The many fans of the Skoda Octavia RS will be pleased to hear it hasn’t missed out on all the updates being applied across the Volkswagen Group’s mainstream performance models.
Of course, it would be negligent of the German giant to neglect a car that, in Australia, performs even more successfully within its range than the related Golf GTI. Where the GTI comprises about 25 per cent of Golf sales, the RS variant trumps that ratio by, remarkably, accounting for half of all Octavia sales.
And while it may continue to rain GTI sales, the Golf’s hatch-only proposition gives the RS sedan/wagon its own distinct place under the VW Group umbrella.
Pricing has crept up again with MY18, moving the RS wagon we’re specifically testing here from the $37,840 it cost when this generation was released in 2014 to today’s sticker of $40,390. Or from $40,140 to $42,890 for the DSG.
The latest $800 increase, however, is largely covered by an exterior trim Black Pack that was a $500 option but is now standard.
Skoda Australia says the “majority” of RS buyers will purchase the two optional packages now available: the $2300 Tech Pack and $2800 Luxury Pack.
The Tech Pack includes adaptive damping (first time on RS), Canton audio system, advanced keyless entry, semi-autonomous parking, and Manoeuvre Braking Assist (which helps you avoid reversing into things).
Key extras in the Luxury Pack comprise leather/Alcantara seat trim with red stitching, electrically adjustable front seats, heated front and rear seats, two extra airbags (for total of nine), Lane Assist, and (for the first time offered) blind-spot monitoring.
Our Skoda Octavia RS test car was thus equipped. Including other options – metallic paint and auto tailgate (both a reasonable $500) plus 19-inch Xtreme anthracite alloy wheels (an equally reasonable $700 to replace the standard 18-inch Alaris wheels) – you’re looking at a car in excess of $50,000 drive-away.
For perspective, a GTI DSG – while smaller in size – is similar money and is equipped with the Adaptive Chassis Control as standard. Our experience is that it’s a feature worth having.
With our test car thus equipped, the RS is still a bit clumsier around town than a GTI in the way it deals with bigger surface irregularities, though the suspension reduces the firmness to make it entirely liveable on a daily basis.
In Sport, the damping is terrific. It ensures the Octavia RS remains controlled vertically across high-speed dips, and laterally through corners. Composure isn’t ruffled by bumpy bitumen, either.
As with the Golfs GTI and R, the RS also features an ESC Sport mode that disengages traction and staves off stability control intervention for longer.
Momentum only tends to be delayed a fraction in the tightest of corners, where the RS is a bit too eager to spin its tyres. The RS’s diff-simulating electronics allow the inside front wheel to spin for a touch longer than you’d expect from a proper mechanical diff. (The upcoming Octavia RS245, as with the RS230, will adopt the latter from the Golf GTI Performance.)
Traction from this front-driver is also inevitably affected on slightly damp roads, when you can expect minor axle tramp and wheel slippage if attempting fast starts.
There’s otherwise ample grip from the Pirelli P Zero rubber that was wrapped around our test car’s optional 19-inch wheels (18s standard), and an extra bonus is that they don’t cause excessive tyre roar.
It would be an interesting survey to see how many buyers might prefer to trade some extra weight for an all-wheel-drive RS.
The wagon certainly isn’t short on welly to put to the ground, and it sounds great doing so. Press the vRS button on the console, and in addition to notifying the car you want sportier responses, the familiar 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo features an artificially enhanced note via a sound generator.
Sounding grumbly and gravelly on a light and medium throttle as you push through the engine’s chunky mid-range, it morphs into an urgent snarl as you head for redline.
Plaudits to the seven-speed DSG for holding revs past the redline, and obeying all driver commands, when using the paddle-shifters that are small, but move with the steering wheel to be always perfectly positioned.
Or just move the transmission lever from D to S and be impressed by the sportier mode’s excellent gearchange timing.
The leather-and-pseudo-suede front seats that are part of the Luxury Pack are comfortable and offer generous under-thigh support, though huggier side bolstering would make them feel as sporty as they look when you’re navigating winding roads.
The sporty steering wheel feels great in the hands and features an RS logo. We just wish the instrument panel had something more ‘RS’ about it to provide further feel-good evidence that you’re not just in any ordinary Octavia.
The Volkswagen link is impossible to miss in the interior, with familiar buttons and dials gracing the dash, and even the slick-looking, 9.2-inch Discover Pro infotainment display with smartphone-mirroring tech introduced on the Golf 7.5 taking centre stage.
That’s no bad thing when the switchgear has such quality and the touchscreen is a segment benchmark (even if the Skoda misses out on the Gesture Control function).
The texture and consistency of the Octavia’s plastics are also excellent, though there are enough harder, scratchier sections that the perception of cabin quality is not quite on the Golf’s level.
It would be remiss of us not to discuss interior space and practicality when reviewing a wagon, regardless of its performance bent.
So, here we can report that there’s no shortage of storage options front and rear, and back row passengers are well catered for with plenty of space. As with many cars, the centre middle seat isn’t the pick for adults.
The boot is large and clever. A double-side (rubber/carpet) mat covers the floor, there’s a multitude of nets, hooks and tie-downs, and the boot light is a removable LED mini-torch. Convenient release levers lower the split-fold rear seats, though a step means the floor isn’t completely flat. A temporary spare wheel sits under the floor.
Stump up an extra $500 and you get an automatic tailgate.
Skoda provides a welcome five-year factory warrant, and capped price servicing for the RS totals a not-unreasonable $877 for the first three years. The rival Renault Megane GT wagon, however, is even cheaper and boasts a higher predicated resale value – as well as being more sharply priced. (Read our comparison here.)
Yet, especially with this wagon variant that delivers excellent pace, practicality and understated (if slightly polarising) design for its price, it’s easy to understand why the RS is the hero model in Skoda showrooms.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images by Sam Venn.