Not too long ago the idea of a front-wheel drive car with more than 200bhp was generally scoffed at. Now, however, any mid-sized hatch with less than that is derided as merely “warm” and this week’s Skoda Octavia VRs 230 with its 227bhp is – in pure output terms – nothing special.
Such bare numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story as this car has the sort of blend of performance and practicality that helped create the hot hatch phenomenon in the first place.
The 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine has been remapped from the standard vRS’s 217bhp and also offers a torque increase from 243 to 258lb/ft. It is a refined and smooth unit but with plenty of punch, propelling our estate version of the car to 62mph in 6.8 seconds. There’s little evidence of lag as it pulls well from low revs but there is a noticable surge above 3,500rpm, when the car starts to really shift.
While the earlier members of the 200+ club struggled to get all that power onto the road the current crop have no such worries. The vRS is equipped with a host of clever electronics and in 230 guise gets the added benefit of an electro-mechanical limited-slip differential, which can send up to 100 per cent of the torque to either wheel. Under even the heaviest acceleration it tracks straight and true and it feels confident on twisting roads, flowing beautifully through bends as the grippy front end turns in quickly and assuredly – assisted by that LSD and the 230’s uprated brakes. The only gripe is that you’re always aware that you’re in a big car – the front end turning and gripping in a way that the bulky back end of the estate can’t match.
While it robs the Octavia of the nimbleness of smaller rivals, that extra bulk is also the its greatest strength. Even the hatchback is streets ahead of rivals in terms of space and the estate’s 610 litre boot (1,740 with the seats down) puts it in competition with cars a segment above it. There’s also all the space passengers need and plenty of neat features to make life easier. Such everyday usability more than makes up for the lack of edge at the very limit.
And while that spacious cabin is largely standard Octavia – a good thing given how logical, comfortable, well built and well equipped it is – there are a enough vRS extras to make it feel special. The vRS branded sports seats look and feel wonderful, there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel and the 230’s exclusive red detail stitching adds a spark to the sensible.
Externally as well the vRS follows the familiar Octavia pattern, maintaining the brand’s serious, understated appearance. There’s a deeper bodykit and it sits 15mm lower than the standard car thanks to its sport suspension but it is subtly mean rather than in your face. There’s a fine line between subtle and anonymous, however, and our test model’s flat Meteor Grey paint was painfully dull – park it on a dreich day in Aberdeen and you’d probably never find it again.
The 230 model comes with some tasty extras over the standard vRS. Striking 19-inch wheels, heated, electrically adjustable leather seats, sat nav and parking sensors are added to the usual dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, cruise control and lane assist. The 230 is £2500 more than the 217bhp model but the extras would cost that much from the options list and that’s before you factor in the extra power, differential and better brakes. It’s a no- brainer, really.
Most car buyers would love to be able to have a £100,000 two-seat sportscar but for the vast majority of us this isn’t possible. We need an affordable car that can transport friends and family, tackle the daily commute and supermarket runs and not cost a fortune to run, but we’d still like it to offer a bit of fun when the opportunity arises. It is as an answer to this conundrum that the Octavia vRS 230 shines. It’s a compromise, in the best sense of the word, between those everyday demands and the wish to not surrender the enjoyment of driving entirely. Day to day it’s as quiet, smooth, spacious and comfortable as you’d want from a family car. But on the rare moment when the road opens up before you it’s ready to hitch up its skirts and have some fun.
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 227bhp, 258lb/ft
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 153mph, 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds