Skoda Octavia RS wagon review: space race
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Skoda Octavia RS wagon
- Looks brilliant
- Latest VW Group technology
- Superbly practical
- Overshadowed by SUVs
- Overbearing fake engine noise
- Fussy touch controls
As Skoda has grown to be a highly respected brand among those in the know, and pretty much everybody else as well by now (who’d have thought?), it’s become a lot more difficult to put the Czech maker’s models into context.
For the past two decades, Skoda has shared platforms and technology with parent brand Volkswagen. It used to be that Skoda models were roughly equivalent to certain VWs, but they tended to be bigger and less expensive – because that was your reward for the opportunity cost of buying the uncool badge.
Skodas are now incredibly polished and broadly desirable. They compete directly with VW product and the choice will more likely come down to tangibles like powertrain or equipment than badge snobbery. Consider the Skoda Kamiq/VW T-Cross, Karoq/Tiguan or Kodiaq/Tiguan Allspace equation and you’ll see what we mean.
Sure, there are still VW tragics who think those must automatically be of superior quality; and Skoda tragics who think they know something others don’t. But the secret is well and truly out and most of us realise the two are on pretty equal footing now.
So buy a Skoda by all means, but don’t think you’re getting a bargain. Or pulling a swifty on others who choose VW.
Except with the new Octavia RS wagon that is, which is still something of a hidden treasure – especially now that everybody’s obsessed with SUVs (see above).
The Octavia RS was arguably the model that started Skoda on the road to coolness exactly 20 years ago. It still offers VW Group punch in a hugely practical package. And of course station wagons are much more niche now, which makes the RS wagon (or “Combi” if you like) even cooler.
The latest Octavia RS picks up a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four in exactly the same state of tune as the new VW Golf 8 GTI: 180kW/370Nm. The Octavia is larger (300mm longer) and heavier, a couple of tenths slower to 100km/h… but oddly also a couple of tenths more economical.
More to the point, it’s $3500 cheaper and can haul 640 litres in its massive boot, compared with just 381l for the Golf. And yes, that’s partly because the Octavia is a wagon and the Golf is a hatch. But can you get a Golf GTI wagon? Exactly.
But let’s not get too bogged down in Group comparisons. As a standalone machine the Octavia RS looks sensational (definitely some Audi RS in there) and is perky beyond belief.
Not crazy-fast, but the way the front wheels chirp off the line suggests it’s calibrated to be bit cheeky, despite the standard XDS electronic “differential lock” (it’s really just a kind of traction control). It doesn’t feel nearly as grown-up as that other 180kW car we were just talking about.
The Octavia is a beaut blend of spirited acceleration and family friendly ride, thanks partly to the long 2686mm wheelbase. Swift, stable – just a sweet family wagon for the enthusiast.
The only slightly cheesy aspect is the weirdly gruff enhanced engine noise that’s piped into the cabin for the sportier drive modes. It’s overbearing and doesn’t sound the least bit authentic (and probably isn’t supposed to).
It’s truly spacious inside and the quality is impressive, picking up much of the new-gen technology from the Golf. “Much” is the key word there, because VW Group has pulled one of its old tricks by holding back a little from Skoda: the Octavia gets the flash new screens, virtual displays and extensive menus, but misses out on the Golf’s futuristic haptic-feedback steering wheel controls and the like.
And that’s kind of backfired because the Skoda has a better mix of the virtual world with traditionally precise and intuitive switchgear.
Although it does still have the single most frustrating ergonomic eccentricity from the Golf: the little “shelf” under the infotainment screen is actually a touch-sensitive volume bar, which means that when you use it to steady your hand while operating the screen (which you automatically do), you often get a menu you don’t want.
There’s an even bigger one-up on Golf coming before the end of the year. Skoda NZ seems to be getting an early run on plug-in models from the factory and has already confirmed there will be a PHEV version of the RS here in the fourth quarter, with a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine and battery pack making a combined 180kW – exactly the same as this model.
Pure-electric range is 60km; clean and still pretty mean.
SKODA OCTAVIA RS WAGON
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 7-speed automated dual-clutch (DSG), FWD
0-100KM/H: 6.7 seconds