Skoda wagon is one for the fans
Now, I'm just going to come right out and say this: I am a Skoda fan.
I have always rather liked their quirky history full of regal early cars, mongrels, oddities and the Soviet era crapboxes, while their modern models have always held a kind of alternative appeal and a quiet "you're really getting a VW at a far cheaper price" behind-the-hand sniggering at anyone who didn't know that particular secret.
Add to that the fact that the Octavia has always been my favourite Skoda and you begin to see where this is going; quite frankly, ever since Skoda New Zealand launched the new Octavia here, the RS is the version I have been hanging out for.
This time around hopes were raised into the stratosphere with the news that the performance Octavia was going to be sharing the same 162kW/350Nm 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine as the current VW Golf GTi.
Now, I am your cynical type of motoring journalist - the sort that drinks too much at launches because it is free and then slates the car because it doesn't have a USB input - but heading to collect the petrol Octavia RS wagon had me excited in a giggly schoolgirl kind of way.
This is both unusual and undesirable, as I am blatantly not a schoolgirl and am not generally known for my giggling, so giggling like said schoolgirl when I collected the key was most unsettling for everyone present.
Particularly when you first see the Octavia RS wagon, as it is not really the sort of car a grown man should giggle girlishly over. Now the basic Octavia is a handsome, nicely sculpted car - especially in wagon form - and while the RS adds a subtly aggressive chin to the handsome looks, which, along with the big wheels and obviously more serious brakes, serves to make a subtle differentiation from the standard car, it is still VERY subtle. And nothing to giggle girlishly over.
Inside it is a similar story, and while the Octavia's interior is almost on par with parent company VW's efforts, with spectacularly comfortable and brilliant-looking RS sports seats and a fantastic perforated leather sports steering wheel, it is all a bit black and drab and distinctly lacks anything that would induce juvenile feminine giggling.
But all that is just setting you up for the visceral gut-punch of surprise that comes from what is lurking under the bonnet of this somewhat conservative wagon. And THAT is exactly what brings out the giggling schoolgirl in me.
The stupidly-powerful 162kW/350Nm 2.0-litre engine is almost as spectacular here as it is in the VW Golf GTi. While it doesn't sound as angry (or emit an angry explosion for the exhaust with each full-throttle upshift) it is every bit as eager and aggressive in its wonderful power delivery.
Despite pushing a remarkable amount of power through the front wheels, the RS is impeccably well behaved, even under extreme provocation. The power simply pours down on to the road, while the big electronic brain keeps silly things like wheelspin largely under control, and the RS charges towards the general direction it is pointed in.
The 6-speed DSG is just incredible hooked up to this engine, and in both auto and manual modes is lightning-fast and remarkably refined in its operation. While the standard Octavia is impressive enough in terms of handling and comfort, the RS manages to be even better again.
The ride is firmer than the standard car and noticeably sporty, yet still manages to be impressively comfortable at the same time. But it is the handling that truly impresses - turn in is razor sharp and the communicative chassis is always letting you know what it is doing, despite that comfort barrier.
It is communicative and sharp to a degree that simply doesn't seem to make sense in a sensible family wagon. And that has always been the beauty of the Octavia RS - especially the wagon - it is a wonderfully complete package that offers almost all the thrills of a hot hatch with the added practicality of a wagon body and a remarkably civilised ride.
There are a few downsides to the RS - the sport setting on the steering feels slightly artificial and the interior is rather dark, dull and plasticky - but none of this is anything more than niggling.
Handsome, comfortable, practical, very quick and massive fun on a winding road, the Skoda Octavia RS is almost the perfect car for someone wanting addictive performance and massive fun while the kids are at school, with the practicality to pick them up after the back road has been well and truly thrashed into submission.
Just say you are buying it for the wagon practicality and no one will suspect a thing. As long as you don't giggle.