If you were one of those boy racers in the 2000s that owned a Subaru WRX, the 2017 Skoda Octavia RS is going to be right up your alley.
The 2017 Skoda Octavia RS is fast, it’s functional, it’s fun, and it’s grown-up but also immature enough to make you act like a 20-something with your mates on board as you listen to the rumble from under the bonnet.
There is a rumble here, too – the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine features a “performance sound generator” that augments, or, rather, fakes the noise from under the bonnet.
There’s a bit of 'boxer' to it, too: a gravelly, grumpy sound that is at its most raucous in Sport mode, and thankfully that’s when the powertrain does its best work.
With the same engine as the Volkswagen Golf GTI under the bonnet – meaning 162kW of power at 6200rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1500-4400rpm – the Octavia RS is by no means a slowpoke. Skoda claims 0-100km/h acceleration of 6.9 seconds, and we’ve got no reason to disbelieve the claim… well, almost no reason.
That’s because there’s a chance you might struggle to get the grunt down to the road. The tyres – Bridgestone Potenza 5001 rubber in 225/40/18 size – can scramble and squeal from a standstill, and the traction control can be overzealous in cutting power.
Couple that with the dual-clutch transmission, which can be hesitant anyway, and you might struggle to nail a launch. And this is the vital shortfall of the Octavia RS – it doesn’t come in all-wheel drive. For former WRX owners the mention of FWD could rule the car out immediately. But apart from those traction issues off the line, the Octavia doesn’t disappoint as a driver’s tool.
The acceleration is excellent once you get over that first stumbling block – it gathers pace rapidly with excellent refinement and that soundtrack is solid, too. The transmission offers blind-and-miss-it shifts that are ultra smooth, and the gearbox is intuitive, too: in sport mode it holds gears for just the right amount of time, and the manual mode is pretty rewarding.
The way the Skoda tackles corners doesn’t leave you wanting for much. The steering is excellent – nicely weighted and accurate, and the nose tucks in beautifully in tight corners, reacting nicely to mid-corner direction adjustments. You do notice a little bit of torque steer under throttle when exiting corners, but it's totally manageable.
In daily driving, the steering is nicely weighted and usable, and while the suspension is firm – this is a sporty model, after all – it is well judged, not crashy and offers good compliance.
That said, the suspension can be a tad noisy – when you hit a series of small bumps you can hear the car dealing with them, and in general the noise insulation could be a lot better – at highway speeds on coarse-chip surfaces it can be annoyingly intrusive.
When you’re just doing the day-to-day stuff, the Octavia RS’s engine loves to operate between 1000-2000rpm, and as a result it can sometimes be a little bit slow to react or a little bit eager to sit in a higher gear when you're just coasting along in normal mode. If you mash the throttle there’s little hesitation from the drivetrain, though. And the fuel efficiency is pretty good too: Skoda claims 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and across a mix of different driving we saw a very respectable 6.9L/100km.
Never mind your mates on board, the Octavia RS – which starts from $37,890 plus on-road costs for the six-speed manual or $40,190 for the six-speed DSG – is a family-friendly funster.
Starting at the back, the boot of this liftback – that’s right, it’s not a sedan – is huge. There’s 568 litres of cargo capacity, and that expands to 1558L with the rear seats folded down: performing that action is a cinch, with a pair of boot-mount levers that don’t just release the rear seat backs, but also see them fold down. The floor isn’t flat, but it’s still a big load space, and there’s a space saver spare underneath.
If you need to keep the back seats up, there is a ski-port in the middle. There’s a 12-volt outlet back there, and a handy little storage caddy to the side of the boot – usually there are two, but a subwoofer replaces one in this instance.
That’s because there’s a 10-speaker Canton stereo system fitted to our car as part of the Tech Pack, which also includes semi-automatic parking, front and rear parking sensors, lane assist (which will steer the car if you stray), and keyless entry and push-button start. It’s a pretty good pack for $1700.
The stereo – controlled by the 8.0-inch touchscreen media unit – isn’t too bad when you’re playing back from USB or Apple CarPlay (and presumably Android Auto, too), but the sound quality can be quite airy when playing back over Bluetooth, lacking bass and crispness.
The screen itself is simple to use and easy to navigate the menus, and there’s built-in sat nav if you prefer that to using your phone’s data. There’s only one USB input, but also two SD card ports and an auxiliary jack.
Everything is logically and thoughtfully laid out, with good placement of the major controls and buttons.
The storage options are generally good, too: there are big, flocked door pockets with bottle holders all around, and up front there are clever little rubbish bins for things like apple cores or choccy wrappers. The centre console box is a bit small, though, and so are the central cup-holders. In the back there are four coat hooks, and the lined map pockets are sizeable.
The thoughtfulness continues by way of auto-dimming side and rear-view mirrors, which are great if you do a lot of night driving (the bi-xenon headlights are great, too).
The sports seats are both comfortable and supportive. They are leather-lined, with electric adjustment for both front seats, and memory settings for the driver’s seat – usually you get cloth-trimmed manually adjustable seats, but the leather stuff is part of the $1900 Comfort Pack, which also includes those dimming side mirrors, leather seat trim and front and rear heated seats.
The leather, flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching is lovely in the hand, and that red stitching is mirrored around some parts of the cabin, including the gear selector and rear seats, but not on the door trims, which instead have a small padded section in black leather (or leatherette) and a large swathe of unyielding plastic. This is perhaps the most budget feeling aspect of the cabin, but the black headlining lifts the ambience.
As for occupant space, there’s very good rear seat room, as well as ample toe-room and reasonable headroom. There’s a flip down arm-rest with cupholders, and centrally-mounted rear-seat air vents to keep those in the back happy, and if they happen to be children, there are dual ISOFIX child-seat points and three top-tether anchors.
The Skoda Octavia RS requires maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, and there’s a capped-price program that spans six years/90,000km. The average cost over that period works out to $556, but if you prefer to pre-purchase your maintenance as part of your financing, you can do that too – three years is $1299, or five years is $2650. There’s a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, and the Skoda has three years of roadside assist, too.
The 2017 Skoda Octavia RS is quick, it’s fun, and while it may lack the off-the-line-launchability of a Subaru WRX, it is a well-rounded and smart option for those who want to relive their earlier years in a more pragmatic way. Just remember there are a few option boxes to tick... And if it were me, I'd go for the wagon version, which is $1700 more, just for extra practicality (and it looks better).
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