This week's update: Time's up for our blue Skoda Octavia vRS 230 Estate - we reflect on four brilliant months and have a quick look at the green Octavia vRS 245 replacing it
|Scroll down or use the links below to navigate|
| 1. Welcome
|| 2. Spec and engine
|| 3. Cheap Fast Car
| 4. VS police Octavia
|| 5. Long drive to Cornwall
|| 6. Video review
| 7. Big bike update
|| 8. Goodbye blue car
We take delivery of a 230hp manual version of Skoda's performance wagon
Here’s an idea for a slightly niche feature – ‘Cars That Look Better with Bikes on Them’.
Obviously one of Team Sky’s iconic black and blue Jaguar XF Sportbrakes as (previously) used in cycling grand tours across the globe would be close to the top of that billing, but what else?
Well, fans of more recent Tours De France will be more familiar with the massive fleet of Skodas used by the majority of teams and even the event organisers.
In fact, this year the Czech manufacturer is celebrating 15 years of partnership with the annual cycling race, which is regularly one of the most watched sporting events in the world.
So bikes and Skoda are as close a fit as my cycling shorts and ever-expanding waistline. And just like that aforementioned garment, I suspect this metaphor is starting to feel a little stretched.
Yes. Please get on with it…
I reckon the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate is the ultimate all-round family car – it’s a bit like the hardtail mountainbike pictured above. Fast, hard as nails, good value for money and (in my case) frequently seen with a childseat attached.
The arrival of a new baby means I now (nearly) have more children than bikes, and that combination makes me the ideal candidate to test its alluring mix of hot hatch performance and family-weekend ability.
Will this Czech wagon live up to my expectations or is a VW Golf R Estate a better bet? Over the next 12 updates I’ll hopefully answer that question.
Wouldn’t a standard Skoda Octavia have done the same job?
Yes but there’s a second thing I want to look at during this test – exactly how much Skoda Octavia vRS do you need?
Pick an entry level manual 230hp estate (like ours) and you’ll pay £26,900 – less than the three-door VW Golf GTI upon which this car is based. Except you get five doors. And more passenger space. And an enormous boot.
From there you can add all manner of options, including a 245hp version with a mechanical limited slip differential to improve its handling. Thing is, in its purest (and cheapest) form the Octavia vRS makes the most sense.
It has everything you need already – so which, if any, of the available upgrades are worth it? We’ll be swapping into a more extensively specified model to find out.
Any first impressions?
As you can probably tell from the pictures I’ve already taken this Octavia on some bike rides and twisty B-roads and it’s been absolutely flawless at both, but more on that later.
After a few weeks of ‘ownership’ I can safely say this Skoda has satisfied both of my major car requirements - it’s a right laugh to drive and does a great job of conveying my family and bike.
Can it answer the above questions? It’s certainly going to be fun finding out.
What kit do you get with a standard vRS?
We’ve already seen how the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate is extraordinary value when compared to the mechanically identical VW Golf GTI, but what’s really surprising is how this sportiest (and arguably most desirable spec) is even good compared to other Octavias.
It builds on the SE trim and at £26,900 is cheaper than either the Octavia Scout or Laurin & Klement, so in theory represents a more performance-focussed version of the SE L model.
Granted, you do miss out on a few nice touches that those (more expensive) cars come with – things like heated or electrically adjustable seats, the larger 9.2-inch sat-nav, adaptive cruise and useful variable boot floor.
What equipment is standard on a Skoda Octavia vRS Estate?
A lot, as you will now see for yourself:
- LED headlights with adaptive front light system
- LED daytime running lights and rear lights
- Lane assist
- Amundsen 8-inch sat-nav with integrated Wi-Fi Infotainment online (one year subscription)
- Electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors
- Light and rain sensors
- 18-inch anthracite alloy wheels
- vRS bodykit (bumpers, spoiler and red brake calipers)
- Privacy glass
- vRS sport seats and upholstery
- Sill trims with vRS logo
- Ten colour front and rear LED interior lighting in doors
- Three spoke leather multifunction steering wheel with vRS logo
Plus, because this is a Skoda, you get a parking ticket clip in the windscreen, an ice-scraper in the petrol flap and an umbrella under passenger seat.
What options have you got?
