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Another new vRS? It’s the fourth in as many months, and proof that Skoda’s vRS badge is applied to the most diverse array of powertrain options in the hot hatch world. Once you’ve chosen between a hatch or estate, you then need to decide between petrol, diesel or hybrid. You get the same choices with a Golf, but Volkswagen cycles between GTI, GTD and GTE suffixes. Depending which option you’ve picked, you might then need to pick between manual and DSG gearboxes, or front- and four-wheel-drive underpinnings. It’s either ‘power to the consumer’, or a needless array of choice akin to the comically oversized menu in Café Tropical. And which do we have here? It’s the rarest of the bunch. Around five per cent of Octavia vRSs sold in the UK will be one of these: a 2.0 TDI 200PS DSG 4x4, which in plainer English is a four-wheel-drive diesel with paddleshifters. The big seller will be the petrol DSG (around half of all vRSs sold), while the new vRS iV hybrid will account for 15 per cent in its first year on the books.
Specs, please. Octavia vRS prices start at £30,605, but add diesel, DSG, 4x4 and the estate rump and you still don’t cross the £35,000 threshold. Its 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel engine produces 197bhp – down 45bhp on both the petrol and hybrid vRS, but it returns 51.3mpg as compensation. The top speed is 147mph and with 4WD, it’ll crack 0-62mph in 6.8secs – 0.6secs quicker than a diesel with FWD, and as quick as the petrol. Does it feel quick? Not especially – it feels tuned to be effortless and relaxing, two words which surely feature in large font on the Skoda mood board, albeit probably written in Czech. ‘Bez námahy’ and ‘relaxační’, since you ask. Which makes Skoda’s choice to default the dreadful synthesised engine noise to ON, every time you start the car up, totally baffling. A victory for the marketeers over the engineers, surely. It’s a quick button press to switch it off, at least: pop the car in either Comfort, or pick an Individual setup with the noise turned off. And don’t mistake this as an old curmudgeonly rant about technology: these systems can work well, but they’re at their best sounding natural. Burbling some almost V8-esque petrol noise through the speakers while a diesel rattles behind does not make for a good mash-up. See Skoda’s own Kodiaq vRS for more details. I thought Skodas were more pragmatic than that… Not to worry, because this vRS nails its brief as soon as you’ve pressed ‘mute’. It’s actual engine sits below 2,000rpm on the motorway barely making a fuss, and the standard DSG gearbox is a delight too (only the petrol gets a manual). With all of the engine’s muscles flexed by 4,000rpm, there’s little actual fun to be had from tugging the paddles yourself. But if you’re feeling excitable, flicking the transmission into S (rather than D) livens things up nicely and the gearbox feels smartly mapped for brisk driving. Undercover police officers will have a jolly good time chasing down crims in these. While the Octavia is naturally heavier with 4x4 and a diesel engine, it still drives broadly as sharply as the base petrol. Pop anything on this mid-size VW Group platform and it tends to turn into corners with an inherent sharpness, and the vRS’s 15mm-lower sports suspension helps give it enough edge to ensure the badges adorning its grille, tailgate and delightfully enveloping sports seats aren’t there without merit. The vRS badge is spread wide, but credibly so in this instance. Does 4x4 make a difference? It really does. As standard, the diesel’s torque can really overwhelm the front axle if the weather’s rough or you’re not really with it. But the transfer of power to road is impressively smooth with all four wheels putting in a shift. It’s impossible to fox it. What this isn’t meant to be is a 4WD system happy to cut loose and put a grin on your face, like a mischievously driven Golf R might. But if you’re buying into Skoda life, you probably predicted that. Anything else I need to know? There are very few options you need to add to a vRS – it comes extraordinarily well kitted out as standard, and feels expensively trimmed these days, too. Also, there are no tell-tale exterior flourishes to give away which powertrain or transmission you’ve picked for yours – this is a cloak-and-dagger car in every regard. No wonder the law loves them. Adding 4x4 to your Octavia vRS adds 86 kilos to its kerb weight and almost £1,500 more to its list price, and you can only have it with the diesel. Perhaps it would sell in higher numbers if it was fitted to the petrol, though maybe this setup really belongs in something a little less sporty; if it’s the rationality of this specific version that appeals, perhaps an even easier to live with Octavia Scout with a high-output diesel will fit the bill even better, and go barely any slower in the process. Score: 7/10