When I told a guy from VW that I think the Octavia RS is a better car than a Golf GTI, he replied "a much better car." How did the Czech version of this popular Volkswagen platform become the best version?
(Full disclosure: Since my American colleagues can't get their hands on their beloved Skodas without flying here, Skoda was nice enough to lend me four cars for a month to show you what they can do using VW's tech. No Czech engine jokes, I promise.)
The Skoda Octavia has been the best-selling sedan on this side of the planet for quite a while. Families, taxi drivers, numerous companies and police departments buy these Czech VWs when they need a car that's the right size and quality for the right amount of dough.
The RS (or vRS) is the fast version which — from the second generation up — is sold with both diesel and gas engines. The current, third-gen car is based on VW's MQB platform and is available in both the sedan and wagon bodies, powered by either the 2.0 TDI from the Golf GTD or the 2.0 TSI from the GTI.
I could live with this car, but the problem is that while the RS definitely looks different than the common man's diesel Octavia, at the end of the day, it's still a damn Audi, especially from the rear. You know what I'm on about.
The black grill frame, the more aggressive front bumper with the sleek fog lights, the bigger wheels and tires, the rear spoiler and the dual chrome exhaust tips are all there to tell others you can smoke them with your Skoda, and it works, especially with this striking (but rather expensive) Race Blue paint.
It's good enough, I just wish there was more Czech DNA in its design, at least from the outside.
Let's start with the trunk, shall we? It's ENORMOUS. They call the Octavia a hatchback, because technically, it is, but I've seen wagons with less space than this. The rear seats also fold down, so hit it with a fridge, and the RS will swallow it just like a regular grocery getter Octavia.
Being in the driver's seat is not bad, either. There's none of the GTI's tartan carpet/golfball shift knob funkiness, but the perforated leather steering wheel has a nice grip to it and is round instead of the flat bottom style you see in many cars nowadays. The (optional) RS leather seats are comfortable and hold alright in the corners and as far as the dash goes, it's VW's latest and greatest.
What I didn't like was that the already super dark interior also came with a ridiculous carbon fiber/checkerboard plastic trim all around that felt really cheap compared to the rest of the car. More headroom up front would be nice too as while the Octavia's cabin feels very solid, it's also rather tight for a tall person.
If you want to be picky, you can tell it's the top of the line version of a cheaper car, but they put real effort into making it feel special, and the result is nice.
It's a fairly simple equation: 220 horsepower and 258 foot pound of torque against 3,185 pounds including the driver. I'm sure the diesel variant pulls nicely, too, but this sort of car deserves gasoline power, and the 2.0 TSI delivers.
With the DSG, it accelerates to sixty in 6.9 and keeps going until 152 mph. I didn't test its top speed, but it didn't struggle once as I drove it through the gears. Like everything, the Octavia RS is also a little bit faster with a manual gearbox.
You really do get two cars for your money this time. In normal/comfort/economy modes, it's a quiet sedan that won't disappoint if you step on it. Press the vRS button, though, select sport, and it turns into something you want to chase GTIs with. It growls too. Just make sure to choose manual mode on the DSG.
Of course I haven't tested it on a track, but out there, in the real world where people actually use an Octavia RS, the pedal feel was progressive and it was set up just right to have all the stopping power without being too grippy or aggressive.
Modern brakes are simply awesome.
I can't quite say you get the same dual modes with the suspension as the ride is harder than your parents would like, but that's what makes a car without pricey magnetic dampers faster.
As you know, the Octavia can even take the Audi R8 V10's rims, but the factory wheels are either 18" or 19" alloys wrapped in Contisportcontact 5 rubber.
The test car had the smaller wheels and felt very well built on the road, but it's definitely setup for highways rather than bumpy B roads. It needs good tarmac.
You know what? It's quite nimble on mountain roads. Having to do with Skoda's rally heritage or not, the steering is quick enough and the Octavia is not that heavy to start with, so if you want to arrive to a tight corner way faster than advised, it will turn in with barely any understeer.
It's the damping and low profile tires that will slow you down when the going gets tough, not your doubts in the car's capabilities. Where a GTI can go, the Octavia RS can follow. Or take over.
Turn off the traction control though, and traction you will lose. But control stays, so that's okay.
VAG test cars come with a DSG, period. I know, we've been over this question, too. So, I'm not starting another rant about manuals.
What I will say though is that once you step on it, there's a problem with the Octavia's DSG, because the paddles are just too short. I know my fingers are surprisingly short as well, but still, that turned out to be a pain in the middle of the bends.
In the city or on the highway is where the DSG shines. It's smooth and fast enough, but you can't lost the thought that the RS would still be more enjoyable with a manual.
Your left foot needs exercise too. Also, the six-speed is cheaper, so it lets you buy the fancy paint.
The audio system sounds great, the only thing is that I don't think you can listen to anything but the hottest dance music from next week while driving an RS. It's such a technofest inside, it just won't work with AC/DC.
The exhaust, on the other hand, is not convincing at all. In normal mode, it's silent. In sport, it growls, but in a very artificial way. Entertaining for five minutes, disappointing for the rest of the journey.
People don't buy Skodas for the toys, but toys it does have. There's a giant touchscreen with a great sat nav, all sorts of nannies watching your lines on the road, heated power seats, as many connectivity options as you desire and at the back, even a 230V socket for your kid's high-performance laser cannon.
The electric sunroof is once again a must for all RS buyers, and with all these gadgets, the RS gets pricier, but if you want the perfect all-rounder, just get the wagon maxed out and call it a day.
Why should America care
Because it's a great package, that's why. But let's look at what Skoda has on offer here:
A Volkswagen GTI starts at roughly $25K in the US. The same car in the UK? $44,598.
The petrol RS is faster and cheaper than the diesel versions. The manual starts at $40,236 (in the UK, converted from GBP), the DSG at $42,591 and my test car will all the extras is $51,145. Once again, that's in the U.K. where, as in Europe, everything is super expensive.
So, as always with Skodas and Seats, the Octavia RS is slightly cheaper than the VW variant but can get to that price point very easily with a bit of added goodness. The difference is that the RS is the better choice if you're looking for one car that will do it all, especially if you go for the sexy wagon.
A single great car is what we want in Europe, at least when we don't have parking space for two. So, the RS will have to do as a family car, as a cruiser and as for entertainment, too. And it does. For me at least.
But would that work in America, for roughly GTI money? You tell us, and VW too.
Engine: 2.0 I4 TSI
Power: 220 HP from 4,500-6,200 RPM/ 258 LB-FT from 1,500-4,400 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed DSG Automatic
0-62 MPH: 6.9s (6.8 with a manual)
Top Speed: 154 mph
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,185 LBS Seating: 5 people
MPG: 29 City/43 Highway/36 Combined (US/NEDC)
Photo credit: Máté Petrány/Jalopnik