None other than a space saver spare wheel. Half way through this long term test we’ll be swapping into an Octavia 245 DSG with options fitted to see which of them are really worth it.
After the first thousand miles we’re not sure we’re missing all that much in this standard car.
Does the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate have a specific engine?
Yes and no – you can get the 184hp diesel version elsewhere (notably in the Octavia Scout) but the 2.0-litre petrol in either 230hp or 245hp is vRS only.
We’re driving the lower-powered manual car initially, which offers peak power between 4,700-6,200rpm and 350Nm of torque between 1,500-4,600rpm.
This version takes 6.8 seconds to crack 0-62mph - two tenths faster than the 230 DSG automatic, but a tenth slower than the hatch and two tenths slower than the 245 version. Pick the diesel and you can expect a similar run to take 8.3 seconds, although the 4x4 model is substantially faster at 7.7 seconds.
Hatch and estate offer the same economy - 149g/km and 43.5mpg – while the kerbweight of 1,367kg is only 78kg more than the five-door Golf GTI, which explains why the German car is less than half a second faster from 0-62mph.
Is it good to drive?
Yes - it’s brilliant, especially now the engine has loosened up a bit. Fast, comfortable and spacious, with subtle sporty looks and a decent standard spec.
I have a few complaints. The gearshift is quite long and doesn’t feel all that different to the standard Octavia’s, the clutch is a bit abrupt unless you put effort into shifting smoothly, and the front end loses grip when cornering at a lower limit than I was expecting.
In theory the 245hp version with a DSG automatic gearbox and mechanical limited slip differential will solve all of these problems. Trouble is, I suspect it’ll lose the value for money appeal this car has. We shall see.
Octavia vRS misses out on group test crown - we explain why
Every summer at Parkers we get all our favourite performance cars together on a track for what has become the (work) highlight of the year - the Cheap Fast Cars group test. This is proper cancel-your-plans stuff, nobody wants to miss it.
It might sound like a bit of a car enthusiast concept but you don’t have to be a petrolhead to enjoy driving a fun car, and unlike similar tests in other titles, ours has value (specifically in terms of monthly payment), rather than outright ability right at its core.
- Powerrrrr…fully good value
We’re looking for the model that gets you the most bang for your buck - something that can deliver 80% of the experience you’d get in a supercar, for 80% of the price. My maths might be a bit off there, but you get the idea.
So why wasn’t the Octavia vRS included?
Put simply, it was in our group test last year but didn’t win, and the car hasn’t changed significantly enough in that time to warrant re-evaluation this time around. It’s a strict rule but one we have to adhere to – hence why you won’t see a Peugeot 308 GTi in the line-up either - a car we rated so highly last time around we also ran one as a long termer, even though it didn’t win.
Although we all enjoyed driving 2017’s Octavia vRS it didn’t really keep pace on the track alongside the limited-slip differential-equipped 308 GTi or more polished Golf GTI, although we all agreed it was much easier to live with day-to-day.
- Octavia vRS was a bit out of its comfort zone on track in 2017
So while I agreed with the decision to not consider the Skoda alongside similarly powerful but more expensive rivals like the VW Golf GTI and Hyundai i30N in this year’s test, I reckon it’s well worth your attention if you want a cheap fast car. So I managed to sneak my long termer into the group test on the basis of it acting as a support car, when really I wanted everyone to drive it and realise what they're missing.
How cheap is it compared to those cars?
Here are the least- to most-expensive* models from this year’s test:
- VW Up GT
- Suzuki Swift Sport
- Ford Fiesta ST Performance
- Renault Megane RS
- BMW M140i
- Hyundai i30N Performance
- VW Golf GTI Performance Pack (a different version than last year, before you ask)
- Honda Civic Type R
- BMW i3 S
- Ford Focus RS Red Edition Mountune
You can’t get a finance quote for a Skoda Octavia vRS Estate at the moment because it's not currently available to order, but at the time of the test our long termer was between the Fiesta and Megane – the fourth cheapest car here, despite being vastly bigger than those below it.
That’s impressive when you consider it offers similar performance to its arch nemesis the VW Golf GTI, the fourth most expensive car in the test.
The Renault Megane is always going to attract a more hardcore type of driver and is actually a bit of a bargain at the moment when you consider how many techy systems (like rear-wheel steering) it can be equipped with, but it's still more expensive.
