What is it like to drive?
The Octavia’s performance is assertive rather than aggressive. This isn’t a guts ‘n’ glory hot hatchback that’s learned its trade on the Nordschleife and allows you to throw out the aircon if you’re a trackday nerd. It’s a hot hatch for people whose lives have moved on, and now involve putting little people in the back of their car.
It puts usability above thrills, but whereas a similar approach has led the Mk8 Golf GTI (and, to be fair, every advancement of the GTI since the superb Mk5) to underwhelm some quarters of the TG office, it's an approach that feels expertly judged in something a little more saloon-like wearing Skoda badges.
It's more mature, then?
Don’t get us wrong, the vRS is still an excellent thing to drive – lovely damping, sharp steering, incisive reactions that are faithful to your every input – there’s just no wild side that'll drop anyone’s jaw.
And it’s so much more preferable to a sporty SUV thingy, which is doubtless the step many will tend towards when they outgrow a hot hatch. Dropped as low to the ground as a Civic, Megane or i30N, you get a good two-thirds of the experience in the Octavia with far fewer drawbacks in day-to-day life. Please, unless a high driving position is top of your criteria, consider a vRS estate as your family holdall instead of a comparably dopey crossover.
The DSG ‘box is great too, especially if you can resist pulling the paddles – it’s pretty smart left to its own devices and in relieving yourself of gearchanging duty, your pulse will subsequently lower and you’ll relax into driving at the sort of brisk-but-tidy pace it absolutely relishes.
Petrol, diesel or hybrid?
The petrol engine has abundant torque low down and doesn’t sound especially good stretched past 6,000rpm, so better to take that as an aural hint to simmer down a bit. At a typical motorway cruise it’s hushed and quiet in a way little else on the hot hatch spectrum can boast.
The same goes for the diesel, once you've turned off Skoda's unwisely obtrusive synthesised engine noise, while the vRS iV hybrid can obviously whisper along in complete silence (for up to 43 miles, apparently). It just comes with even plainer performance once its batteries are running low and you're hauling around their extra weight without any power boost. Stick with the petrol if you can...