What Car? says...
A hot hatchback straight out of the box will usually fit the needs of most people, but the Skoda Octavia vRS takes it to extremes.
Not only can you get this Skoda Octavia variant with either a manual or automatic gearbox, but there are also two different bodystyles (hatchback and estate car), and three engine options – petrol, diesel and petrol plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
That crazy list of variations adds up to 10 ways you could have your Octavia vRS. So in theory, there’s one for your traditional petrolhead, another for the company car driver who needs something fun with low CO2 emissions, and another for the person who needs lots of touring range and a huge boot, but doesn’t want a dull econo-box.
The traditional option is fulfilled by the 242bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged TSI petrol. That’s more in the jalfrezi range of the hot-hatch class, which is to say it's not in the same performance league as the vindaloo-hot Audi RS3 and Mercedes A45 AMG.
The similarly powerful 1.4 TSI plug-in hybrid vRS iV cuts CO2 emissions to a company car driver friendly 26g/km thanks to a decent all-electric range above 40 miles. The ultra-sensible 2.0 TDI diesel produces a respectable 197bhp and can do around 600 miles on a tank of fuel.
But can the Skoda Octavia vRS’s myriad of configurations really mix it with the class best? That's what we'll tell you over the next few pages, where we'll cover performance and handling, practicality and more.
We'll also tell you how it compares with the main rivals, which include the Cupra Leon, the Ford Focus ST and the VW Golf R – hot hatches that are all available as hot estates too. We also have a full Skoda Octavia review.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Despite only coming with front-wheel drive, the 2.0 TSI 245 makes for the fastest Skoda Octavia vRS from 0-62mph, taking a respectable 6.7sec when fitted with the dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox. The front-wheel-drive diesel (2.0 TDI 200) and the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) 1.4 TSI iV take more than 7.0sec to complete the sprint, although the diesel does it in a more eager 6.8sec in four-wheel-drive form. Even so, while the TDI’s strong low-down pull makes driving briskly effortless, it's an effective rather than enjoyable engine that's not all that responsive compared with the petrol or PHEV.
On the road, you’ll find the TSI 245 feels substantially swifter than the TDI. It’s not quite as punchy low down, but there’s plenty of pace at the top end for easy overtakes. Nevertheless, it finds itself at the slower end of the hot hatch class, with even the Ford Fiesta ST proving faster outright. Compared with the class’s steroid-junkies – the Mercedes A45 AMG and Audi RS3 – the TSI 245 is positively pedestrian.
With a 0-62mph time of 7.3sec, the PHEV vRS iV is again on the lukewarm side of hot hatches, although that figure is quite brisk for a car with such a low official CO2 figure. With much of that total input coming from a fast-acting electric motor, rapid acceleration from low speeds can generate plenty of wheelspin and will have the steering wheel twisting slightly in your hands.
Once it hooks up, performance is pleasingly muscular, and the iV feels swifter than the TDI on the move. Plus, it has the added bonus of being able to travel on electric power alone for more than 40 miles officially.
Unlike the TDI diesel and iV models, the TSI petrol’s traction is assisted by an electronically controlled limited-slip front differential. That certainly helps to apply power on sharper bends, but it's not very aggressive and never feels as though it can tighten the car’s line around a bend as you put your foot down.
Its real benefit is that it all but eliminates torque steer (the sensation of the steering wheel writhing in your hands when you accelerate). If you’re more concerned about traction through a muddy field instead of a race track, the four-wheel-drive TDI vRS will be your best bet. You get mild traction assistance to boost its straight-line performance in slippery conditions, but most buyers will be better off with front-wheel-drive versions.
TDI and TSI models get lower, stiffer sports suspension as standard, something that’s absent on the iV version. It's a fair bit stiffer than on a regular Skoda Octavia and the optional DCC adaptive set-up allows you to stiffen it even more with a prod of the touchscreen. Even with the DCC switched to its firmest setting, you’ll experience more body lean and have less agility than a Fiesta ST.
That’s not to say you can’t hustle a vRS along your favourite B-road briskly, it’s just that most rivals will put a bigger smile on your face, especially the scalpel-like A45 AMG. The heavier vRS iV is even less of a hoot. It hides its weight well for a plug-in, but you’re all too aware of how that mass and its softer suspension hurts the car’s agility, despite it gripping well.
With a whole family on board, you’ll find that any Octavia vRS ranks among the comfier hot hatches out there, especially with the optional DCC set to Comfort mode. It will sometimes thud over sharp ridges and potholes, especially when accelerating hard, but it's a smooth cruiser and has far better body control over undulating roads than the standard Octavia. There’s a bit of wind and road roar, which can have you clicking the stereo’s volume up a few notches on the motorway.
A six-speed manual gearbox is offered only on the TSI 245, but the notchy lever action and numb clutch pedal action add nothing to the experience – unlike the excellent gear change action of the Ford Focus ST and Fiesta ST.
The DSG gearbox (standard in the TDI and TSI iV, optional on the TSI 245) shifts quickly and near seamlessly between ratios, but isn’t as smooth as the best boxes when manoeuvring at low speeds. The iV’s gearbox is similarly proficient, and switches between power sources without fuss.
The TSI sounds sportier than the TDI, and the iV sounds enthusiastic enough, even with just 1.4 litres under the bonnet. The sound symposer fitted as standard in the UK makes all engines sound beefier with a little help from the stereo’s speakers (it can be switched off in an Individual drive mode).