And while the Octavia is on par with the winning Fiesta ST in terms of cost (and performance), it doesn’t lift a rear wheel with anything like the eagerness of the Ford, despite me trying quite hard.
- If you squint there’s a bit of daylight there
That’s potentially because its 610 litre boot was weighed down with crisps and also, because unlike the Fiesta, this Octavia doesn’t have a diff, rock-hard suspension and short wheelbase to help it onto three wheels. Also that sort of cornering would look frankly ridiculous in an estate car.
It’s also kind of missing the point…
Yes - agreed. And while my colleagues didn’t deem the Octavia good enough for inclusion this year, they didn’t mind eating all the snacks it was able to carry, or shelter from the blazing sun under its high-lift tailgate.
Look! They’re even at it at the Parkers New Car Awards 2019 shoot, the hypocrites. Although admittedly shade duties were delegated to a gazebo for that one.
So while the Octavia might not be the most entertaining car compared with those above, if you want cheap, easy-to-live-with performance it’s the absolute go-to model. Especially the estate, which adds huge practicality into the equation too – as demonstrated here by the ability to get a massive guitar case in the boot diagonally with all the seats up.
You can’t do that in a Fiesta.
*36/37 month contracts, 10,000 miles a year, £2,500 deposit, prices correct as of August 2018
We compare our Octavia with a covert police car - and learn to drive it
‘When you see the red and white barrier move to the right hand side of the road and get on the power, let’s see 120mph before the next corner,’ says the serving police officer to my left - the surrealness of this moment lost somewhere between the blaring siren and noise of the nearly-redlining engine.
All morning we’ve been going over the basics of ‘making progress’ – from three-stage braking, to positioning our covert police car wide for the best view around the corner, and getting back on power as soon as you see the limit point start to run. Now we’re putting it into practice at three-figure speeds.
It’s taking all my attention to drive with what I imagine is a fraction of the precision required by a properly trained police pursuit driver, and we’re on a closed test track – rather obviously, or I’d be explaining that speed to a magistrate, and not you.
Not that I’d want to be on a proper road – where I’d also have to be dealing with barked directions in one ear and radio chatter in the other, dicing with other cars reacting to my blues and twos by dithering around or braking to a complete halt in front of me, plus constantly scanning the horizon for the criminal we’re after. At 3am. After a long night shift.
How have you found yourself in this situation?
This idea stemmed from several comments from colleagues about how my under-the-radar blue Octavia vRS long-termer looks like an unmarked police car – and it’s not just us car dorks either - since it’s been mentioned I’ve noticed drivers displaying some unusual behaviour in its presence, particularly on the motorway.
On more than one occasion someone has come absolutely hammering down the lane to my right until they see me, at which point they anchor-up and tiptoe past, surreptitiously looking to see if I’m in uniform. When they realise I’m just some bloke in a Skoda, they speed off again.
If I sit in lane one of four with my cruise control set to 70mph, before you can say ‘ello ‘ello ‘ello a lengthy peloton of cars will have built up in lane two, all trying to get around me at exactly 71mph. This, in particular, is getting quite annoying.
So I thought it’d be fun to go and see a real police-spec Octavia vRS, to find out why it’s such a popular perp-seeking missile, and also get some lessons in how to drive my own long termer properly.
Luckily Skoda demos its public service vehicles a couple of times a year – where you get to drive cars converted for use by police, fire fighters and paramedics, so I invited myself along.
It’s held off-road at a filmset and test track in Longcross, Surrey, so even clueless civilians like me can experience the full performance of these vehicles. Oh, and drive with the nee-nors on, which let’s face it, is bucket list stuff.
Bring the noise
First things first and the keen-eyed among you will have noticed the police car has the black styling pack (you get a dark grille instead of our chrome, plus other things) and larger alloys – the latter giving away the fact this car is a vRS 245. That means it’s more powerful and surprisingly a bit lairier to look at than mine.
Other than that, the two Octavias are broadly similar, except for the flashing blue and white lights of course, which are hidden behind the grille, in the numberplate surrounds, and along the top of the windscreen and rear window.
