Skoda’s fourth-generation Octavia vRS doesn’t stray far from the tried and tested formula that’s served the Czech hot hatch and fast estate well for nearly two decades. It still sits on an extended version of the Golf’s platform, that of the new Mk8 in this instance, and borrows its engine and gearbox and much of the latest technology the VW Group has been handing out to its brands in recent years.
There’s plenty of variations available, with petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrains that are all derived from VW’s high-specification Golfs. Petrol buyers have the option of a six-speed manual (in 2022, fancy that), but all models otherwise get a dual-clutch ‘box. Diesel models are optionally available with all-wheel drive – the same Haldex system used in the Golf R and various Audis. Depending on the specification and body style the new Octavia’s kerb weight falls between 1425kg for the manual petrol and up to 1630kg for the PHEV estate.
If you’re at all up with the VW Group lingo, you won’t be surprised to read that the vRS petrol uses the GTI’s EA888 2-liter turbocharged engine. Here it shares its specific outputs with the base VW, producing 242bhp and 273lb ft of torque, and will reach 62mph in 6.8sec with the manual, or 6.7sec with the DSG.
The 197bhp four-cylinder turbo diesel is in an equivalent specification to the Golf GTD and paired to its chunky 295lb ft of torque makes for a brilliant high-speed cruiser, even if the engine can be a bit vocal under hard use. It comes with two or four-wheel drive, but we’d say the front-wheel drive has enough traction to render the driven rear axle a fruitless addition unless you plan on taking it to the Alps every winter. Zero to 62mph times are slower for the diesels, though, with the two-wheel-drive version managing the sprint in 7.6sec and the 4×4 in 7.1sec for both hatch and estate.
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The iV plug-in hybrid takes its 242bhp powertrain from the GTE, and pairs a smaller 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to an electric motor and 10kWh lithium-ion battery pack that allows for 38 miles of all-electric driving on paper, but 25-30 is a more realistic figure in the real world. It’ll reach 62mph in 7.0sec, a time blunted by its hefty 1619kg kerb weight.
Skoda has a specific chassis setup for all non-PHEV Octavia vRS models that includes a 15mm lower ride height and stiffer spring and passive damper rates, along with a wider rear track. MacPherson struts (front) and a multi-link arrangement (rear) underpin the chassis. A Performance mode allows you to select a more aggressive engine and gearbox map and, of course, enhances the engine sound through the stereo. Wheels are 19-inch as standard and you also get VW’s electronic ‘XDS’ front differential.
Pay an additional £995 for the Dynamic Chassis Control and you can also choose between Comfort, Normal or Sport modes for the dampers, adjusted via electronically controlled valves. Steering weights can also be selected via the Driving Mode Select software, and there’s an Individual mode to allow the driver to pick and choose a range of dynamic settings.
A whole host of new safety assistance systems are packed into the fourth-generation vRS, from lane assist, driver fatigue alert and radar cruise control to Crew Protect Assist, which, when it anticipates an accident, will close all windows and tense the seatbelts. Inside, the new Octavia features a version of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, a head-up display and a new 10-inch touchscreen to control the infotainment system, plus a small, Porsche 911-style DSG gear selector. There’s also carbonfibre-like trim and Alcantara covering a considerable proportion of the interior. The new sports seats look the part, although the manually adjustable ones of our test car sit you too high, giving a feeling of being pitched forward out of the seat.
Just as Skoda’s designers have done a detailed job to give this fourth-generation Octavia vRS a look that marks it out as something a step above the regular models, so too have the engineers in addressing how it drives.
As with all previous generations of vRS models, this latest version is a keen performer. The EA888 is far from a charismatic engine, but what it lacks in vocal range it makes up for with a broad performance window, blending its turbocharged shove of torque with the available power for an increased level of harmony over its predecessor. There’s no longer the thump of torque that would cause an unloaded front wheel to fight with the tarmac, rather the low-down delivery (peak torque arrives at 1600rpm and stays for another 2700rpm) is smoother and better mannered, the e-diff much better calibrated to manage the performance range.
