One of the first things I did after becoming a father was sell my modified XR5 Turbo and buy a mature and responsible vehicle to transport my new young family in. Being a SUV rejectionist for a number of reasons, I convinced myself that a manual Honda Accord Euro Luxury was swift and engaging enough to be a long-term proposition.
Fast-forward two-and-a-bit years and I just couldn't tolerate the anaemic torque and overall performance that the Honda provided and started looking for another suitably sized and equipped car with better performance credentials.
Having nearly bought a previous generation Octavia RS when they first arrived, I decided to check out the (then) new release Octavia Mark 3 RS 162. My heart was always set on a manual wagon, not just for practicality but also because they looked better in the hindquarters than the hatch (more on that later). Sometime in December 2014, I took a drive to kick some tyres and check out the Octavias. It turned out that I could either wait 3-6 months for a manual wagon order or there was a hatch sitting in the lot still covered in plastic wrap - and it was a runout year.
The first impression I had was that the hatch (more like a sedan) wasn't particularly attractive or bold. The exterior design is best described as conservative and generically handsome. I'm convinced the Skoda design ethos is to copy whatever Audi was doing 10 years ago. One of the benefits of this design is that it is relatively ageless - it won't look dated or be offensive in 20 years time unlike some designs from BMW and Mercedes.
After throwing out a cheeky offer and it being accepted I became the owner of a Octavia RS.
The cabin is a truly remarkable feat of design and quite deceptive in its size. While this is a smaller exterior than say an Accord Euro or a large Lexus GS, the interior offers much more practical space for all occupants including generous seating and legroom for five adults. It would go down as the most well designed interior for practicality and space - I can only imagine how big a Superb would be inside. The Octavia puts my Lexus GS to shame when it comes to passenger legroom and interior practicality. The standard seats are a cloth and synthetic leather mix - they are very comfortable and relatively robust although their one-piece design makes checking up on the kids in the back very difficult and dangerous - it is a stupid design made for cost.
The cabin materials and quality are impressive with lots of soft touch materials to a VW Golf standard on contact points, upper-mid dash and upper to mid-door trim. This car was built to a budget so you will find harder plastics on the bottom door trims, but I thought the fit and finish surpassed the Golf GTI which was a car I was cross shopping. After six years of ownership there have been minor rattles, but most of them can be isolated and fixed. Overall I was still impressed by the lack of rattles this car had. The NVH levels were a weak point - while the engine and driveline is quiet and unremarkable on the ear, the sound insulation is not great. When compared to the Accord Euro the Skoda was noisy, and compared to a Lexus it's like driving my 1984 Ford Laser. I don't think most will notice or care but travelling over 100km/h does let in more sound, especially being a hatch design than a premium car - again it is built to a budget.
At the time the tech on this car was quite impressive, with a large sat-nav unit which was very easy to use, very effective and user-friendly. Sadly, a big omission on this was a rear camera view as standard which I missed out on - frankly for all of the tech it had it is inexcusable for a MY15 not to have that as standard. Make sure that if you're buying second hand that they have this. The one let down with the infotainment is the awful standard sound system - quite possibly the worst sound system I have heard in any car in this price bracket ever. The system lacks any clarity across all frequency ranges and oscillates between muddy and boomy or hollow and tinny - the car's lack of sound insulation only worsens the experience. I would recommend upgrading the sound insulation and installing a better sound unit.
The boot space is immense, even in hatch form. If there ever was a case for replacing the traditional sedan with this hatch style then this was it - you could fit nearly as much with the seats down as you could with the wagon. I used to fit a '29er mountain bike with the seats down without a problem and seated two baby booster seats with enough room for an adult to sit in the middle.
The car's performance was more than sufficient for a family daily driver - it had 350Nm of torque which made overtaking a breeze and it was a perfect car as a budget-conscious Grand Tourer. The fuel usage was extraordinary - I would average usually 7-8 litres per 100 kilometres, even with spirited driving. On a highway I could pull 6L/100km. The engine had just enough punch to make flooring it fun and exciting in a straight line. The manual transmission was simple to engage but it was not the most direct feeling. The usage of VW 'babysitter' internals made rapid heel-toes all but impossible, as you would need to remove a small valve/actuator from the clutch assembly. This was made to absorb shocks and make it smooth but if you are an enthusiast then be aware of this. The engine can be easily modified but I think you would need to consider suspension upgrades as that is the biggest limitation of this car.
The car is sprung for sporty comfort; it is not a high performance car and it rides softer than a Golf GTI. It is tuned to be a comfortable and sporty car and takes corners without floating, but big bumps will unsettle it and bring noise into the cabin. Being front-wheel drive you can feel the weight on the front axle, and there is little in the way of lift-off oversteer here when compared to a FWD Euro hatch like a Focus ST or Megan RS. As a comparison, the Accord Euro was actually flatter in the turns. The steering is light and while there is a sport selector for steering it doesn't do much other than change the sensation - not the ratio. There are some who install a rear sway bay to give the car a bit more responsiveness and flatness in the corners but I wouldn't bother if you're using it for its intentions.
The dreaded Euro VAG reliability curse never affected me - this car was one of the most reliable and dependable I have ever owned. The only things that went wrong were awful dealer pre-delivery (which meant returning the car six times to fix a faulty suspension bolt), the common fuel line rattle (was fixed for 4 years but then the problem returned), the leaking water pump (which is common) and a new battery (which can be a pain to code in). Being the dual-injected model this shouldn't suffer from the carbon deposits the earlier generations did. These cars are so common across a range of brands like VW and Audi that there is enough expertise and forums to help a prospective owner if they came into trouble. I would definitely invest in a $100 OBD11 scan tool which not only diagnoses faults but can code some very useful features for the common user.
After six years of trouble free, economical and spirited performance I can certainly recommend this generation of Octavia RS to first car buyers and young families. Just make sure you service them as scheduled.