Parkers overall rating: 4.3 out of 5 4.3

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) front view

The automotive world is rushing to meet the demand for electric cars, but for many people, the best option for now is diesel. Skoda's latest Octavia has three different diesels available – so there's one for everyone. We're living with the vRS 4x4 DSG to answer the question: is there life left in diesel?

Reports by Keith Adams.

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Update 1: Welcome

Introducing the Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0TDI DSG 4x4

The Skoda Octavia is a perennial favourite here. Not just with the staffers on Parkers, but also with the readers. And that's no surprise considering the sheer breadth of models available and what value most of them represent. What's also telling is that despite falling diesel sales in the UK, models fuelled this way are really important to Skoda, with models spanning 110-200hp. That's why we're running one for six months to see whether there's still a case for diesel.

It's a recent addition to the UK market and is now established as the fast-selling replacement for the 2013-2020 generation car. As before, it comes in both hatchback and estate bodystyles. We've already subjected the 110hp SE L 2.0TDI First Edition hatch to the long-term test treatment, so now it's the turn of the 200hp vRS 4x4 DSG to see how it performs in our high-mileage test.

For the first time, Skoda offers the vRS in three forms – petrol (245hp),  plug-in hybrid with 245hp and this diesel (200hp). Although the diesel is the least powerful and slowest on-paper, I am confident it'll still feel lively on the road, given the 400Nm of torque it develops at a mere 2,500rpm – perfect for quiet cruising as well as muscular acceleration.

Check out the Skoda Octavia 2020- specs page on Parkers for the entire range – especially worth bearing in mind as not all engines are available for every trim.

What you get with a vRS

The vRS TDI weighs in at £34,975, and the accent is very much on sportiness. But don't think you're going to be going without life's essentials, because for your money, you get a fair bit of equipment. Included as standard are:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Alcantara padded dash panel with contrast stitching
  • Aluminium pedals
  • Chrome exhaust tailpipes
  • Climatronic dual-zone air conditioning
  • Columbus satellite navigation with 10-inch touchscreen display
  • Electrically operated boot
  • Front and rear parking sensors with manoeuvre assist
  • Front heated seats
  • Full LED Matrix headlights with AFS (adaptive front light system
  • Heated three-spoke leather sports multi-function steering wheel with
    paddles for DSG
  • Keyless entry and start/stop including rear doors
  • Lane assist
  • LED headlights with LED daytime running lights
  • Progressive dynamic steering
  • Smartlink (includes Android Auto and mirrorlink)
  • Sports suspension (15mm lower than standard Octavia)
  • Virtual Cockpit with 10.25” display
  • vRS exterior design – vRS bumpers and lip spoiler (hatch only), and
    red brake calipers
  • Wireless Smartlink for Apple CarPlay

There are some notable absentees from that equipment list, including electrically-adjustable seats, underlining the fact this is a performance model and not a range-topping luxury one. But few people would come away from that feeling disappointed. Having said that, we added £5,000-worth of options, which we'll go through in the next update.

Being a diesel, I'm expecting it to be economical – not necessarily in the same ballpark as the lower-powered Octavias, where gentle driving will net 70mpg-plus, but certainly somewhere north of 50mpg in typical UK driving. We’ll be putting this to the test with some long motorway days. The early signs are good that it should at least match its official Combined WLTP figure of 45.6–50.4mpg. 

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) interior view

This is Skoda’s fourth generation of the Octavia and as can be read elsewhere in this review, it's now on a par with the Volkswagen Golf sister car in pretty much all areas. It is also packed with cutting-edge tech, a huge cabin interior and a cavernous boot big enough to swallow anything the busiest of families are prepared to throw at it.

The interior is plush and well-trimmed with solid fittings, well-shaped seats and a dashboard trimmed in stitched Alcantara that really finishes it off nicely. So far we've had four people in it, and none have complained about the roominess offered, with a six-footer fitting happily in the rear behind another six-footer. An optional panoramic roof adds to the feeling of roominess of the car by injecting airiness and bright light, which might have been an issue in this all-black interior.

