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The Skoda Octavia vRS balances fun and liveability just as sweetly as ever

Good stuff

Neat to drive, should be a doddle to live with

Bad stuff

There are more exciting hot hatches. The hybrid's flawed

Overview

What is it?

The phrase ‘best car in the world’ is thrown about with whim, but it often describes something do-it-all rather than the latest Koenigsani HyperThrust. It’s usually applied to a Range Rover, or a Mercedes S-Class – speed, luxury, tech and enough seating for most families.

Truth is, the Range Rover or S-Class most of us can afford has solar-orbit mileage and a dozen mysterious switches that don’t tangibly operate anything. So what’s the best car in the real world, with all sorts of boring common sense and Normal People pragmatism thrown into the equation?

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This Skoda Octavia vRS is in with a good shout. Now in its fourth generation (the Mk1 arrived back in 2001) – don’t we feel old – the vRS remains, as ever, a Golf GTI with a longer body, more boot space and the option of an estate.

What power are we talking?

The Mk4 vRS comes with the 242bhp 2.0-litre turbo from the stock Mk8 GTI, mated to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. You can have a five-door hatchaloon or estate, both front-wheel driven as standard. A 242bhp plug-in hybrid and 197bhp diesel are also available, the latter with optional 4x4.

The vast majority of vRS buyers go petrol – mostly with DSG – and having driven them all, this really is a case of the customer always being right. The diesel is less exciting and the hybrid powertrain – as it is in the Cupra Leon – too flawed in a performance application. Stick with the petrol if you can – head over to the Driving tab for more.

What's the cabin like?

It’s similarly fairly Golf-like in here, though the Octavia does get proper buttons on the steering wheel, plus a row of shortcut buttons underneath the touchscreen for the likes of driving mode, climate control, and front and rear demisters – though you’re still required to delve deep into the 10in screen to adjust temperature and fan speed, along with pretty much everything else.

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You do however get voice control, with the onboard assistant able to handle tasks such as adjusting the aircon/heating, though some might find this a pain too. Still, both hatch and estate are longer and wider than ever before, with plenty of passenger space and a gargantuan boot space. More over on the interior tab.

How much does it cost?

Prices start at a smidge just shy of £34k – over twice what you paid for the original 178bhp Octavia vRS, which “broke a price barrier for the brand” when it launched at £15,535 back in 2001. You can barely buy a base-spec Fabia for that nowadays. That Mk1 Octavia vRS went rallying, too, with a WRC version that won bugger-all but looked flame-spittingly phenomenal doing so.

The global parts/semiconductor shortage is impacting on the currently available powertrains (the hybrid is a non-starter, for example) – navigate through to the Buying tab at the top of this page for a full breakdown.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

It won't thrill you like a Type R... instead it'll swallow more bags, bikes and kids seats than seems plausible

It won't thrill you like a Type R, make you giggle like an i30N, or have you signing up to any and every local track evening like a Megane RS. It's not that kind of hot hatchback, and nor has it ever tried to be. Instead it'll swallow more bags, bikes and kids seats than seems plausible while riding almost as comfily as a regular Octavia.

There's a decent – if not jaw dropping – turn of pace and some sweet handling thrown in for good measure, ensuring the vRS badges truly belong on the grille and bootlid. If you can resist the allure of the SUV world, this is as complete as real world cars get. Notch the score up to 8/10 if you're only considering the petrol...

The Rivals

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