The headline and pub ammo stat is this - the all-new Octavia vRS is the fastest Octavia ever, with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, 218bhp and a 0-62mph time of just 6.8 seconds. But it isn't the best in the range because, like the last-generation, there's also a diesel vRS available. And that, like an automotive Rachel Riley, looks like it might be the thinking man's object of desire.
The diesel vRS has exactly the same engine that appears in the Seat Leon FR, a 2.0-litre lump with 181bhp and 280lb ft, which gives it enough motivation to get from 0-62mph in a respectable 8.1 seconds. The latter isn't spectacular - most regular hot hatches these days manage around six seconds - but the high torque output rescues the vRSd and makes it feel much quicker than the numbers suggest.
So it's not frenetic, but it is fast. Slot it in gear and let the torque do the work - this car is all about relaxed pace. The turbo builds smoothly from just 1,500rpm but what's really impressive is that it doesn't run out of breath like most diesels. The torque curve is pancake-flat until 3,000rpm and, from the driver's seat, you don't notice the punch start to tail off until over 4,500rpm. That's high for a diesel.
The same slightly laid-back feeling applies to the chassis, despite being 15mm lower than the normal Octavia and running on stiffer springs with a thicker anti-roll bar. It's firmer, yes, but not uncomfortable, mainly because it's well damped and absorbs bumps with an easy grace. This would be an easy car to live with, a hot hatch for the more refined gentleman.
Even the styling backs up the feel. There's a tiny rear spoiler (which really does reduce lift), demure twin rear pipes, and slightly remodelled front and rear bumpers. ‘Restrained' is the watchword here, not ‘aggressive'.
You can feel a ‘but' coming on, can't you? Afraid so - this Octavia might be fast, relaxing and frugal (61.4mpg and 119g/km CO2), but for a vRS model it's not quite exciting enough. If you want to stir the blood, then you'll need to be in something more traditionally hot-hatchy. The Octavia's steering is precise, but it's not exactly got a surfeit of feel, and the chassis doesn't sync in with your backside as much as it should do. As a result, there's not that much fizz when you go fast.
Which is a pity, because the Octavia vRS had genuine potential to hit a hot-hatch sweet spot. Good pace, decent fuel economy, no-nonsense everyday usability - a properly different answer to the hot-hatch question. But the numb steering just makes this car feel a little too grown-up to wear a vRS badge. More connection please, Skoda.
1968cc, 4cyl turbodiesel, RWD, 181bhp, 280lb ft, 61.4mpg, 119g/km CO2, 0-62mph in 8.1secs, 144mph, 1395kg, £23,260
Skoda has created a good value, interesting and different proposition - the Octavia vRS diesel is the hot hatch for the thinking man.