Over the coming months and thousands of miles, I’ll get deep under the skin of the Octavia and be pounding Britain's motorways in a car that combines near-150mph performance and an easy 500-plus-mile range. I can't wait – I've always loved a big estate, really rate Skodas and enjoy being able to properly stretch a car's legs on an involved and detailed long-term test.

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) rear view


Update 2: Cabin, equipment and options

What's the Octavia vRS like to spend time in?

Let's cut to the chase here – the Octavia's interior is well put together, looks good, is roomy and is quite user friendly. And overall, I like it a lot – with the odd proviso.

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) interior view

Although the Octavia is aimed at rivalling estate cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus it looks and feels larger, and much more of a mid-sized vehicle. This is also true in terms of quality of the fixtures and fittings, where it leads the Focus by a considerable margin, while also feeling more user friendly than the Volkswagen. Considering where Skoda has come from in the past 20 years, this is most impressive.

I touched on how well equipped the Octavia is in my last update, but it certainly bears repeating. The vRS comes with adaptive cruise control (essential these days in my opinion), rear parking sensors, 19-inch ‘Altair’ anthracite alloy wheels (that make the car look like it doesn't have tyres), a multi-function steering wheel and dual-zone climate control. All of these combine to make the vRS very easy to live with.

The cabin is smart and everything seems to be solidly assembled, although at just over 1,500 miles in, I've noticed a quiet but annoying squeak coming from somewhere around the glovebox area – I will have to look into that. But it’s a cosy and very roomy place to be, and the body-hugging front seats might lack a touch of luxury, but they're very supportive, especially on longer journeys.

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) instruments

Forward visibility is excellent which makes placing it in town on narrow lanes easy, and it never feels big in the way, say a Passat or Mondeo might when you're driving in confined areas. It’s handy having the front and rear parking sensors, although I miss having a camera (am I really getting that dependent on tech these days?).

The Virtual Cockpit (above) is crisp and easy to read, and offers a number of viewing options depending on what you want. The nav view (above) is nice if you're mid-city, but most of the time, I leave it with two-conventional dials in view overlaid by a pair of status readouts for average consumption and fuel range.

Infotainment screen

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) infotainment screen

Complementing the Virtual Cockpit is this full-sized central infotainment screen. It's a 10.25-inch display screen with built-in 3D navigation, and unlike previous Volkswagen Group cars I've driven recently, it's quite responsive, suffering from little lag, especially once up and running and set-up the way you like it.

It’s very clear, sharp and easy to get your head round, and the only criticisms I have of it is that it's not angled towards the driver, looks awful when covered in fingerprints and it's mounted so high it means the fresh air vents are pushed lower down into the cabin.

The touch-screen display is responsive featuring nice, large icons and only really becomes obstructive when using Android Auto. There are lots of different menu options, but most are logical and the touchscreen seems to control almost everything from audio to the climate control. Because so many features are handles on this screen, the interior looks minimalistic, and if you want to change the volume, you'll be limited to using the steering wheel (fiddly), the touchpad under the screen (counterintuitive) or the screen (annoying).

I miss physical buttons and knobs.

Options

I mentioned options in the last update, so here they are, pushing the vRS to nearly £40,000. After a few weeks' driving, they're easy to break down into worth/not worth the extra...

Not worth… I'd expect this as standard, and I'm okay looking over my shoulder

  • Canton Sound System £590

Not worth… For a premium upgrade it doesn't actually sound that impressive

  • Dynamic Chassis Control £945

Worth it… If you're a country dweller – agility on B-roads is really improved

  • Metallic Paint/Pearlescent £595

Not worth… I keep getting clocked as a police car, which is getting tiring now

  • Panoramic Sunroof £1,175

Worth it… A nice, but darkly-trimmed interior is made a whole lot airier

  • Temporary Space Saver Spare Wheel £185

Worth it… You never know when you're going to have a blow-out

  • Virtual Pedal £190

Not worth… I can put things on the floor before opening the tailgate

  • Total cost of car including factory fitted options: £39,165

Update 3: 4,000 miles on – how's it going?

