That Happy Green Thing
So in a world… where the hot hatch is king… Skoda produces a hot liftback? Well why not?
When Skoda made a comeback just last year, they naturally went on an intense product line offensive. And the brand seems to have not run out of puff yet.
They did a “test run” last year to check on response to the Octavia RS. So good it was, we couldn’t lay our hands on a test vehicle… till now.
The Octavia RS245 brings with it hot hatch, or in this case, hot liftback performance, and goes up against the “Euro huddle” of the Renault Megane RS, MINI John Cooper Works, SEAT Leon Cupra and Volkswagen Golf GTi.
But why all this excitement over a Skoda? You see, on one end of the pricing scale, you have spectacular go-kart handling from the posh (but tiny) MINI John Cooper Works, a car that will set you back at about $195,000. And on the other, Skoda’s hot liftback. Practical, carries the entire family, child seats included; and goes for around $130,000… cheap.
The RS245 gets a fancier nose end over the regular car, a wing at the rear and twin tailpipes, black mirror caps and larger 18” rims.
As with many Skodas, interior quality is decently good, although you can find hints of lesser important parts built to a price, or non existent at all. For instance they would do without a certain strip of trim on the dash, and the start button is sited traditionally where the key would have been on the steering column; done in order to save on production cost, since there will be Octavias built without the keyless start function.
Not necessarily a bad thing, since they would in-turn focus on the bits which count, like its 9.2” touchscreen infotainment display, which features swipe gesture functions.
You do however get an analogue instrument cluster, while some brands are already beginning to switch over to digital displays. Air-conditioning controls are clearly sourced from the VW family parts bin.
Front passengers benefit from bucket seats, and the driver’s side unit also features three memory settings. As expected, the Octavia does offer legroom for rear passengers that is difficult to match within its class, together with near estate car-rivalling versatility of its liftback bootlid, and 590 litres of cargo room. Rear seats when folded however, leave a bit of a kerb, which could prove a small issue when loading larger items.
Not to put a wet blanket on your expectations, it is no Golf GTi, but it is very close. The family-sized Skoda does reveal its weight and is not as nimble as its Volkswagen cousin from the same parent. However with 241Bhp and 370Nm, which is more than the Golf GTi’s 227Bhp and 320Nm, it does almost make up for its heft in acceleration, with its century sprint clocked in at 6.6 seconds, while the GTi does it in 6.4 seconds. The added weight also makes the Octavia less nimble around the curves, and it does noticeably lumber around a little more... but you do after all get quite a bit more car.
Thankfully, the Czech’s have not skimped on the rear suspension for the RS245. The 1.4 litre version, utilises a more economical torsion setup, which is decent for the average point A to B drive; but will make your hair stand by very quickly revealing its handling limits at speed around challenging corners.
Overall, the Octavia RS245 still feels planted, and turn-in is wonderfully sharp, especially in ‘VRS’ driving mode. The front end is kept in-check, utilising an electronically-controlled Limited Slip Differential (LSD), to manage power coming through the front wheels. Strangely enough though, the Golf GTi relies on its brakes to do the same job, by individually braking its wheels.
The 7-speed DSG gearbox does however seem a little more relaxed in performing gear changes, as compared to the same transmission in other Volkswagen family cars. That is until you punch down hard on the throttle, where it bites down hard on each new gear.
One feature associated with the VRS drive mode which may have some sitting on the fence though, is a speaker behind the dash to simulate a sportier engine note. Personally I feel that Skoda have ‘overkilled’ with the simulated engine sound, loud enough to occasionally vibrate bits of trim from within the cabin. Those who are not keen on waking sleeping babies in the rear seat, can turn it off in the ‘Individual’ drive mode offered.
The Octavia RS245 is not near perfect, but there is no doubt that you are getting what is truly bang-for-buck driving satisfaction.
Its versatility married with performance, while being built to a price, and while still including the frills where the frills matter, is quite the winning formula.
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