Back-road hero oozes charm with air of confidence
CONFIDENCE, as any self-respecting playboy will confirm, is an appealing trait.
And in the crisp, clean air of the Snowy Mountains for the Skoda Octavia RS launch, the confidence among the gathered Skoda bigwigs was compelling.
Skoda has delivered a belter of a car with the latest generation Skoda Octavia - confirmed by the motoring press and buying public alike - and with RS badge attached the PR team knows it's pushing a desirable product with the performance fizz to stir passions.
This is the family man's VW Golf GTI if you will, as the Octavia RS shares the formidable hot hatch's turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, yet with extended wheelbase it gives greater cargo space in sedan or wagon guise, and weighs in at a fair few grand cheaper than the performance Volksie.
Both a 162kW petrol and 135kW diesel are available at launch, with a manual gearbox available for the former only. We tested only the turbocharged petrol dual-clutch auto at launch due to time restrictions, but this variant will be the volume seller of the range.
The Octavia RS is longer and wider than the outgoing sporty Skoda, with an increased wheelbase too. This makes it feel a genuine mid-sized car inside, with occupant room generous in the head and leg department, particularly the wagon.
The standard Octavia Elegance is a tad plain inside, and while the RS hardly comes with a sense of theatre, RS sports seats in a fabric and leather combination, perforated leather three-spoke steering wheel, alloy pedals, sportier instruments and red stitching highlights jazz things up somewhat.
Quality and finish is good with an abundance of soft-touch plastics; controls are clear and well-laid out and after four hours and hundreds of kilometres of enthusiastic driving, there was nothing to grumble about in the long-distance comfort stakes.
On the road
This is why the Skoda PR team had an air of confidence, and why there are waiting lists for the RS overseas and undoubtedly in Australia come its April launch.
Combine the VW Group's excellent shared MQB platform with the Golf GTI's 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine and lower and stiffer suspension than the standard Octavia, and on paper it sounds like a winner.
Happily, the on-road experience backs up the specification: this is a sub-$40,000 family sedan or wagon yet is also a genuine back-road hero that has you grinning from ear to ear.
The outgoing Octavia RS model deservedly attracted a loyal fan base, but the 2014 third generation brings a 10% leap in power and a whopping 25% jump in torque, all the while cutting fuel consumption impressively.
It makes for a quick car, yet also a truly flexible one. Apart from a bit of lag at low revs coming out of corners, peak torque is delivered from just 1500rpm and right through to 4400rpm, so if you keep it in this sweet spot, there's no need to fly through the gears. Just choose your weapon via the impressive DSG, plant the right foot and start appreciating the cornering abilities of this GTI-rival.
At 12mm lower than the standard Octavia, the RS's handling is even sharper. Our test route blessed us with some of Australia's finest driving roads in the Snowy Mountains around Mount Kosciuszko, so the stiffer setup was a boon rather than a curse. It may be a different story in pot-holed city streets however.
Planted in the turns and completely unruffled, the chassis is a delight that soaks up anything asked of it.
This is backed up by direct steering helping you aim the nose at your turn-in point accurately, and allied with the eager engine the Octavia RS will have you regularly hunting down the twisties.
What do you get?
Noticeably sportier in style than the basic Octavia, the RS comes with 18-inch alloys, more aggressive bumper with honeycomb grille and front fog lights, Bi-xenon headlights, larger brake discs and red callipers.
The sedan features a rear spoiler - the wagon a larger roof spoiler - exhaust tips are integrated in the rear bumper and there's an appealing red reflector that runs the length of the RS's rear, livening up its otherwise plain design. There's a 20cm hi-res screen with sat nav, front and rear parking sensors, dual zone climate control and comprehensive safety gear headed by nine airbags, a multi-collision brake system, driver fatigue detection and stability control programs allowing you to modify the tolerances.
If you fancy spending a bit more, Black Packs are available to darken the grille, side mirrors and wheels, costing $500 for the 18-inch rim pack, and $1000 for the 19-inch. The Tech Pack - popular on the stock Octavia - includes a better sound system, adaptive cruise, keyless entry, parking assist and a rear view camera, and although unconfirmed, should cost around $3000.
Cars with this performance and ability continually surprise at how efficient they can be. Skoda quotes a combined average of 6.4-litres/100km (6.6 in the auto), while the performance diesel version offers a hybrid-like 5.2-litres/100km.
A word of warning though. The Octavia RS is a car to be driven, and in the Snowy Mountains we were seeing over 10-litres/100km average, such was the desire to play.
The Octavia RS is a proud street sleeper, happily concealing its abilities in its attractive yet plainish skin.
Model: Skoda Octavia RS 162TSI.
Details: Performance four-door front-wheel-drive sedan or five-door wagon.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 162kW @ 6200rpm and peak torque of 350Nm @ 1500-4400rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch auto (six-speed manual also available).
Consumption: 6.6 litres/100km (combined average), 6.4 litres/100km for the manual.
CO2: 154g/km (146g/km manual).
Bottom line: $36,490 (162TSI petrol manual sedan), $38,790 (162TSI auto manual sedan), Wagon models add a premium of $1350, all prices excluding on-roads.
What we liked: Excellent turbocharged petrol engine mated to a sublime chassis, decent value at entry-level, street sleeper performance car, the looks and practicality of the wagon.
What we'd like to see: A bit more soul and sound to give a sportscar buzz to the RS's talents.
A superb all-rounder that brings Golf GTI fun to the family car. A joy on true driver's roads the chassis and engine combination is a triumph, and it can seamlessly transform from sensible cruiser to a back lane riot. It lacks theatre in the looks and noise department, making it the sensible choice performance car, but that's no bad thing for many. On paper the turbo petrol is the one to go for, and the manual option makes a strong case value-wise and for driver enjoyment.