2017 Skoda Octavia RS230 review

The best Skoda, the Octavia RS, just got a little bit better. Is it the best option for the money, though?

The 2017 Skoda Octavia RS230 finishes off what is, without doubt, one of the most practical, family-friendly and sporty ranges on the market today.

The Octavia RS is the quirky Czech brand's best-selling model. Not just in the Octavia range, but in general. More people know Skoda for the Octavia RS than anything else. Put another way, that would be like Subaru selling more WRXs than anything else, or Mercedes-Benz having the AMG C63 as its top seller.

There’s no denying: here in Australia, we love our performance cars. Across all brands, performance cars do better than almost anywhere else in the world as a percentage of overall sales. So it’s with that in mind, that Skoda has brought in the higher-spec, manual-only RS230.

The 230 signifies the horsepower, but in our money that’s 169kW of power and 350Nm of torque from the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo. That means a 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds (6.8 for wagon) which is pretty decent for a car that can comfortably carry a family of four and all their luggage, with the added bonus of European styling and class for a starting price of $41,490 ($44,590 driveaway +$1700 for wagon).

Skoda claims fuel economy figures of 6.4/100km for the wagon, but expect to be around the 10s if you intend to make the most of the turbo.

With only 70 of the RS230s headed to Australia and with no automatic (DSG) availability, this is a rather niche offering for those that want something special and can live with a manual as a daily.

From the outside, the 19-inch ‘Xtreme’ wheels are a relatively dead giveaway for the RS230. Not to mention the rear spoiler and black exhaust tips.

Jump inside and the black leather-appointed sports seats with red stitching are immediately noticeable, as is the stainless steel pedals, red stitching and a bespoke RS plaque on the steering wheel and, if you look really hard, RS inscriptions in the door sill strips.

Overall, though, the main benefit of the RS230, apart from the extra performance, is a proper LSD to help keep track of its turbo power delivery and its front-wheel drive setup. It has what Skoda calls an electronically controlled front axle inter-wheel lock (VAQ).

The idea is that 100 per cent of the engine's might can be directed to either of the two front wheels, given certain situations, allowing for better turn-in and also potentially a more controllable form of torque steer.

To find out if it was the real deal, we found ourselves on a very tight and twisty private road with a licence to speed.

First impressions are that the Octavia RS230 isn’t really the sort of car you’d want to drive hard all that often. Sure, it’s dynamically capable, but, despite the tricky front differential, 'physics is physics'. And unless you are willing to really be patient with how you approach, brake into and power out of a corner, it will push and understeer rather frequently.

This can be fun if that’s what you’re looking for and happy with. As you get more and more confident and begin to push really hard, and get the braking and turning point right, it’s even possible to get the rear end to slide around under heavy turning so the RS get a better turn in. But, realistically, this is a rather big car, 4685mm long in fact, and has a tare (empty) mass of 1425kg (wagon). So, if you’re expecting highly dynamic abilities, you may need to look elsewhere.

To be perfectly blunt, it’s nothing like the Golf GTI 40 Years model we recently drove.

It’s not all bad, though. Because, despite countless laps of abuse, the poor Skoda stood up tall and did as was asked, lap after lap. The steering is superb, precise and with plenty of feedback, while the car itself doesn’t really roll all that much from one corner to another, despite the constant and evident torque steer under pressure.

In terms of dynamic limits, the tyres give in first, but we were genuinely surprised by how good the brakes are. Skoda says they are the same as the standard RS, but we find that rather hard to believe.

You can select Sport mode (much like the Golf GTI Performance) and get a different throttle and engine map. And, if you’re really geeky, there’s even a lap timer function on the infotainment system.

On the open road, the RS230 is easily a livable daily. Despite its performance credentials and larger wheels, never once did it feel compromised in terms of ride or composure - even when presented with the worst of what Sydney had to offer. And, to be perfectly fair, that is far more important for a car like this than any form of self-inflicted torque steer at the limit. What will likely annoy you more is the high uptake point of the clutch, which an get annoying in traffic.

The most important thing to note about the Octavia RS230 is that, while you can of course just buy a Golf GTI Performance (with which it shares its drivetrain) for a little more, the Octavia wagon (and even the sedan/hatch) is so much more practical and has so many clever features that if it wasn’t for the perceived value of having a Volkswagen badge over that of a Skoda, the pricing differential could easily be reversed.

Of course, Skoda’s attitude in how it approaches Volkswagen product has always been about offering more car for your money and not necessarily the same car for less money. In the Octavia RS230, that is certainly the case.

With a massive boot (588 litres seats-up, 1718L seats-down), a host of standard features that include adaptive cruise control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay & Android Auto plus and plenty of active and passive safety features, the Octavia RS is the perfect alternative to a family friendly SUV for those that chose to be different.

It’s a shame the RS230 is manual only (currently more than 80 per cent of Octavia RS buyers rightly opt for the DSG), because it would really be the pick of all performance wagons under 50k. There are rumours that it may still come, but don’t hold your breath. Even so, the standard Octavia RS will get the higher spec engine from mid 2017 and that will be available with a DSG, but without all the RS230 visual enhancements.

Available options:

  • Techpack $1700: Automatic Parking Assist, Lane Assist, Advanced keyless entry including smart start and Premium German Sound system
  • Metallic Paint / Pearl effect $500
  • Sunroof Sedan (1 Panel) $1,500 Panoramic Sunroof Wagon (2 Panels) $1,700
  • Heated front and rear seats $500
  • Automatic tailgate opening (Wagon) $490

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