These are controlled via a panel of buttons hidden in the front cubby, while the siren is activated by pressing the wheel where the horn would normally be. One push cycles through the various tones (the drawn out one for driving a speed, the unmissable techo-tone for junctions etc) and two pushes turns it off.
Firing up the roof while driving at speed is immensely satisfying – plus a lot louder and more distracting than I was expecting. It suddenly makes everything seem very serious indeed. Real traffic police get a substantial amount of training in order to do this stuff for real, even adopting a unique system of car control, which is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced behind the wheel.
First we did a couple of laps using what you’d consider a normal ’racing line’, starting out wide, moving towards the apex, and then back out again under power. Then we took the ‘police line’, which in essence involved getting right onto the outside for much longer, to enable good vision and more time to react to any hazards.
Assessing how fast a corner should be taken is done by limit point analysis – working out how far ahead you can see and adapting your speed accordingly. Sounds basic, but let me elaborate.
In fact you can try this yourself – look all the way down the road until you can’t see any further, due to a bend in the road or a blind summit, etc - this is the limit point. If it’s ‘static’, meaning you cannot see any further around the corner even as you approach it, you need to slow down and be prepared to stop.
If it’s ‘matched’, then you’ll be able to see more and more of the road ahead as you move towards the corner, and this means you need to maintain your speed. Finally when the road opens out ahead of you faster than you can catch it up then the limit point is ‘running’, and you can get your toe down.
Braking is taken care of using a more formalised version of how I’ve been shown to drive on track, actually, which is to take up the slack in the pedal before pushing it into the carpet, and then feathering back off. This ensures maximum braking force while avoiding any harsh movements that could unsettle the car.
That’s all well and good in a calm and quiet car but with the full suite of lights and noise activated my heart rate went through the roof – the siren makes everything seem more urgent, every decision more life and death, even on our closed circuit.
It’s terrifying and, to be honest, exhilarating. I can’t imagine what responding to a genuine emergency must feel like, knowing any seconds wasted taking a corner wrong could mean the difference between getting to that person who needs your help, or not.
What’s the Octavia like as a police car?
Great – for all the same reasons it makes a good family car. There’s loads of room in the back for coppers or child seats, the boot is massive and can take all their equipment, it’s really comfortable on a long shift (as a PC or a parent) and can really get a move on when necessary.
It’s such an untaxing thing, the Octavia, whether you’re going to the 36th toddler’s birthday party of the year or trying to get the highest speed of the day on the back straight of a racetrack (125mph in case any of you are reading).
I only wish my own car had a bank of flashing lights and sirens. I know it sounds like I’m making fun of what is a very serious and important job, and believe me I have a new-found respect for anyone who can drive that fast, with the stakes so high, while concentrating on so many other things. But man, what a rush.
We drive to the coast in the Octavia to see what it's like on a long run
One-by-one my friends have emigrated to Cornwall. Having spent many holidays there camping together as teenagers, it seems our initially pie-in-the-sky-dreams to eventually take up permanent residence in the British deep south are finally coming to fruition, now as 30-somethings with kids, fed up with sky-high living costs radiating out from the capital.
I say we, I’ve got no plans to move at the moment, and on the one hand this is a bit of a bummer - but in order to stop this long-term update turning into some sort of one-way therapy session from my landlocked Peterborough office, let’s find the silver lining – at least it means free holidays for me and my growing family. Plus a good excuse to test the long distance comfort of my long termer.
The best bit of all is that one of my closest friends has loads of space in his shed (obviously) for my long-suffering surfboard, which until now has been cooped up in my garage, dreaming of the punchy autumn swells it used to enjoy when I was a student in the south-west.
How much space is there in the Octavia?
As you’ll no doubt be aware from the last couple of updates, I’ve got a brilliant Skoda-branded roof rack that I have been putting to good use almost every weekend, carrying my mountain bike so I can search out the sort of twisty singletrack I’ve come to rely on as my only form of exercise.
For this adventure, however, the Octavia would need to serve multiple purposes – carrying my wife and I, my bike and surfboard, as well as two small passengers and the cavalcade of equipment that goes along with them.
That might sound like a fairly regular set of expectations for a car but when you break it down it becomes more complex. A journey of several hundred miles requires a comfy ride twinned with an engine powerful enough to dispatch overtaking manoeuvres and short slip roads with ease without requiring a tank of petrol every hour.
