Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Skoda’s vRS brand (or just RS anywhere but the UK, where it ran into legal issues with Ford) has been around since 2001 as a sporty alternative to the company’s worthier offerings.
This Octavia vRS 245 takes that concept to its pinnacle, being a brawnier version of what was already the most powerful production vRS to date. In doing so it also sets out a possible case for there to be future vRS special editions, so it’s a more important car than it might at first appear.
A more muscular (by 15bhp and 15lb ft of torque) vRS it might be, but the 245 sacrifices none of the standard Octavia’s practicalities. This is a proper, generously sized family car with a boot bigger than Shaquille O'Neal’s. You can fit three passengers in the back, there’s loads of in-car storage and the standard eight-inch infotainment screen with its smartphone integration, sat nav and slick interface is genuinely brilliant.
For those who demand yet more space, Skoda also sells the 245 as an estate with a squared-off boot. All come with a sports exhaust to complement the uprated engine, plus heated and electrically adjustable seats, 19-inch alloys, gloss black detailing around the grille and door mirrors and, significantly, an electronically controlled limited-slip differential.
You pay a premium of £2,410 for one of these 245s compared with a standard vRS. So is it worth it? For the power increase alone probably not, because despite a three-tenths reduction in the 0-62mph time to 6.6 seconds you notice the extra grunt like you notice a new series of Big Brother. But viewed as a package the 245 becomes significantly more compelling.
On a long run, it is comfortable and quiet, not to mention surprisingly economical. With the gearbox in sixth (seventh if you opt for a DSG automatic) you’ll see more than 40mpg. However, it’s when you tip this car into a roundabout or find a quiet country road that its competence comes to light. To get the best from it requires driving in ‘Sport’ mode which gives an artificially enhanced (but still pleasurable) engine sound and a more aggressive setting for the differential. All of a sudden you’re in an Octavia that wants to dig and haul you out of corners where the standard car simply flashes a stability control light.
The steering is meaty, the gearshift firm and the engine all but faultless. True, overall the vRS 245 is still nowhere near as aggressive as most other hot hatches, but for normal roads and normal people that’s possibly a good thing.
You know the Octavia vRS 245 is a bit special the moment you turn the key and the exhaust lets out a menacing “brourrrggghhh” as it idles. Whether or not details such as this and the clever diff turn it into some kind of future classic, however, is debatable.
What they certainly do achieve is to create an Octavia that can truly appeal to those who need everyday practicality but want it with a well-concealed level of performance beyond that of any vRS we’ve seen before.
And so while it’s fair to say you won’t ever mistake this supremely capable but still civilised Octavia 245 for one of its more aggressive rivals, the real question here is whether you view that as a criticism or as a compliment.