Updated: June 14, 2014
Remember my brief stint with Peugeot 208 GTi? Well, here's another one. Truth to be told, I had the Octavia for more than one hour, driving it up and down twisty bendy serpentine roads, highway and in the urban setting, with the sales guy on my right, grabbing tightly to the handle above his window and praising the quality of the DSG transmission to a direhard skeptic. But 37 minutes sounds more exotic.
Anyhow, before we go across the ocean to the faraway land of big cars and 55 mph speed limits for a handful of nice reviews, let's focus on Octavia. The new hot Skoda is all the rage in the news, and it's received quite a bit of praise everywhere. The car squeezes 217 HP from its 2.0 liter turbo engine without the Performance Pack, 350 Nm worth of funky physics that I was really looking forward to check, and in the case of the test unit handed over, unfortunately, the twin-clunch transmission. Well, never mind, let's roll.
From the outside, Octavia vRS is a very nice thing. Twin tailpipe, hexagonal in shape, low-profile tires, sleek alloys, red-colored brake callipers, an extra dosage of spoilers and such. If you squint hard enough, it's just a family car, with the hugest of boots, and some extra fattening, in length and girth, compared to its predecessor. More boxy, more Audi in spirit like all the recent VW Group models.
Inside, the cabin has all the expected German familiarity and goodness. Straight lines, IKEA, OCD, here we go. Lots of cushion for your back, slabs and thighs. Gadgetry abides in the central console, and you can even fine-tune the side mirrors both at the same time. The media system comes with all the expected software you want. There's a reversing camera, too. That's how I started the test drive, reversing.
Good: It's German, all right. Consistency is its middle name. I've driven more than half a dozen VW Group models, and they all share the same DNA. The seat is just right, the position of all the dashboard elements and buttons is just right, the steering wheel is just thick enough and perfectly balanced. It's like Leon or A1 or Jetta or any one other model you can think of. Sure, there are differences, and we're going to highlight them, but you will be in your comfort zone.
Bad: The DSG transmission is annoying. How does one test the engine flexibility? One reduces their speed on a straight stretch of the road in the highest gear ratio, and then one floors it, watching the speed climb from 80 to 120 while timing the adventure. I tried that with Octavia. The DSG revved down to second. Again, Sport mode. Sixth to second, the engine is screaming, and it's not a pleasant noise. Rattly a bit. Diesely. Third attempt, Manual mode. No luck. It turns out, you gotta press gently at first if you want to avoid the downshifts. And then, it won't let you change into fourth or fifth when you're a-cruisin' in town at the gentle 25 km/h, because it thinks it knows better than you. True for both D and S. Finally, the flappy paddles are nice for aggressive driving but they are totally useless and confusing at low speeds and in traffic. Turning lights, flappy paddles, same thing.
Bad: Where's my speed? Like with Peugeot 208 GTI, I tried climbing a bunch of hilly roads to see what gives. Surprise, surprise, no surprise. I was underwhelmed. 85 km/h through a corner, foot down, sixth gear, nothing. Turns out 350 Nm is not enough to dazzle you, especially if you are used to playing with 250 Nm, like I was with my everyday SEAT. Moreover, DSG driving is completely different from your manual, real-men driving. With the latter, the acceleration happens when you release the clutch. With the former, the speed comes when you hit the carbon-dioxide pedal. It's a different sensation. And yes, Octavia vRS comes with 40% more torque, but the real-life effect is nothing spectacular. Damn. I'm cursed. The only car that really blew my mind with its WARP 9 kind of acceleration is Audi A6, with its twin-turbo V6 diesel, but it had almost twice more torque than Octavia. So it seems that if you want to be awed after driving even a decent hot hatch or alike, you must go for hypercars or crazy diesels. Expect to be disappointed, Mr. Enthusiastic Driver.
Good: The handling is a blast. Precise, composed, predictable. You don't feel the size or the weight of the car, it's very comfortable in and out of bends and even over potholes. Amazingly refined and much like Leon in this regard, despite a much lower tire profile and a stiffer suspension setting. The steering wheel is a little too big, but it's nothing cardinal. Overall, you feel utterly relaxed and confident, and it's a good thing. Octavia vRS can be driven like any other family car, or you can take it to the edge.
And then, my 37 minutes ended. Well, I talked to the Skoda guys for a bit, but that's it. No tongue.
There's nothing wrong with Skoda Octavia vRS. It's a badass car in all aspects. Everything is good about it. Well, the DSG thingie is super-annoying, but just buy a proper car with manual transmission, and that problem is solved. Speed wise, you get 6.8 seconds to 100. Decent. Mid-range punches. Decent. No revolution for those familiar with the TSI engines of higher caliber, but most respectable in every sense. A proper well-rounded sizzling hatch. As good as it gets before it gets superlative in terms of power and other parameters.
Sorry, I take it back. There's a problem. This part of the world, Octavia vRS costs 62,000 dollars! And it's only six grand less than Golft GTI. So why would anyone want to buy Skoda when they can have the most coveted hot hatch of them all for just 10% more? Excellent numbers, excellent reputation, but Skoda Octavia compete with Golf GTI must not. Otherwise, it's a lost battle. But price aside, this is one hell of a car. 9/10. Blastoff.