In terms of space there needs to be a long enough wheelbase to enable the front passenger to recline without impeding on the either child’s massive Isofix, but the car still needs to fit into a standard parking space.
On top of all of this, the boot needs to be capacious enough to swallow all our stuff without spilling onto the back seats, and the roof bars need to be wide enough apart to fit a big surfboard and mountain bike.
In short, if you designed a vehicle by committee with these exacting criteria in mind you’d end up with either a camel or the domed monstrosity Homer Simpson penned, which ultimately sank his brother’s automotive business.
Or, a Skoda Octavia vRS Estate.
What are the seats and suspension like on a long run?
Aside from the above dimensions, the fact Skoda has pitched the standard suspension set up in the vRS right down the middle of sporty and cosseting makes for sublimely wafty motorway travel. It’s firm enough to resist wallowing (and the back-seat vomit that inevitably follows) while still compliant enough to iron out any lumpy expansion joints or cracked tarmac. Standard-fit lane-keep assist takes a bit of the work out of keeping the car between the lines too.
I also don’t want to be wringing every last RPM out of a car to make decent progress when my family are on board because they rapidly get fed up with the noise (particularly if it wakes someone up) so the fact the vRS has so much mid-range punch means you can short-shift it and ride the wave of turbocharged torque and the quiet end of the rev range.
The seats are fabulous too – often sporty looking buckets are great at pinning you in during a series of corners but thin on padding and too stiff on a long drive. Not so in the Octavia – the side bolsters are supportive enough but also nicely cushioned, as is the base, so you don’t get a numb behind.
If I’m being really picky I might suggest the manual gearbox is a bit tiresome on a run, especially the springy clutch in stop start traffic. That’s not a problem particular to the Octavia, but I reckon the DSG would make life even easier still – we’ll find out when we swap into one in a couple of months’ time.
Is the Octavia any good as a surf wagon?
Getting two boards onto the roof (one for me, one for my friend) proved easy thanks to the Octavia’s lowered ride height – you really don’t have to stretch to lift and secure them with a couple of straps.
The massive boot (now empty of all my family’s luggage) swallowed two big tubs to store wet wetsuits and even provided a small amount of privacy to get changed in before we got in the sea.
Then when a couple of the other guys asked for a lift up the hill, we all fitted comfortably thanks to the extended wheelbase and the additional leg room that provides. I reckon a diesel 4x4 Octavia (either Scout or vRS) would be an even better surf wagon though – not that all-wheel drive is strictly necessary but it’s a nice thing to have when you’re negotiating an untarmacked, sandy car park.
The Parkers Verdict
Yet another task the Octavia vRS Estate has ably adapted to. Best of all, it somehow manages to bend time and make an all-day drive home seem substantially shorter, so the normally arduous job of leaving everyone behind was that little bit easier.
By Adam Binnie
We examine the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate under the Parkers' video microscope
Because I think our long term Skoda Octavia vRS Estate is just about the best all-rounder you can buy today (and also, because according to my colleague Keith Jones, I am a massive attention seeker) I decided to examine the blue wagon's credentials via the lens of our extremely talented videographer Matt Vosper.
There's certainly something to be gained by seeing the car cornering and hearing the engine that I can't convey completely in words, and also we manage to find something large enough to fully demonstrate the load-carrying ability of this large-booted Skoda.
Is this video worth watching?
Yes! Although rather strangely the 230hp version of the vRS is now off sale, replaced by the more powerful 245hp car (which I wrongly call a 240 at one point in the video, largely because it was boiling hot and I wasn't allowed the air conditioning on in case it interfered with the sound) but the advice here is still relevant if you're looking at a nearly new model.
Other highlights include a short sequence where we stash £20 worth of crisps in various cubby holes and when I almost do my back in trying to lift a tumble drier out of the boot.
We've seen how well the Octavia copes with surfboards, but is it any good at transporting bikes?
Most of us ask our cars to fulfil many different and wide-ranging tasks – in an ideal world I’d like mine to be comfortable and spacious for weekend family use, with a decent turn of pace for my weekday commute, and the ability to transport two or more bikes when needed, too.
I’ve said before that I think the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate has the first two points neatly sewn up in a good value package, but how well does it cope with the third? Can we crown our long-termer the ultimate cycle support vehicle?
