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Škoda has worked their arse off…

Review: Škoda Octavia RS 2.0 TSI DSG – 2014.

09/05/2014 08:33 |  Comments: 
It’s amazing what this car has to offer. It’s comfy up front, has enough space in the back to put luxury sedans to shame, and then there’s the boot which almost makes the station wagon redundant.

The bodywork looks like something that fall victim to a horde of katana-wielding samurais: it is covered in sharp, straight cuts that occasionally turn into the slightest of curves. This is how Volkswagen Group like their cars, and Škoda are setting an example on how to do it right. We are now in the boxy-turned-round-turned-arched-turned-very-boxy-again phase of automotive design, but luckily for the Octavia 3 this design language has already matured into something enjoyable. Makers of cardboard car models have never had it this good; it will take some creasing and folding but the result will no doubt be impressive, especially the nose and the rear façade.

It must have been quite a task to create this car. It's one thing to stick to your principles but the results are not always pretty. I'm not trying to push it but the Octavia has turned out hot. I mean Hot. Sure, it's not hard looking good with those 18” alloys (€300 extra), those /40 tyres and that brute of a blue paintjob (€520) but its darn good looks are not born out of the rear spoiler or the exhaust tips that take after the Suzuki Kizashi; these are just style enhancements. The wing mirrors are just awesome. They are on the verge of overkill but they manage to remain on the safe side.

I probably love this interior more than anything else available nowdays. I would really like to see if a bog simple, entry level Octavia would also offer me this kind of pampering refinement, but regardless of that, this is beyond criticism. Maybe I am getting old, maybe just fed up with all the fancy instrument panels I have seen over the years, but let me just say two things:

1. this is spot-on

2. I'm taking a liking to these simple, straightforward IP's

I first witnessed this strange fascination on the board of the Ssangyong Rexton. The wild, expressionist swirls inside a BMW are amazing but it feels better to be seated in a simple and calm environment like this one. Audi interiors also follow this cult but their price premium commands more bling, whereas the Octavia – at least this Octavia – is just about right. There are white dial markings and perfectly legible letterings; there is no need to emphasise its obvious sportiness with something as vulgar as red backlighting. Škoda has VW to thank for allowing them room to get minimal in a stylish way. There is a dash of Volvo in there but maybe it's just the meeting of like minds: clarity, sense of purpose, quality and reservation. All of this almost makes me forget and forgive the fact that the very bottom of the windscreen, about 3 cm of it, gives a distorted view.

The satnav screen is obviously smaller than in the Golf – it has to be –, but it also has the proximity sensor. It is surrounded by a glossy black frame – we can't all be perfect, darling. The entire interior is very, very black, but since this is the RS, or more precisely, VRS – as in Version Rally Sport – it would look daft in beige. The thick red lining on the seats are overkill, if nit must be picked. But why should be: these seats are just about perfect in every way. Neither too soft, not too hard, they hold well without feeling like a corset. They are not proper sports seats, but then, the Octavia RS is not a proper sports car either. I love it.

And now for space. Up front it is alright. Obviously not up to Mondeo standards but almost there. The MQB floor puts no constraints on the wheelbase, so the Octavia measures 2680 cm, about 5 cm longer than in the Golf VII. You can put two well-built chaps in the back without their shoulders touching, and if I set up the driver's seat for my build, I can sit behind myself like a boss. Who needs stretch limos anyway? And then there's the trunk, all 590 litres of it. Five bloody ninety. That's like a full size pram, two crates of beer, bags, backpacks, smaller titbits and there's also room for a space saver spare wheel underneath the floor. The rear seatback folds down 40:60 with the added option of a ski tunnel. Fold everything and you'll get a cavernous 1580 litres of space.

