with, and will happily hurl you along a country road at a pace erring on the side of rabid. Oh, and cats love it. What more could you want?
In a few weeks, we’ll be carrying out all your requests, including 0-62mph tests and finding out how many CT staff members can fit in the boot. Stay tuned!