Well, in order to find out I spent most of 2018 hitching mountain bikes to the roof and searching out new trails, and even went to spy on the Skodas used by skinny-tyred roadies at the Tour of Britain cycle race.
What makes a good cycle support vehicle?
Everyone’s different but I reckon the core values of a low roof, a large boot and comfortable seats are universally useful.
It’s likely you’ll be heaving your bike onto the roof unless you’ve got a towbar-mounted bike rack, but these are expensive and add length to what is already quite a long car. Getting something heavy to that height means the closer it is to the ground the better, unless you can find a handy step like my colleague Chris here.
For those times when you need to lock your bike away somewhere safe it’s handy to know it’ll fit easily in the boot – my hardtail with its 26-inch wheels goes in easily – after you collapse the rear seats using the remote handles in the boot.
A handy storage box on the left keeps tools and lube from rattling around and four foldaway hooks can be used to secure a helmet and also to keep my leaky Camelbak upright so it doesn’t spill water everywhere. I suppose I could just buy a new one, but that’s not the point.
Inside, the supportive but squashy seats are super comfy and heated too, which is great after a long ride, and the surprisingly good stereo is perfect for my chosen weekend stress-buster of pedalling quite fast down a muddy hill and then driving home listening to very loud heavy metal.
The Octavia isn’t perfect though - the optional Canton stereo in our Kodiaq had much better bass, and my larger full suspension bike with its 27.5-inch wheels requires a bit of disassembly before it’ll go in the boot. Plus, the car’s sporty lowered suspension means the vRS Estate doesn’t have the greatest ground clearance for getting around lumpy car parks. An Octavia Scout would be better in this respect.
Where the Scout would fall short though is in terms of enjoyment on the road, where the vRS is an absolute blast. Granted you can’t go flat-out with a bike on the roof but its powerful engine and tight handling makes the drive home from a bike ride an event in itself, especially on the kind of wiggly roads that lead to my favourite spot in south Wales, which is also where this update is heading.
Yes - towards the end of 2018 we made a pilgrimage to Camarthenshire to watch one of the mountain stages of the Tour of Britain and also to do some pedalling of our own, although road cycling is a very different discipline to the muddy version I prefer and requires a very different skillset and physical build (read: much thinner).
We watch hours of cycling on television in our house – the three grand tours plus the UCI Downhill World Championships and whatever else we can get our hands on.
Support for bike racing seems to be growing steadily, helped by big UK names like Wiggins, Froome and Thomas, plus our now almost-guaranteed success at the Olympics. That means events like the Tour of Britain are well-attended, and as a result have a fantastic atmosphere that you can't experience from your living room.
I’ve always wanted to go to a Tour de France stage but given that you only seen the bikes for about 30 seconds, and having a young family, it’s always been too hard to justify making the trip.
So getting into the Welsh hills to see some of our favourite riders - including winner of the 2018 Tour de France and local hero Geraint Thomas - rush past, seemed like an ideal replacement.
I was also keen to get a good look at all the team cars – almost exclusively Skodas (perhaps unsurprisingly given the manufacturer sponsors the event), including Karoqs, Kodiaqs, Octavias and Superbs – as you can see in the slideshow below.
Most teams seem to favour the more spacious Superb these days. It's a handsome car but there's just something about a team livery and aero roof rack that takes it to another level.
There was one exception of course and that was the Team Sky Ford Ranger, which looked absolutely epic in its white and blue livery, and added weight to my argument that Gareth should get a tailgate pad for his Amarok and spend his weekends driving me and my bike to the top of my favourite downhill run to save me pedalling.
Best of all was the Team Wiggins Octavia vRS – just like ‘mine’, except for some reason they’re still rolling around in a pre-facelift car. Sort it out Brad.
I'm a big fan of that livery though, I wonder whether we could get our long termer wrapped?
Time to leave the tarmac
While in Wales it seemed rude to not visit my favourite bike centre called Afan, and take in some of its speedy blue runs. Mountain bike trails are graded like ski slopes – from easy green and blue to tricky red and expert black. Each section has its own name and as you can see, even the more mellow runs come with scary titles.
