Skoda Octavia RS TSI Reviewed

Skoda’s Octavia RS, with petrol power, gets nearer to the mighty Golf GTI than ever.

When: February 2014

Where: OffalyKildare and Dublin

What: Skoda Octavia RS TSI hatch

Occasion: Irish road test

Skoda Octavia RS TSI: 4.5/5

Good points: enticing engine and chassis combination, oodles of space, ‘Supertone’ adds another dimension.

Not good: not as good to operate a vehicle as some rivals, interior still somewhat dull despite RS additions.

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Test car details:

Model tested: Skoda Octavia RS TSI hatchback

Pricing: €34,871 as tested (Octavia RS starts at €32,745)

Engine: turbocharged 2.-litre four-cylinder petrol

Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Body style: five-door hatchback

Rivals: Ford Focus ST, Mégane Renaultsport, Volkswagen Golf GTI

CO2 emissions: 142g/km (Band C, €390 per annum)

Combined economy: 45.5mpg (6.2 litres/100km)

Top speed: 248km/h

-100km/h: 6.8 seconds

Power: 220hp at 4,500- to 6,200rpm

Torque: 350Nm at 1,500- to 4,400rpm

Our view:

CompleteCar.ie is asked many questions, as a team: what is the trade-in value of my 2004 Nissan Almera? How come my Opel Astra down on power? Honey, what’s for lunch? You get the thought.

Of late though we have experienced a recurring question: which to pick – the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Skoda Octavia RS? Until recently the default answer has been, when it is petrol powered, go for the Golf, but when it diesel you are after pick the Octavia (ideally in Combi estate spec). Having spent a week with the petrol powered Octavia RS, however, we may need to re-evaluate that response.

In fact this is partially Skoda’s own doing. “The fastest ever production Skoda Octavia” was the marketing bumf that accompanied the 220hp third generation RS, and while true it doesn’t exactly buy your heart beating faster. A fairer and truer description might have been “More cheaper and practical than the usual Golf GTI” for that is exactly what the Octavia RS is.

Starting with the practicalities, such as the Golf and SEAT Audi and Leon A3 and many, much more cars to look from the VAG stable the Octavia RS is based on the all-singing MQB platform. Before as well as 11cm longer in the wheelbase than its predecessor, which means that it is lighter yet stiffer than. Additionally it is 5cm longer than the other MQB cars so rear seat passengers enjoy near Superb-like legroom (i.e. quite a lot). The boot is also huge, offering a load space of 590 litres with all the rear seats in place or 1,580 litres along with them collapsed.

However these factors are true for all Octavia models, so where does the RS differ? That begins whenever you move from the rear seats into the front. There there are actually a pair of RS-branded sports chairs that are comfortable yet offer just enough lateral support for when you are… pushing on. There is also a perforated leather multifunction steering wheel and an RS-branded gear knob for the six-speed manual transmission (DSG automatic is also available). Then there is the Drive Mode selector. Included as part of the optional ‘RS Challenge’ pack (€426) this is where the Octavia begins to pull from its TDI cousins. Choose Eco or Comfort from the 5.8-inch touchscreen and you can as well be driving a 1.4 TSI Octavia. It is quiet and refined, comfortable even and the perfect weapon for whiling away your morning commute.

Flick onto Sport mode, however, and also the nature of the beast changes – the steering weights up at your fingertips, the engine comes alive and the ‘Supertone’ sound symposer system is activated. Now, such systems have already been much derided in the press, with the BMW way of piping sounds with the speakers in particular receiving much flak, but when done properly these systems give enthusiasts the aural feedback they crave when driving without falling foul of ever tightening emissions legislation. And also the Skoda method is done properly. Blip the throttle and you are greeted with sonorous flares and blips, while keeping the accelerator pinned on your own favourite road just ups the amplification. In short it is worth and addictive the entry price alone – and it gives the RS an advantage on the GTI.

What the GTI has is the option of active damping, while the Octavia has to make do with a passive system. This is both a good and a bad thing. Good as the Octavia rides better over churned up Irish roads and bad mainly because it does give the GTI the dynamic edge. With the passive dampers and shorter wheelbase the GTI is snappier and more prepared to be pushed hard; it offers more feedback through the wheel and is ultimately the better drive, but there is not much in it. The hot Octavia includes a multi-link rear suspension (unlike the lower powered offerings that have to make do with a less sophisticated torsion beam design), the anti-roll bars have been beefed up and the ride height dropped by 15mm. While ultimately unable to keep up with a GTI it is no slouch either. There is a touch of lean on initial turn in but once the suspension settles it scythes through corners, helped by the advanced XDS system that really works on both the front and rear axle and can cut power to the inside wheels to help keep the car tracking true.

The turbocharged 2.-litre engine up front is at its best across the 4,000rpm mark where maximum power of 220hp and 350Nm meet. So much so that you may end up hanging around in a low gear for too long and cutting the official fuel consumption from 6.2 litres/100km to something a little less palatable. It will likely be fun though.

And if you are done driving the RS like you are fleeing from the bank job you can flick back over to Eco mode, set the cruise control and stream some music from your smartphone. The RS may not be an out and out hot hatch, but when you are the kind of person who spends most of their time driving just like a ‘normal’ person, with the occasional flat-to-the-mat blasts, it may be the ideal car.

Which now signifies that our default response to the GTI vs RS question for you is – drive them both.

Real alternatives:

Ford Focus ST: aging looks and more expensive to buy, but offers more power than the Octavia and is easier to drive.