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Skoda Octavia Skoda Octavia vRSDriven March 2006
A performance-oriented BMW or Mercedes is hugely desirable, but by the same token an honest, affordable model from a budget brand is also an entirely respectable thing to plump for. The aspirational middle ground, where a reasonably cheap car suddenly gets a bit close to being unreasonably expensive, is where it all goes wrong.
The Skoda Octavia is a case in point. Terrific value for a basic model, but by the time you get into the flagship vRS you're shelling out a load more cash for what is essentially still a budget car, just one with grunt and spoilers.
Which isn't to say that the Octavia vRS is a rip-off. At £17,500 it still makes a strong argument against any number of hot-ish editions of more modest motors.
Think Vauxhall Vectra VXR or Ford Mondeo ST220. They're barely faster or larger, but will set you back a good £5,000 more.
However, the Skoda is still hampered by its image. Would you rather pull up in a TDI diesel that says you're an unassuming, switched-on sort of bloke, or a bright red vRS with boot spoiler and green calipers that says you're a frustrated rep railing against the incompatibility of limited finances, impending middle age and the inconsequence of your existence?
The vRS has the same two-litre FSI engine as the MkV Golf GTI. That means 200bhp, a claimed 7.3 seconds to 60mph and a 147mph top speed, pretty much exactly the same as the Golf.
Where the Octavia loses out, however, is in the dynamics. Bearing in mind it shares most of its underpinnings with the German hatch, too, the vRS is noticeably less agile.
Well over 130kg heavier, and both longer and wider, it's at an inherent disadvantage from the outset, and this translates into a slight sense of clumsiness and a general loss of tactility through the steering.
But at £2,500 less than the Golf this comparison will only go so far. As a stand-alone product the vRS offers a convincing balance between refinement and performance, riding well, pulling vigorously through its six gears and stopping sharply despite its bulk.
But it's still nothing more than a fairly quick family car, and whether a spoiler that worsens an already ropy rear view is going to fool anyone into thinking otherwise is highly debatable.
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