The Ford Mondeo is a full size larger yet it has just 540 litres of luggage space. So how did Škoda manage this? I don't think we'll ever know for sure but here's my guess: they worked there arse off making it happen. Their efforts however leave me wondering if there is any justification for buying the station wagon at all. The Octavia station wagon is large, practical and is only about €640 more expensive. The hatchback, on the other hand, looks like a sedan but has a wide opening rear hatch. Check Carfinder for competitors against the Octavia RS 2.0 TSI DSG and you will find cars like the Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Opel Insignia – in other words, cars that are traditionally one category up from the Octavia.

Technologically speaking the Octavia RS is nothing spectacular, unless you consider the 220 PS 2.0 TSI engine that comes from the Golf GTI – an engineering marvel. It may be 30 PS less powerful than the Ford Focus ST and the sports chassis may be on the softer side. However, you feel blessed when you can finally get out of the Focus, while the Škoda is a joy to ride in – overall this may be the best compromise on the market. It can save the world, or it can chug along with your merry family at 6.5 l/100km. There's 350 Nm on tap from as low as 1500 rpm, and those 220 horses wake up way earlier than the 250 under the hood of the Focus ST.

Brakes are rather snappy but there's good brake feel. Part of that comes from it being a regenerative system, with electronic control which includes the alternator in the deceleration phase in order to generate some electricity for the start-stop system. This is becoming standard procedure throughout the car industry. You can actually feel the system working: increase brake pressure very carefully and you will notice how after a while the computer starts thinking, there is a pulsating feeling on the pedal and the needle in the tachometer starts bouncing. There is a multi-link setup in the rear, but with winter tyres installed I refrained from steep turns and flat-out braking.

The combination of stop/start and DSG is a nice match: you can get from engine off to lift-off speeds relatively quickly. But the double clutch gearbox continues to make it difficult to start off dynamically – bestial flat out launches are fine, but simply trying to get going in a hurry will leave the ‘box scratching its head. The other area where DSG are lacking is shifting from forward to reverse gear, or back – both manual and automatic gearboxes are a lot faster than the double clutch unit. If you have ever tried taking a three-point turn on a narrow two-lane street you'll know what I mean. My third gripe is that I stalled three times. On each occasion I was stopping in front of a barrier. When I say ‘stalled' I actually mean the start/stop would not restart the engine. I was instructed to restart manually, but the gearbox needs to be in P position to do that. This happened three times and on only the first days of the test drive. I have no idea what I did to trigger this. Heck, I don't even know what it was.

All of that aside, it's a brute. You yank the paddles behind the steering wheel, it shifts down two gears like it's nobody's business, allowing you to floor it for effective overtaking. There is plenty of acceleration on tap here, 6.8 seconds from naught to a hundred. Acceleration feels more intensive in large cars and the Octavia Mk3 is a large car. This 2.0 TSI could probably churn out more power without an issue but it must have taken quite an effort getting it this smooth and harmonic. The DSG ‘box has no objections to peaceful cruising. Because standard fuel consumption figures are based on zero-to-fifty-by-next-Christmas type driving manoeuvres I was resolute to be happy if I manage to keep my urban consumption single digit, but in fact I ended up averaging around 9 l/100km. Mind you, that was without shifting into sports mode where a synthetic engine sound generator gives you the illusion of driving a car with a five-pot or a horizontally opposed engine. Keep it in regular mode and you'll be spared the silly sound effects, yet the car will launch just as well when you floor it.

This blue paintjob is a true attention grabber, people act like it's Colin McRae turning the corner. You know how some animals try to look menacing to scare off predators? That's the Octavia RS looking like a poison dart frog. Subaru really did its part to introduce this shade of blue to the market. But the truth is, the colour alone can't cut it, I have seen other cars sport it and still look bland. The Octavia, on the other hand, has that certain something. The Focus ST is more powerful and more hard core, but you need to review your car usage before you commit to either. What is your ratio of regular to fun driving? Ten to one? A hundred to one? Maybe a thousand, or ten thousand to one? I know mine is something like the latter.

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This has to be the most extreme brake test ever.