This week's update: Time to have a look at our Skoda Octavia vRS Estate long termer via the lens of our videographer - see how we get on with it here
|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
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.
|Latest Skoda Octavia vRS running costs
|Real-world average fuel economy
||32.4mpg, 75% of official
|Official combined fuel economy
|Joined Parkers fleet
||1 July 2018