Skoda and I are a little over 4,000 miles in, and as a family car that covers all bases, it's really growing on me, after a few reservations over refinement and overall driving pleasure.

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) front view, at night

I spend a lot of time of time on the motorway and my first impressions weren't that favourable. I suspect it's all down to the fact it was replacing an Octavia SE L First Edition, which was accented far more towards luxury than the vRS is. What this meant was I lost a fair chunk of ride quality and motorway noise was considerably increased – both which, initially at least, made this car feel a bit of a step backwards.

But those reservations slowly subsided as the miles passed, and I came to appreciate this car's combination of space and pace. But it's not all about straight-line speed – its 6.8 second 0-62mph time and 148mph maximum speed are good on paper, but what they don't convey is the ease in which the car gains speed. No drama, no fuss, no mashing of the throttle pedal – it just thunders forward with real conviction.

Enthusiasts (me included) might prefer the delivery of the petrol vRS, and the extra urge it gives you, but in reality, most of the time and on busy roads, the diesel is easy to live with. There's noticeable diesel chatter at idle, and its grumbly, gravelly engine note doesn't really subside until its drowned out by road noise, but it's never loud, just a little unpleasant.

It sounds like an old Subaru!

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) engine

Ah yes, I didn't mention the sound. The first time I switched on the Skoda and drove it away, I was taken aback to hear that it sounded like a cross between an old Subaru Impreza and a misfiring Ford Cortina with a blowing exhaust. That'll be the artificial engine noise generator, then.

Pulling over and interrogating the Drive Mode settings, I soon realised that you can't simply turn off the actuator, and have to choose a mode that leaves it switched off. So, I set it up in 'Individual' mode to run with Sports settings for everything, aside from engine, which I switched to Comfort – problem solved. The car drives as it should, but without the blaring, droning accompaniment.

I mean, the diesel as it stands might not sound like honey tickling your ear drums, but at least it's quiet. Why on earth make it sound louder and worse?

Before I leave this subject, it's worth noting that at the start of every journey, the Drive Mode switches back to 'Normal' and the noise actuator comes back on. So I have to switch manually into 'Individual' to make it drive the way I want it – a minor but noticeable inconvenience. Also, this is a personal preference – a mate of mine who recently drove the car, loved the way it sounds...

What's it like to drive?

For a sporting car riding on 19-inch wheels, it's far from uncomfortable, and set-up nicely for A-roads and motorways especially. After a month and 4,000 miles behind the wheel, those reservations about its lack of refinement have washed away as my enthusiasm for its all-round usability have really come to the fore – I still wish it was a little quieter, but never has it worn me out on a longer journey.

Riding on the backroads or undulating minor roads is where the Octavia comes alive, no doubt aided by its optional Dynamic Chassis Control system, which really endows this car with agility, poise and traction. It's well-damped, rides acceptably for a sporting car, the steering is fluid and nicely weighted, and bodyroll is kept nicely in check.

It's not perfect, and on my first run to my home in Cumbria, it felt curiously detached on the B-roads there. But once dialled into this lack of feel and now I'm used to it, I feel it's a car with high limits of grip that I can really trust and appreciate. Overall, it's an enjoyable car in its own way. It doesn't make you tingle like a petrol-powered car would, but in every other way, it's doing a sterling job.

What have I learned so far?

My experience driving the Octavia vRS has so far has been very positive. It makes a great family car and will transport people and their luggage with ease over many miles, and at quite a speed if you want it to. Love its low-key looks, lack of drama, and ability to cover great distances while leaving you unruffled by what the world throws at you.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Skoda Octavia Estate DSG (2021) rear view, at night

Skoda Octavia Estate vRS 2.0TDI 4x4 DSG
 Current mileage
 4,310
 Real-world average fuel economy
 48.1mpg average
 Official combined fuel economy (WLTP figures)
 45.6 - 50.4 mpg
 Parkers 'MPP' (Miles Per Pound) calculation
 7.8 - 8.6
 Car joined Parkers fleet
 March 2021