This south Wales bike park features (and is perhaps more famous for) its excellently technical, pedally red routes with lots of roots and rocks to test a long travel trail bike. I've huffed and puffed round these on my big bike before and to be honest, didn't fancy doing it again under the beating sun.
Much more tempting was putting some low-rolling resistance tyres on my hardtail and making the most of the smooth but steep Blue Scar trail, which would be running super-fast after a long, hot summer. There's a bit of climbing to do before you can enjoy the gravity-powered descent but it's easy going on a light and stiff bike like this.
As well as making the odd big trip to Wales I also spent what felt like every weekend a bit closer to Peterborough, at a woodland red trail near Woburn, which as you can see from this picture, isn’t quite as smooth.
I probably should have taken my full suspension bike in this instance, as the hard-packed mud, roots, and my heavy riding style nearly smashed my Marin’s back wheel to bits. Oops.
What's the point of all this bike chat? Well, what I'm trying to say is that I spent an enormous amount of time on two wheels in 2018, largely because the Octavia makes it so easy. It’s a total enabler – if you’re after a car to make indulging in your hobby as easy as possible then look no further.
This is how our blue car spent most of its summer – with a boot full of muddy jerseys and flapjacks and a bike on top, heading to a muddy hill somewhere. I even started sneaking rides into my lunchbreak, because lobbing my bike on the car in the morning took seconds, and meant I could go for a midday shred.
How easy is the Skoda Octavia roofrack to fit?
As I mentioned earlier I’ve barely removed it – every time I think about taking it off I realise I’ve got another ride planned in a day or two, so I’ve pretty much just left it on the car. The wind noise and fuel economy penalties are so minimal, so why bother?
Getting a bike or two on the roof is simple thanks to the Skoda-branded-but-Thule-manufactured carriers. The front and rear wheels are held in place with plastic tie-down ratchets, while an upright support clamps onto the frame and can be locked in place with a key. I’ve also taken to attaching a lock around the bike and roof rail for extra security.
When you do need to remove the rack it’s very easy. There are four locked covers to remove and then four levers to loosen, before the entire outfit comes off in one go to be stored in the garage.
So to answer the earlier question, the Octavia vRS Estate is just about as good as it gets if you’re a cyclist. A bit more ground clearance would be nice in some circumstances but for all other intents and purposes it’s slotted into my life like a well-oiled gearchange.
Time's up for our blue Octavia vRS 230 - we're swapping into a more powerful version
We’ve come to the end of our four glorious months in this Skoda Octavia vRS 230 Estate and regular readers will know that means it’s time to swap into the green vRS 245 pictured above.
It’s fair to say it has got so far under my skin that I considered calling the whole thing off and asking whether I could just buy the blue car. It’s perhaps telling that the only other long-termer I’ve run at Parkers that has had this effect on me was an Audi A4 Avant with a torque-monster of a V6 diesel engine in it. Clearly fast estates are just my thing.
I really enjoyed that car but I’ve preferred the Skoda – not least because the German was a bit showy and people seem reluctant to let you out of side turnings when you’ve got four rings on your grille. The Skoda is an undeniably cool thing but it’s totally classless and in standard blue paint is pleasingly anonymous on the road.
That sounds like false praise but while I’ve always liked the exciting, heart-on-your-sleeve looks of hot hatches like the Honda Civic Type R – you know what you’re getting with a big wing and bonnet scoop - constantly having to deal with other motorists wanting a race all the time gets really boring, which is where the Octavia’s subtle looks came into their own. Subtle isn’t really my middle name, so I was really surprised how much the Skoda’s styling won me over.
Big power, big boot
The two most obvious strengths of this car are the 230hp under the bonnet and the 630 litres in the boot – more than enough at either end to ensure this Octavia is best grown-up boy racer’s family car this side of an Audi RS 6. Oh, and it costs half as much.
I loved the easy-going nature of its power delivery – you could either drop a gear and wind the 2.0-litre turbocharged motor up or simply leave it alone, stand on the gas pedal and wait for the acceleration. This made it feel pleasingly old school, like a Subaru Impreza, and the boosty midrange gave it a stronger sensation of speed than the numbers suggested.
In terms of handling the Octavia didn’t feel quite as sharp as the Golf GTI and didn’t exactly major on front end grip, particularly in the wet when it would plough on quite happily. It was certainly tidy enough in the dry if you bore in mind its relatively unsophisticated set up - you only get a limited-slip differential in the more expensive vRS 245 - so tread carefully.