The interior layout, fit and finish
There’s plenty of reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel in the Skoda Octavia vRS, and a good range of movement for the seat, so finding an ideal driving position is easy. The standard sports seats are comfortable, thanks to lumbar adjustment and big side bolsters that keep you in place in bends. Naturally, they’ve got 'vRS' embroidered on them – and there's also carbonfibre-like trim, an Alcantara dash panel and sports displays to remind you you're in a hot hatch.
You’ll find those sports displays on the standard 10.3in driver’s array that replaces conventional dashboard dials. The graphics are sharp and it’s easy to switch between information sets using the controls on the steering wheel. Thankfully, there are no touch-sensitive switches, as you get in the VW Golf GTI – although there is a touch-sensitive volume slider beneath the main touchscreen infotainment system. It's not as easy to use as a regular dial, and neither are the heater controls that are relegated to the central touchscreen.
Helpfully, Skoda has positioned the infotainment touchscreen high on the dashboard so you don’t have to take your eyes far from the road to see it. The 10.0in screen has high-resolution graphics that are easy to read, while most icons are big enough to hit easily on the move. That said, we do wish the shortcut buttons, which are in the top left corner, were less of a stretch. The BMW 128ti and BMW M135i still rule the roost for infotainment in this class.
Visibility is helped by standard adaptive LED headlights that do a fine job of illuminating the road without dazzling other drivers, plus you get front and rear parking sensors. Seeing out of the front and sides is easy, thanks to big windows and slim pillars, although the hatchback has large pillars to contend with. The estate’s glassier rear makes reversing more straightforward, and a rear-view camera is available on both.
As for quality, the Octavia vRS runs the Golf GTI close, with plenty of soft-touch plastics, appealing trims and ambient LED lighting. Harder plastics are well hidden, although the 128ti and M135i look and feel classier still.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Even the very tall will have no trouble up front in the Skoda Octavia vRS, and that’s still the case if you’ve ticked the box for the optional panoramic sunroof. There’s plenty of storage, with door pockets big enough to take a 1.5-litre bottle of water, plus two big cupholders, a capacious cubby under the central armrest and a useful shelf in front of the gear selector that’s perfect for emptying your pockets into.
Rear seat space has long been an Octavia speciality, although rivals have started to encroach upon its territory: the Cupra Leon and Ford Focus ST are better for rear head and leg room. You’ll find the vRS does have a rather wide rear bench, helping three adults to sit side by side more easily. To aid comfort, a central rear armrest is standard.
That rear bench has a 60/40 split, with the armrest hiding a ski hatch for long, thin items to poke through. Even with the back seat up, the Octavia’s boot is one of the biggest in the hot hatch class, and it’s bigger still if you opt for the estate. We do wish a variable-height boot floor was available on the hatchback, though, because the extended loading bay is anything but flat.
Boot space is reduced significantly in the iV plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version because of the hefty battery pack. You’re still left with a big, if shallower, boot that has some useful underfloor storage for your cables, and the higher floor reduces the loading lip and means there’s no step up from the boot floor to the folded rear seats.
As standard on the Skoda Octavia vRS, there’s a 12V socket, two flip-down bag hooks and a couple of fenced-off areas that will prevent your de-icer and other boot clutter from sliding around, plus an electrically operated tailgate. Options include a space-saver spare wheel that sits under the boot floor and gesture-controlled tailgate operation for hands-free access.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Compared with its closest rivals, the Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TSI 245 is competitively priced, undercutting the Ford Focus ST, Hyundai i30N and VW Golf GTI. Despite being slower, the vRS TDI is a good chunk pricier, and the iV is the most expensive vRS. Even so, it’s reasonably priced by plug-in hybrid (PHEV) standards.
Of course, the iV’s big draw is its low CO2 emissions of just 27g/km, making it the cheapest option as a company car thanks to its low tax rate. If you can charge up the battery at home, it’ll be cheap to fuel, although those doing longer journeys shouldn’t discount the diesel’s 130g/km and 56.8mpg official figures. That’s significantly better than the TSI’s 157g/km and 40.7mpg, putting it in a much higher company car tax bracket.
All vRS models get sporty styling inside and out, bespoke sports seats and keyless entry, so you shouldn’t need to add much, if anything, from the options list. In fact, we’d suggest considering the DCC adjustable suspension and free optional rear wiper on the hatch.
The Skoda Octavia was awarded a top five-star rating by Euro NCAP and was found to be better at protecting adult occupants than the Focus in the event of a crash. Automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance and an e-call system, which notifies the emergency services if you’re involved in an accident, are standard. Blind-spot monitoring and a driver fatigue sensor are on the options list.
In terms of reliability, this generation of Octavia came a very weak 35th place out of the 37 family cars in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, with the majority of issues involving the infotainment system. Skoda as a brand didn’t seem too tarnished by this result, though, finishing a credible 13th out of 32 car manufacturers. If things do go wrong, you’ve got a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty that can be extended to five years and 100,000 miles for a fee.
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Most versions are front-wheel-drive only, and that provides all the traction you need in the real world. You can specify four-wheel drive with the diesel engine, but we would only go for this if you really need extra traction. Read more here
Strangely for the hot-hatch class, there are three Octavia vRS engine options. There’s a turbocharged 2.0-litre TSI petrol, a similarly powerful 1.4-litre plug-in hybrid iV model, and a 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel. Read more here
|RRP price range||£36,555 - £36,555|
|Number of trims (see all)||1|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||41.2 - 41.2|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,355 / £2,510|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,710 / £5,020|