How do you make one of the most affordable, desirable and versatile cars on the market – the Skoda Octavia vRS, an even more convincing proposition? By giving it four-wheel drive, it would seem. For a one-off Two-Minute Road Test winter special, we visited Austria to put the sporty Octavia 4×4 through a seriously tough test – on ice.
What are its rivals?
Testing the Octavia 4×4 vRS on ice may not be as daft as it sounds. Many people who buy these cars in the UK will live in rural areas and want something capable in the snow. But they don’t necessarily want to live with a full-size SUV. As such, rivals come from elsewhere within the VW Group, such as the SEAT Leon X-Perience, and elsewhere, including Subaru’s (not particularly sporty) Levorg. The Skoda Octavia 4×4 vRS is pretty unusual, though – nothing else combines a sporty diesel engine with four-wheel drive and a hatchback.
Which engines does it use?
Buyers of the 4×4 vRS get only one engine – VW’s 184hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel, combined with a DSG automatic ’box. It’s a shame you can’t get it with the 220hp petrol to make a budget Golf R wagon but, in reality, it’s already a very niche market, and most buyers will be wanting the extra economy of a diesel.
What’s it like to drive?
On the road, it drives largely the same as the front-wheel-drive model, which is a compliment. We tried it out on a test route in Austria, and found the fifth-generation Haldex four-wheel-drive system provided tonnes of grip when conditions are less than ideal. When driving in a manner that would cause the front-wheel-drive Octavia to understeer or lose control on ice, the Haldex very quickly shifts power to the rear axle in a bid to keep the Octavia on track.
With the traction control system left on, it’s difficult to persuade the Octavia to run out of grip when driven on a purpose-made ice track. Its electronic systems, including a differential lock between the front wheels, mean the Octavia will grip and grip, before eventually being pushed into safe and controllable understeer (as power is cut to prevent you from making the situation worse). Even by turning the traction control off, it’ll only let you have a degree of fun before deciding you’ve had enough sideways action and bringing the car back into line.
Fuel economy and running costs
Fuel economy takes a minor knock because of the four-wheel-drive system – it returns a combined figure of 57.7mpg (compared to 64.2mpg). The vRS also emits 129g/km CO2 (an increase of 14g/km over the front-wheel-drive model), resulting in road tax of £110 a year (compared to £30 a year for the front-driver).
Is it practical?
Yes. It’s easy to forget that the Octavia is in the same segment as the Golf, thanks to its large dimensions and class-leading interior space. The vRS 4×4 is arguably all you need in a car – fun to drive, cheap to run, and very practical (especially if you opt for the estate version with its cavernous 610-litre boot).
What about safety?
Combine that four-wheel-drive system, which almost bends the rules of physics, with a plethora of safety systems, and the Octavia vRS 4×4 not only makes it difficult to crash, it’s going to be a relatively comfortable place to be if you do get it wrong. The car was awarded five stars by Euro NCAP when tested in 2013.
Which version should I go for?
If you’ve decided a Skoda Octavia vRS 4×4 is the one for you, you then have a choice between hatchback and estate. We’d go for the latter – not just because of the extra practicality, but also because wagons are cool. You’ll pay an extra £1,200 for the privilege, though.
Should I buy one?
The 4×4 Octavia vRS isn’t going to be a big seller. The petrol engine makes for a much more enjoyable hot hatch or fast estate. Those who must buy a diesel for economy reasons would be better saving off money and opting for the front-wheel-drive model, unless you absolutely need four-wheel drive. If it suits your niche requirements, then what’s stopping you?
Despite carrying an additional 85kg (in hatch form), the 4×4 shaves 0.3 seconds off the standard Octavia’s 0-62mph time – completing the sprint in 7.6 seconds (7.7 seconds for the estate). The extra traction when pulling away from junctions in the torquey diesel is noticeable, too.