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What’s this? The hot version of the Skoda Octavia – the vRS – now fitted, for the first time, with four-wheel drive. And, as you can see, you can have it not just in hatchback costume, but with the whopping 1,740-litre estate boot. I’m sensing an ‘all the car you’ll ever need’ verdict coming up… Hold that thought, because there is a catch. Yes, Skoda will sell you all-wheel drive in the vRS, but no, you can’t have it with just any model. Not with the latest 227bhp variant, or with either of the 2.0-litre petrol versions, in fact. It’s offered only on the 184bhp 2.0 TDI. Yup, it’s the diesel. And, should you have hoped to claw back some petrolhead kudos with a manual gearbox, consider your hopes dashed. Unlike the front-drive Octavia vRS, the AWD version is exclusively fitted with a six-speed, DSG paddleshifter.
Oh. I was hoping for a discount Golf R with lots of traction. Us too, if we’re honest, but diesel with DSG is what we’ve got and the fact is, it’s still a seriously accomplished family car. The 184bhp, 280lb ft diesel is the very same engine that lurks in a VW Golf GTD, which you can have as an estate, but only with front-wheel drive. And by complete coincidence, that’s an identical output to the front-drive Ford Focus ST Estate diesel. So, the numbers are spot on for a brisk diesel. It even sounds okay – smooth, and less rattly than some diesels. Playing fake noise through the speakers? Nope – Skoda’s far too sensible for that. Weirdly, the same engine, when it lives in an Audi TT, is dubbed over by the hi-fi to sound meatier. Read into that what you will.
Is it any good to drive? Yes, in that assured and sensible way that Skoda does rather well. And in truth, not that different to the front-drive version, save for quick getaways. Floor the throttle from standstill on a damp, cold, gritty road and it’ll romp away with diesely gusto without troubling the traction control light, which is a plus point if you’re not a fan of ‘changing your driving style with the conditions’, like your driving instructor advised. This thing does make 280lb ft at 1,750rpm, remember. Even on a dry surface, the 4x4 is 0.3sec quicker from 0-62mph than the front-drive vRS TDi. It’s pretty much foolproof. And exactly how fast is it? I need numbers Launching to 62mph takes 7.7 seconds, or 7.6 if you’ve got the very slightly lighter hatchback rather than the wagon. So yes, it’s brisk rather than outright quick, but you’ll still be able to see off a Toyota GT86 on a rainy day. Simple pleasures. Top speed falls 2mph to 142mph. So if you commute by the autobahn, bear that in mind. You’ll be quicker down the sliproad, but ultimately slower. How’s that for consumer advice? Traction aside, the vRS is fairly chuckable for a family wagon, with lots of grip and sensibly weighted controls. Obviously it can’t do the drift-mode heroics of the AWD Focus RS, because there are no clever clutch packs here, but rather an older school but still fit-for-purpose Haldex system that uses an electrohydraulic clutch to summon up to half of the power to the rear axle if it senses you’ve cocked up. You can upset the rear end by trail-braking the car, but the ESC can’t be turned completely off, and the Octavia is, like your old man at the wedding disco, not a natural dancer. Neither should it be. It’s a sensible fast family car and that’s fine by us. How much? A not-horrific £1,450 more than the front-drive car, meaning a hatch costs you £27,315, and a wagon £28,515. Yes, almost thirty grand is a lot to throw on a Skoda, but you do get sat-nav, auto climate control, the DSG gearbox and a 55.6mpg economy claim as standard. It all feels well screwed together and looks rather handsome too, especially in the RS-like battleship grey paint. And if you were struggling to see the point of the Octavia next to its Audi A3, VW Golf and Seat Leon cousins, it now has a 4x4 USP.