BMW M3 Touring vs Skoda Octavia vRS TDI 4x4: a half-price alternative?
Just how good is a fast AWD wagon that costs less than half what BMW asks for the M3?
We’re all well aware by now that the BMW M3 Touring is a ridiculously quick and impossibly capable performance estate car, right? Good. So let’s discuss the two things that might put you off buying one. The nostrils, and the cost…
Heck, this is a BMW 3 Series with a starting price of £86,365 (at the time of writing). That is HUGE money, even for 503bhp. It may be taboo to talk salaries, but how many Brits in this cost-of-living crisis will really be able to spare £1,300 every month for four years having already dropped £10,200 on a deposit?
That got the TopGear.com brainbox whirring. What if you need a rapid estate car, and want to breathe in New Car Smell? How much fast wagon can you get for half the price of an M3?
Photography: Mark Riccioni
Allowing ourselves a £40,000 budget (which sounds like plenty but really doesn’t buy as much as it used to), we went for something a bit more… Czech.
The Skoda Octavia vRS estate starts at just £35,175 in the UK right now, but to get closest to the all-weather usability of the BMW you’ll want the rarest spec of all – the £38,285 2.0-litre TDI complete with four-wheel drive and a seven-speed DSG ‘box. When it arrived in the UK back in 2021, Skoda itself reckoned that just five per cent of Octavia vRSs sold on our shores would be in this configuration.
Why so rare? Well for one thing you lose out on poke: a diesel-drinking vRS only gets 197bhp from the turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine, compared to the 242bhp of the 2.0-litre turbo petrol. But in the vRS diesel it’s all about torque. There’s 295lb ft of the stuff (vs the petrol’s 273lb ft) and with all four wheels being driven the TDI will match the FWD-only TSI’s 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds. So, we’ve got a rapid wagon, but we’re not at all scared of scratching our precious carbon seats…
On the move the vRS TDI eats distance. Okay, so a diesel engine is never going to be as exciting as the 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six in the BMW, but it’s certainly effective. The torque's on tap from low revs so there’s plenty of pace for overtaking, and keeping the gearbox in Sport mode means the drivetrain doesn’t get caught napping. We didn’t find too much use for the paddleshifters as you’re never chasing the rev limiter.
For 90 per cent of the driving you do, the Skoda should be just as quick as its double-your-money rival. In fact, the Skoda is the fastest car in Britain – because everyone will think you’re an undercover police car. You might find that it’s more effective at clearing traffic out of the way than the buck-toothed front-end of the Beemer.
Notice we said should be just as quick, though, because discussing performance in this context might well be futile. The M3 Touring Competition xDrive is monstrously fast, and it feels it too. On just about any surface it deploys 479lb ft with ruthless ease, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see it hit 62mph from a standstill in less than the claimed 3.7 seconds. At 1,865kg the Touring is 85kg heavier than the M3 xDrive saloon and a massive 243kg heavier than the Skoda, but the sheer power – and its sublime body control – disguise that quarter-tonne of extra bulk.
The M3 also shows how four-wheel drive doesn’t need to be bore-wheel drive. The Skoda’s 4x4 system can send up to 50 per cent of the torque rearwards when you chuck it into a corner and need some extra grip, but BMW’s xDrive is naturally rear-biased and only sends up to 50 per cent of the power towards the front when you really need it. There’s so much variation to be had in the M3 – not least thanks to its ability to go rear-wheel drive only with 10 further stages of traction control.
If you’re not feeling quite that brave, the 4WD Sport mode offers a healthy mid-point and allows a little bit of slip whilst keeping you neat, tidy and very quick indeed. You could easily travel down the same bit of road day after day, delighting in the purposeful steering and adjusting the the traction until it’s just so. That would certainly make for a longer trip back from the tip. As you’d expect the Skoda can’t get close in this regard, although you will get a little more in the way of adaptability if you spec the optional Dynamic Chassis Control for £995.
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Where the Skoda does have the M3 pipped is in the comfort stakes. The Skoda is softer with more sidewall in the tyre and more forgiving suspension, and can whoosh along where the BMW isn’t very happy on some of Britain’s craggier back roads.
Top tip: switch off the vRS’s pumped-in engine noise. We know it’s a diesel, we don’t need it to sound like a V8. Oh, and it’s probably worth pointing out here that the M3 Touring we had on test was equipped with the optional carbon ceramic brakes. They cost an extra £7,995 on their own, or just over 1/5th of the Skoda’s total purchase price. That gives you some sense of the respective leagues that these two are playing in.
So, what about the interiors? We’ve lamented the VW Group’s latest touchscreen and infotainment setup since it first arrived on the Mk8 Golf, and it’s no better in the Octavia. Sluggish, laggy and lacking proper buttons: it’s a nightmare to use. But then BMW has gone and joined the race-to-the-bottom by doing away with buttons for the 3 Series facelift. Don’t get us wrong, the rest of the cabin feels like a super premium place to sit, but the climate controls are now hidden away in submenus and with over 500bhp at your disposal you really don’t want to be messing around with a 14.9-inch touchscreen.
As expected there are some cheap feeling plastics in the Skoda, and you’ll need to pay extra for heated front and rear seats (£1,000) and wireless phone charging (£355), but the sporty seats and red stitching come as standard, as does a humungous 640 litre boot. That’s over a hundred litres more than you get in the supposedly all-the-car-you-ever-need M3.
Back to our original question then: how much fast estate can you get for half the price of an M3 Touring? The Skoda’s drivetrain and effortless pace is impressive, as is the fact it reckoned it would cover almost 700 miles before needing to visit another fuel station. That’s twice as far as the Beemer goes on a tank.
So, if you want a good car, buy the Skoda. But if you want a sensation, you need the BMW. Get saving. What this comparison has mostly proved is just how special the M3 Touring feels. It’s a supercar among estate cars. You’re paying twice as much, but it’s two cars in one.