20 years of fast Skodas: every vRS driven

As Skoda's vRS sub-brand turns 20, we drive the cars in its back catalogue to see how the fast Skoda has evolved...

Skoda Octavia vRS Mk1 front

If you Google the term ‘Skoda vRS’, the first things that come up are a plug-in hybrid, an SUV and a future fully-electric model. It wasn’t always that way, though, so with Skoda's bright green and red vRS performance badge celebrating its 20th birthday this year, we decided to drive the most important cars to have worn it to see how things have evolved.

There had already been RS Skodas built for racing and rallying, but the first road-going vRS model was the Octavia vRS Mk1 (top), launched in 2001. Featuring suspension and steering tuned by Skoda’s motorsport department and a 177bhp 1.8-litre turbocharged engine, this original vRS was the fastest and most powerful production car that the brand had made at the time.

True, the looks were (and remain) pretty underwhelming and the handling is more competent than exciting, even compared with the contemporary Ford Mondeo. But on the straights the Octavia vRS Mk1 can still make you smile, thanks to the childish fun that comes from planting your right foot and waiting for the turbo to suddenly deliver a boot full of shove.

Skoda Fabia vRS Mk1 front

The same can be said for the car that followed in 2003, the Fabia vRS Mk1 (above). Thanks to a 1.9-litre turbocharged diesel engine, this boasted more torque than the Porsche Boxster of the time. And thrust is delivered in much the same way that it is in the Octavia vRS Mk1, but with even more dramatic effect. The Fabia vRS Mk1 isn't even particularly fast, in reality, but the sensation of all that torque arriving at once makes it feel like it is. 

Again, show it a corner and it’s nowhere near as engaging as the best rivals (the contemporary Ford Fiesta ST, for example), but that almost doesn’t matter; it’s still very good at making you smile. Which is surely the whole point of a hot hatch

Interestingly, Skoda was criticised when the Fabia vRS was launched for giving it five doors and a diesel engine, at a time when three doors and petrol power were the norm in the hot hatch world. However, when the second-generation version arrived it was the fact that this reverted to a petrol engine that caused some disappointment, and these days almost every hot hatch has gone down the five-door route.

Skoda Octavia vRS Mk2 Estate front

In 2005, a few years before the Fabia vRS Mk1 was taken off sale, it was joined by a replacement for the first hot Octavia, and this period can be seen as the vRS glory years. You see, during its eight-year production run, the Octavia vRS MK2 would manage such feats as setting a land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats and, arguably harder still, winning the What Car? Hot Hatch of the Year Award.

Initially, you could have the Octavia vRS Mk2 with the same 197bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine as the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI – once again breaking Skoda’s most powerful production car record. And the Octavia vRS Mk2’s was actually faster than the Golf from 0-62mph, which is impressive when you consider you could fit substantially more inside the Octavia. 

Popular demand led to Skoda introducing a 2.0-litre diesel option to the Octavia vRS Mk2. But while this offered significantly more mid-range shove, making it good for motorways and overtaking, it wasn't as exciting to drive as the petrol car.

Skoda Fabia vRS Mk2 front

The second-generation Fabia vRS went on sale in 2010 and aimed to give people a taste of the successful S2000 rally car. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t quite match the fun that was offered by the contemporary Ford Fiesta ST. You can still feel that when you drive one today, because the steering and automatic gearbox don’t engage you as much as you want them to.

Skoda Octavia vRS

When the Octavia vRS Mk3 arrived in 2013, it represented a significant step-up in terms of build quality and performance, and received four stars from us. We noted that it handled well and offered a huge amount of interior space for the money.

It was also fast; later in its life, it could be ordered with a 242bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine (the one from the Performance variant of the Golf GTI) and sprint from 0-62mph in just 6.6sec.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the Octavia vRS Mk3, though, was its versatility. You could have it as either a petrol or a diesel, with two or four-wheel drive, with a manual or automatic gearbox and as a hatchback or an estate. There was literally an Octavia vRS for almost any situation. 

Skoda Kodiaq vRS front

It wasn't until 2019 that we got the first vRS SUV, with this based on the seven-seat Kodiaq. Like the Octavia vRS Mk2, it enjoyed some record-breaking success, claiming the title of ‘fastest seven-seat SUV’ around the infamous Nürburgring in Germany. 

The Kodiaq vRS’s sub-10 minute lap time was partly due to the potent 237bhp 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine that sits beneath its bonnet. But it also handles well, thanks to adaptive dampers and steering that inspires confidence. Just don't expect the Kodiaq vRS to be a B-road barnstormer in the mould of the Volkswagen T-Roc R; it's too big and heavy for that.

Skoda Octavia vRS Hatchback 2020 Front 3/4 tracking

Finally, we come to the latest model to join the vRS family: the Octavia vRS Mk4. Like its predecessor, it's available as a hatchback and an estate, and with a petrol engine and a diesel. This time, however, there’s also a plug-in hybrid alternative, called the Octavia vRS iV.

Whichever version you go for, it feels a world away from the Octavia vRS Mk1 in terms of the immediacy of its power delivery, the quality of its interior and the sophistication of its technology. But while it also offers much tighter body control and a lot more grip, it is like that original car in that it isn't as agile or fun as its best rivals.

Instead, it makes most sense if you're prepared to sacrifice some thrills for greater practicality. And the iV version is a very tempting company car, because it combines its 7.0sec 0-62mph time with CO2 emissions of just 26g/km.

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