Practical yet racy, the Skoda Octavia RS is a compelling package
Although reasonably successful on the European continent, it’s fair to say that the Volkswagen-Audi Group’s Skoda brand has struggled for traction in Australia. Originally intended to offer a cut-price entry into the company’s model portfolio, in recent times Skoda product has been far too close to the Volkswagen equivalent, while missing out on key spec to boot.
In introducing the latest Octavia range, it’s apparent that Skoda is ready to step out of the shadows and be recognised as a quality brand in its own right. That’s especially true of the Octavia RS, which offers a level of versatility its near-twin under the skin, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, can’t hope to match.
“The Octavia RS matches the Golf GTI’s outputs”
Where the Golf is only available in five-door hatch form, Skoda has delivered the Octavia RS in a range of spacious sedan and wagon variants, with the added availability of a turbodiesel engine option. The oiler produces a competitive 135kW and 380Nm, driving the front wheels via a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission, but it’s the turbocharged petrol variant we are most interested in… particularly in wagon form.
Skoda offers a choice of six-speed manual or dual-clutch transmissions to go with its 2.0-litre petrol Octavia RS, which produces 162kW at 6200rpm and 350Nm delivered on a plateau from 1500-4400rpm; those figures match the Golf GTI’s outputs. The self-shifter is an expensive $2300 option over the $37,840 manual wagon we’re about to jump into.
The wagon itself is a $1350 option over the sedan, and does add a substantial 41kg to the kerb weight, which totals 1438kg.
“An initial stab of accelerator reveals strong response”
Upon sliding in the wide-set, integrated-headrest sports seats are supportive against legs and lower back, but too flat in the shoulders to be truly cossetting. The leather-wrap steering wheel is also oversized, its thickness filling your hands, but thanks to decent (though manual) seat and wheel adjustment you quickly find a comfortable, upright driving position.
Although nearly redundant these days, my left foot is exercised by the Octavia RS’s clutch, which takes-up with a minimal, progressive bite that is well-matched to the gearshift action.
Once underway, an initial stab of accelerator reveals strong response, though it can’t quite match the thrust of its Golf GTI brother, given the 125kg weight penalty. In keeping with the Skoda’s more grown-up appeal, there’s also less of the growl this engine has been known to generate in other VAG vehicles. Regardless, its power is delivered with linearity and it can bounce off the redline as capable as lug through its lower rev-range.
With the drive route taking in Lake Jindabyne and its sinuous surrounds, there’s an excellent opportunity to explore the Octavia RS’s pace, and it doesn’t take long for a dominating trait to reveal itself. From the interaction with the pedals and gearshift, through to the way it covers ground, the Skoda is stability, defined. Grip, especially from the multi-link rear, is strong and there are no hidden surprises. Indeed, the only area where the Octavia RS doesn’t tow the line is via its steering. Despite being technologically interesting, the progressive-rate electrically-assisted rack brings an artificial feel to the cornering process. Initially edgy, it takes time to trust that input will equal reaction. Given its ability to alter the steering ratio, the driver’s inputs have to be calm and measured until the car settles to the chosen line.
“This platform lets you explore its limits without fear”
Adding a sharp downhill gradient and tightening-radius hairpins tot he mix does little to shake the Skoda’s stability mantra. Where some might bemoan the lack of chassis adjustability, this platform lets you explore its limits without fear of sudden breakaway.
Spying the corner exit, traction – thanks to grippy 225/40/18 Continental Sport Contact2s and the improved extended electronic differential lock – is reasonable although some inside wheelspin can still be generated if you are brutal with your throttle application.
While enjoying the Octavia RS’s dynamic performance, you can forget that this is an ultra-practical family wagon, with good visibility and a solid feature list. It’s just about the perfect performance car for the driver who has a couple of kids in tow.
|Specs||2015 Skoda Octavia RS Wagon|
|Price||$38,140 (plus on-road costs)|
|Engine||1984cc four-cylinder turbo|
|Power||162kW at 6200rpm|
|Torque||350Nm at 1500-4400rpm|
|Power to weight||8.88kg/kW|
- Strong engine performance
- Poised handling
- Sleeper factor
- Progressive-rate steering feel
- Would be even better with LSD
- People's brand perceptions