Skoda Octavia vRS: Retro Road Test

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Skoda’s vRS badge has come a long way in nearly 20 years.

Back in 2001, when the first Octavia vRS was launched, the idea of a hot Skoda was too much for some people to take in. The Skoda brand was still emerging from the dark days of ill-informed jokes, continuing to find its feet under Volkswagen Group ownership.

With a knowing tap on the inside of its nose, the Skoda Octavia vRS emerged from nowhere, making the Golf GTI look expensive and impractical.

For those in the know, the Skoda Octavia vRS was the performance car of choice.

What are its rivals?

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We could argue that the original Skoda Octavia vRS had no direct rivals. With a launch price of £15,100, nothing could touch it.

The one notable exception was the slightly cheaper Seat Leon Cupra, but pound for pound, the cavernous Octavia vRS stood out like a big shiny beacon.

Remember the early press cars were all painted in striking Corrida Red? And we all know red is faster, right?

Other rivals? Well the Octavia vRS trounced the Mk4 Golf GTI in just about every department, while the UK’s first Honda Civic Type R was waiting in the wings.

The £15,995 Ford Focus ST170 was a palatable prelude to the blistering Ford Focus RS and was arguably the Octavia’s most direct rival.

What engine does it use?

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The Skoda Octavia vRS made good use of Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 1.8-litre 20v turbocharged engine, also seen in the Audi TT, Audi A3 and S3, Volkswagen Golf, Seat Leon and standard Octavia.

In Octavia vRS guise, the engine develops 177hp at 5,550rpm, plus 173lb ft of torque. The 0-60mph time was quoted as 7.9 seconds, with a top speed of 144mph.

At the time, this was the fastest Skoda ever built.

What’s it like to drive?

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Seriously good. Given the mediocrity of the equivalent Golf GTI, you have to ask what wizardry was applied to transform the Octavia vRS into such a performance bargain. 

You could say the same about the Seat Leon Cupra, which was also better than the Golf.

The gearing is comically long, with 70mph achievable in second. The engine also feels more characterful in the Octavia vRS, urging you to press on.

The steering on this 77,000-mile car seemed lighter and less communicative than it did when new and, subjectively, the Octavia vRS lacks the intimacy and immediacy of a more hardcore hot hatch.

However, considering the size of the Octavia, not to mention the 528-litre double wardrobe over the rear wheels, the Skoda is a huge amount of fun.

Reliability and running costs

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The Skoda Octavia vRS offers combined fuel economy of 35.3mpg, although figures in the mid 40s aren’t uncommon on a long run. 

The availability of parts will not be an issue and there are number of excellent Volkswagen Group specialists who can service the car for less than a main dealer.

Could I drive it every day?

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Oh, absolutely. The Skoda Octavia vRS is an easy car to drive, with a simplicity that is lost in so many hot hatches.

There are no driving modes to choose from, no concerns about all-round visibility, just a highly practical and immensely likeable performance hatchback. And if you demand more practicality, there’s the Octavia vRS estate.

Back in the day, they were a motorway patrol car for many police forces. The combination of supreme pace and space, plus the unknown quantity of a hot Skoda, made for a brilliant unmarked cop car.

It helped to springboard the vRS brand into the public domain.

How much should I pay?

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Prices start from around £1,500 – still tremendous value for money. For that, you’ll get an Octavia vRS with a six-figure mileage and part service history.

A budget of £3,000 will secure a really good example, but it’s worth noting a newer, Mk2 Octavia vRS is available for a similar amount.

We’d buy on condition and service history, rather than age. Optional extras were few and far between, but it’s worth searching for cars with parking sensors (that’s a big boot when reversing), cruise control (to maximise those long-distance credentials) and an electric sunroof.

What should I look out for?

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The excellent Briskoda forum offers an extensive Skoda Octavia vRS buying guide that should be your first port of call if you’re considering a purchase.

The timing belt and water pump should be replaced every four years or 60,000 miles, and you should check for signs of accident damage. This is a performance car, so it may have been used accordingly.

An engine misfire could be caused by a faulty coil pack, while water in the boot may be the result of a broken rear washer pipe.

Better to wait for a cherished and much-loved example than to take a chance on a cheap vRS of iffy quality.

Should I buy one?

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If you’re looking for a practical, spacious and quick hot hatch with a difference, you must consider the Skoda Octavia vRS.

Green brake calipers may not appeal to all, but Skoda deserves huge respect for transforming an everyday hatchback into such a purposeful-looking machine.

You also get a smattering of vRS goodies on the inside, such as a special gearknob, vRS seats with white inserts and silver-rimmed instruments. There’s even an ASR traction control button.

Pub fact

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In 2002, Skoda launched the Octavia vRS WRC, built to celebrate 100 years of Skoda in motorsport. Only 100 were sold, of which 25 were right-hand-drive cars for the UK.

At £20,700, they were more expensive than the standard vRS, but they did offer a host of extra features, including Candy white paint, WRC replica graphics, a numbered plaque, xenon headlights and heated front seats. A future classic, for sure.

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