Anyway, more impressive than its outright agility was how the chassis managed to be both sporty and supremely comfortable in equal measure. It's high praise indeed to say that at times you could forget you were in a vRS at all, such was the comfort of the suspension. I think this quality is lost is most modern hot hatches - even the Golf GTI to some extent - which all seem more focused on cornering ability than how easy they are to live with. The Octavia vRS scores top marks here.
My criticism of the motor’s rather flat engine note (particularly from the outside, where it doesn’t sound very sporty at all) was also a benefit when it came to weekend driving, when I was most likely pottering about with my family on board, in no particular rush. This, in combination with the comfy ride, made the Octavia a car we could all enjoy. Not just me.
Then there were times when I’d have to, ahem, make good progress with passengers in the car. The majority of the burly engine sound you get in Sport mode comes through the speakers, so it was easy enough to calibrate the individual setting to give me maximum power with minimal noise. Smooth and wafty speed was easy to attain.
Talented and likeable, but not perfect
For the sake of balance I made quite a few notes about things in the vRS that bugged me, not least the bits that felt like they’d come straight out of a standard Octavia – namely the gearstick (too long) and the clutch pedal (too springy and it’s biting point too imprecise).
The latter did eventually get easier to live with, either it loosened up a bit or I just got used to it, but it certainly made smooth shifts a tricky process, especially when going quickly, because you were never really sure where the bite point was. I discovered the best way to change gears in the Octavia was to abandon all attempt at clutch pedal finesse and basically dump it between shifts. Not ideal treatment for the drivetrain, so I didn’t make a habit of it.
Other gripes include the thick pillar between front and rear doors, which creates blindspots, especially when combined with the padding of the passenger's headrest, which always seemed to be in the wrong place. In the back I couldn’t work out how to remove the rear headrests, which made fitting my son’s high-backed booster seat a bit awkward, too.
The non-powered bootlid is also heavy to shut – primarily because it’s a massive tailgate and opens really high, so it needs particularly muscular gas struts. The bluff back end means big bootspace but also creates some aerodynamic oddities – give the Octavia a big shoe of gas and exhaust fumes cloud up the outside of the glass. On a cold morning you’d need the help of the rear wiper to retain visibility out back. Which I actually found quite satisfying.
Fuel economy was a bit of a sticky point too - it wasn't bad overall - I got an average of 33mpg over my not-quite-10,000 miles, which included a lot of motorway miles, plus time spent with a bike on the roof, and some erm, spirited driving too. It could be quite inconsistent though - tanks ranged between 38mpg and a rather alarming 25mpg - although that was when we were filming our review video, requiring a fair bit of to-ing a fro-ing. I got an average of 300 miles to a tank, which meant filling up quite a lot, and spent a total of £1,722 on fuel during our time.
While we're on fluids, at about 8,000 miles the Octavia told me it had boiled away most of its coolant - a technician at a nearby Skoda garage suggested these engines tend to run quite hot - so it's worth casting an eye under the bonnet every now and again.
Really though, I’ve got very few complaints – if you’re in the market for a fast family car there’s really nothing quite as complete as a Skoda Octavia vRS, which is especially impressive when you consider how good value it is.
Why spend more money on one, then?
Therein lies the perfect set up to the question we asked at the beginning of this test – just how much Octavia do you need? Well, in order to answer that we need to say goodbye to this optionless, 230hp manual car and spend some time in an automatic, 245hp model with loads of extras (you can read about that here).
My prediction? I love the brilliant simplicity and value of the standard car, especially in underdog, is-that-a-police-car blue. That said, I think the green car’s limited-slip differential will transform the handling, and the automatic gearbox will remove any issues around the springy clutch and workaday gearshift. Plus a powered boot and keyless entry will make it considerably less work to live with. See? It’s quite easy to get carried away
In fact the prescence of a green replacement is the only thing making the departure of the blue car acceptable, otherwise I think I'd be very upset indeed.
What a joy this thing has been.
|Skoda Octavia vRS running costs
|Real-world average fuel economy
||33mpg, 76% of official
|Official combined fuel economy
|Joined Parkers fleet
||1 July 2018