When the full 242bhp arrives at 5250rpm there’s a fizz to the top end that’s often missing with this engine, but in the Octavia vRS it feels Skoda has spent a considerable amount of time to give its latest hot hatch and fast estate a shot of character.
Diesel vRS models drive as you’d expect; There’s more torque down low to trouble the front wheels, but the differential and traction control systems do a decent job of keeping most unwanted wheelspin from dominating low-speed corners. Higher up the rev band things get a little more breathless, but in terms of the chassis, the diesel’s only very slight extra weight over the nose (only 4kg) makes little difference to the chassis’ balance.
However, as with previous vRS generations, the DSG gearbox doesn’t really suit the character of the car, with the shifts relatively slow – especially downshifts – and lacking punch even in their sportiest setting. The steering wheel-mounted ‘paddles’ are little more than an apologetic afterthought and something the VW Group brands need to address in their performance cars. Or they all need to ask Lamborghini who supplies the paddles for its cars. Dynamically the latest vRS retains its predecessor’s ability to surprise and delight, with a flow to its chassis and a linearity to its steering that is still an unexpected pleasure. It never feels flustered or out of its depth, the chassis’ ability well matched with the engine’s performance capabilities.
There’s work to be done with the optional DCC dampers, though, with Normal mode a little loose at times and slow to react to quick directional changes – despite the dampers automatically switching to their Sport setting if the car detects harder driving. Selecting the Sport mode tightens the body control; Some will find it harsh on most of the UK’s back roads, but there’s a sense that there’s a sweet spot to be discovered.
Improvements have been made to the steering. It’s not transformed to rival a McLaren 765LT’s rack, but the weighting is natural, the feel authentic and you make fewer corrections when pushing on. It’s now much closer to that of a Golf GTI than it has ever been. Criticism with this latest vRS, as with its predecessor, is centerd around the car hiding too much of its personality when you’re not extracting its core performance, and feeling a little normal as a consequence, which it is anything but.
Skoda’s approach to the fourth-gen vRS is nothing radical: the headlines don’t scream bold claims, the hype is almost non-existent. Just the way it has always been with the Octavia vRS, then, which remains an under-the-radar performance car that retains a wide appeal and is certainly a more-than-capable alternative to a Golf GTI for those who need more space. On this showing, the latest vRS remains an evo favorite
Prices and rivals
All vRS models are pretty well equipped from the off, with 19-inch wheels, matrix LED headlights, Alcantara interior seats and surfaces and a half-decent stereo included. The two plausible options that we’d suggest going for are the aforementioned adaptive dampers and a rear camera which is a conspicuous option.
A basic petrol vRS fitted with a manual transmission starts at £33,630, with the DSG adding £1680 to the total. Diesel models cost from £35,255 with their standard dual-clutch, making it £55 less expensive than an equivalent petrol, all-wheel drive is from £36,740, while the PHEV tops the list at £38,625. Estate models will cost you from an extra £1230, and they’re available with all power and drivetrain variants. Compared to a Golf, these prices are within a few hundred pounds, but for the base petrol, which sees the Golf GTI carry a surprise £2555 premium. Dig into the specification and you’ll see no obvious reason for the price variance, as there’s no extra standard kit. In fact the GTI offers less, with smaller 18-inch wheels and a lower-specification infotainment set-up.
To drive, the Golfs are a tad agile, but otherwise largely be familiar – the same can said for the SEAT Leon and Audi A3, too. Outside of the group, many traditional hot hatchback rivals are more focused and therefore more compromised. Hyundai’s i30 N is the class standard in 2022, with a rambunctious nature that is paired with real ability to the chassis and powertrain. If you’re after something approximating the Octavia hatch’s body shape, then Hyundai’s Fastback is remarkably close, albeit slightly smaller under the skin. Ford’s Focus ST has been recently updated, but has never really hit the highs of the smaller Fiesta on account of its boorish powertrains. Ford remains coy, however, on when or if to expect a new ST Estate.