Both of the vRS’ engines are 2.0-litres in capacity and turbocharged. The 181bhp diesel is the popular choice thanks to brisk – if not properly fast – performance, reasonable running costs and the availability of four-wheel drive. It’s worth pointing out that no manual gearbox is available with this engine, though. Only the 242bhp petrol gets the choice between a manual or automatic gearbox.
The automatic does well to keep progress smooth when cruising and punchy when accelerating, however it can feel a little jerky when maneuvering. The manual is typically slick and precise as you’d expect from a VW Group car, and performance is said to be identical to the auto.
Skoda’s 2.0 TDI engine offers the sort of low-down shove that makes driving across hilly, twisty country roads extremely easy work. It doesn't mind pulling across a wide band towards its limiter either.
The diesel suffers more vibration at low revs, too, but its engine settles well at a cruise; thanks to an electronic system that pumps engine noise into the cabin it also sounds relatively good from inside. Even so, the petrol engines are smoother and quieter.
Compared with its front-wheel drive automatic equivalent, the four-wheel drive diesel vRS is slightly heavier, but its extra traction means it's quicker in a sprint from a standstill to 60mph. That said, it’s still slower than the petrol. Unless you are desperate for some extra grip in snowy weather, the four-wheel drive model isn’t worth the extra over the front-drive version.
The car generally disguises its weight well in terms of handling because it's every bit as keen to turn in to bends and its steering is precise. Okay, the vRS rolls more in tight bends than the best hot hatches – such as the Honda Civic Type R – but it's not off-putting.
The 242bhp petrol gets an electronically controlled differential on its front axle. This means that it’s much better at exiting corners at speed because it can send extra torque to the wheel that needs it most. It makes a big difference to the car and generally makes it feel more agile and capable: it’s the best car to drive in the lineup, but you only notice when it’s pushed hard.
Even then the diff isn’t as aggressive as those of the Type R or Megane RS, simply gripping and going rather than actively pulling you towards the apex under power. The upshot is that there’s no torque steer as you accelerate, although like the Leon Cupra, you can feel the front wheels thumping over bumps and expansion joints under hard acceleration.
All vRS models get more advanced rear suspension than cheaper Octavias, too, with a 12mm lower set-up than standard. It all helps the car feel more settled over sharp ruts and potholes while also feeling more tied down over undulating roads than cheaper models in the range. But although these changes make the vRS a very capable car, it just doesn’t get your blood pumping like a good hot hatch should in the bends. The estate version sacrifices some dynamic ability for the extra practicality it gives, but it is still a desirable and fun fast wagon.
Should every day usability be near the top of your priority list, dynamic chassis control is well worth considering. Optional on the regular vRS and standard on the Challenge, it allows greater compliance in Comfort mode with the option to stiffen things up in Sport. Even on 19in wheels, humps and dips are dealt with very well, the car only jiggling over patchy road surfaces. It can feel a little floaty at times, but Normal mode ties things down far better without much reduction in comfort. Just bear in mind that Sport is a bit too stiff for your average B road, at least when 19in wheels are fitted.