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Skoda Octavia vRS review: hot diesel estate driven

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What is this?

This is the Skoda Octavia vRS – newly arrived in the UK in diesel estate form. A car clearly put together so that folks can have their cake, eat it, and not get fat. It’s the final piece in the fourth-gen Octavia vRS puzzle, adding to the 2.0-litre petrol and plug-in hybrid options. The diesel vRS start at £32,260 for the saloon and £33,530 for the estate. Going for the 4x4 version adds £500 or so. What with the vRS being top dog in the Octavia line-up you get all sorts of kit thrown in – matrix LED headlights, loads of safety tech, massive touchscreens, a splosh of Alcantara and lovely 19-inch alloys that’ll make you too scared to park within a metre of any pavement. 

Is the vRS a sports car, or what?

Cars like the Octavia vRS exist to cushion the devastating blow as you crash from hot hatch to barge-like seven-seat SUV, futilely resisting the onrush of middle age. It’s practical, yeah (lovely big boot, plenty of space for the kids), but it’s sporty too. Even if this 2.0-litre 197bhp diesel-engined model doesn’t look like it on paper. Sure, it only gets to 62mph in seven-point-*cough* seconds, but it’s all about the overtaking prowess, the surge of torque on the motorway as you leave the dawdlers behind you in what would have once been a cloud of black smoke.

Alright, so it’s got a heated steering wheel and a powered tailgate, but it turns very sharply into a corner, the ride controlled all the way through. 

Will I want to get up early for a Saturday morning drive?

If you’re taking the kids to football, ballet, boarding school or whatever, you’ll definitely want to take the long way home. The vRS is one of those satisfying cars that takes the chore out of everyday driving. Will you be setting the alarm? Probably not. It isn’t an out and out road attacker, that’s not the point of it, but it does surge out of corners on country roads and has that satisfying initial turn-in when you arrive at one. 

Of course it’s more likely you’ll be chucking it across urban roundabouts – watch out for the traffic light grand prix, though, you’ll likely come off second best there. The gruff diesel roar under acceleration is at odds with the sporting nature of the vRS, but you’ll need to tickle it off the line in the first place to avoid axle tramp. Likewise the seven-speed DSG auto box is occasionally caught napping, trying to decide which gear would be most suitable for the moment. 

Around town you might just want to sack it all off and stick the vRS in eco mode, but when it all comes together at the right moment it’s a delight to drive. Think of it as the sort of car that’s better suited to hustling than racing and you’ll enjoy it that much more. 

How can you tell it’s the diesel version?

Good question – Skoda has made every effort to ensure that the diesel vRS looks the part. You still get your sporty front and rear bumpers with extra black bits on them, chrome exhaust tips and a blacked-out grille that pulls the Octavia’s front end squinting into something of a toothy growl.  Whatever’s going on underneath the bonnet (and no one needs to know you’re in a diesel) you can pose up a storm next to the Octavia in whatever car park you find yourself, knowing that onlookers (let’s face it, the other dads) will be mighty jealous. 

Has the Octavia gone minimalist like the other VW Group cars?

You’re probably aware that the Octavia shares its undercrackers with the Golf – the curse of family hand-me-downs – and you’re probably also aware that we’re not much fans of the current Golf’s interior. The Skoda treads a much better line than the either the Golf or the Seat Leon, with proper buttons (praise be) on the steering wheel, and even a few scattered underneath the touchscreen. 

There are still too many fussy processes that need to be carried out through the enormous screen, though, and it can be a bit of a stretch to the left-hand side. And what’s the point of the lucky dip volume control that sits underneath? Can’t we just have physical buttons to set the heating up?

Speaking of the climate control, it does make an awful lot of noise when set above anything more than panting dog level, but nothing seems to be coming out of the vents. Where does all the air go? It’s a mystery. You can try asking the onboard assistant, who will manage a number of tasks for you through voice commands, but even she’s flummoxed by that one. 

Isn’t diesel the root of all evil?

A diesel engine has become a distinctly niche option in recent years – thanks of course to a previous iteration of this very 2.0-litre effort in the Octavia. Far be it from us to pass comment on your lifestyle choices, but surely sticking a diesel on the drive immediately cancels out any of the neighbourhood cool points you’d get from a vRS wagon?

Choose the diesel option and in true Blind Date fashion you’ll have to turn down contestant number one, the petrol. Go for the purist six-speed manual option and it’s almost two grand cheaper on list price and £20 a month or so cheaper on PCP than the diesel, but the same amount more expensive if you were running it as a company car. Of course, the diesel is more economical, but the petrol is a lot more engaging to drive. 

Contestant number two, the plug-in hybrid, is £3k more expensive to buy and about £30 a month heavier on PCP. If it’s your company car, though, you’ll pay a delightful £60 a month thanks to its low, low official CO2 emissions. You’ll lose a bit of boot space, the driving performance is slightly blunted, and getting the most out of the diesel or the PHEV option depends on your lifestyle. If you’re still getting the miles in on the motorway, then diesel still works (but you might as well get something cheaper from the spec list), while a 15-mile roundtrip to work will get the best out of the PHEV’s optimistic official electric range of 43 miles.  

Should I buy one?

The Octavia vRS has never really been a hot hatch replacement, but rather a supermarket own brand version of the fast, premium German options. Do you enjoy driving? Go for the petrol. If you’re looking to save money and cut down on the fuel bills, well this idea of having your sporty cake and eating it has never sat well with us – there are other spots in the Octavia range that manage the job better. Sporty diesel? Not for us, thanks. 

Score: 6/10

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