Why we’re running it: It’s the first in a two-parter: diesel vRS for three months, petrol vRS for three months. Which makes the better buy?
Month 1 — Specs
Life with the Skoda Octavia vRS: Month 1
Welcoming the Octavia vRS to our fleet – 4th April 2018
All things considered, this is a slightly strange time to be taking delivery of a new diesel car.
Certainly, far fewer people are doing so now than at any point in the past few years. The stats show that sales of new diesel models were down in December by 31% year on year, the result of a persistent and, we reckon, wholly unreasonable character assassination of the black stuff both in the mainstream press and at the hands of the government.
Just a few days ago, new tax rules were implemented that effectively make all new diesel cars more expensive to buy. For the highest CO2 emitters, the cost of the first year’s road tax will have leapt up by £500. For other diesels, the increase will be as little as £20, and the new regulations relate to that first year only, but the message from Whitehall is clear: diesel’s days are numbered.
The unintended consequence of the government’s efforts to discourage us from buying diesels is that overall CO2 emissions are creeping up. New car buyers are favouring petrol-engined cars in this post-Dieselgate era and, typically, a petrol car emits more CO2 than a comparable diesel one.
Several cities around the UK are pondering banning diesel cars, too, each of them citing diesel’s harmful NOx emissions, which have been closely linked to respiratory illnesses. That’s pretty tough to argue with.
The very newest diesels are just about as clean as a typical petrol engine, though, so forcing buyers away from such models achieves nothing at all. Apart, perhaps, from giving a vague impression that something is being done. For all these reasons, we at Autocar think diesel still has an important role to play in the medium term, which is why this Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TDI is joining the long-term fleet. Consider it a flag-waving exercise for compression-ignition.
This isn’t an entirely conventional long-term test, though, because after three months we’ll be chopping this car in for a petrol model. We absolutely do want to stand in diesel’s corner at a time when it’s being unfairly demonised, but if we come to the conclusion six months from now that a petrol Octavia vRS is the better overall proposition, that’s the one we’ll be recommending. Over a few thousand miles, we’ll get a good insight into the buying and running costs of each model, too, so we’ll know which one works out cheaper in the long run.
This particular car, resplendent in Race Blue metallic, is a fourwheel-drive model with the DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Its standard list price is £28,700, but the 19in wheels (£655), Canton sound system (£505), Columbus sat-nav (£1060) and the essential Dynamic Chassis Control (£860), plus a couple of other extras, lift the overall price to £32,795. The engine is a 2.0-litre diesel with 182bhp and 280lb ft of torque. Skoda claims 55.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 134g/km (which, incidentally, means the first year of road tax costs £300 more today than it would have done a week ago).
When this car is replaced by the petrol version – the new vRS 245, the most powerful vRS yet – it won’t just be the fuel type that changes, but more or less the entire configuration. Rather than a four-wheel-drive hatch with a dual-clutch ’box, the petrol car will be a front-driven estate with a manual transmission. That way, we’ll know for certain exactly what it takes to get the best out of the Octavia vRS.
First impressions? Mostly very positive. It feels like an effortless, undemanding car, the sort that slots neatly into your life. There’s acres of space in the cabin. The diesel engine is strong and gutsy, with a usefully wide powerband. It’s hardly a thrilling four-pot, though, and it is quite noisy, particularly when cold.
The DSG ’box, meanwhile, is very good, although it does change down too often when you apply a little more throttle, perhaps to get past a cyclist on a busy urban street, when it could just lean on the engine’s big wedge of torque and spare you the sudden downchange, thrash of revs and jolty burst of acceleration.
For the most part, it’s very comfortable, too, thanks to the optional DCC adaptive dampers that our road testers have found to be so important. My only criticism of the ride quality is a slight but constant patter at motorway speeds. I suspect those very big – and presumably rather heavy – 19in wheels are the cause. It’s as though the hefty, oscillating mass on the end of each limb is just a little too much for the springs and dampers to keep control of. In the cabin, it doesn’t feel like a brittle or unyielding ride, but more like there’s one unbalanced wheel.
Everything else? I’ll report back in more detail next time but, a couple of hundred miles in, I would characterise the Octavia vRS – in this specification, at least – as a hot hatch reimagined as a grand tourer. It’s less tightly wound than the VW Golf GTI with which it shares a platform; more laid back. That should make for a pretty decent everyday car, I reckon.
On paper, ‘vRS’ seems at odds with the Octavia’s remit. It surely needs to display the hallmarks of other great Skodas: huge range, comfy ride and unrivalled practicality. In reality, you can’t say no to the extra poke, and we’ll discover the rest shortly
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Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TDI 4X4 DSG specification
Specs: Price New £28,700; Price as tested: £32,795; Options: 19in wheels £655, Canton audio £505, Columbus sat-nav £1060, Dynamic Chassis Control £860, metallic paint £400, spacesaver £105, heated seats £255, wireless phone charging with Bluetooth and wi-fi £255
Test Data: Engine 4 cyls inline, 1968cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 181bhp at 3500-4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750-3250; Top speed 142mph; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Claimed fuel economy 55.4mpg;Test fuel economy 44.2mpg; CO2 134g/km; Faults None; Expenses None
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