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Skoda Octavia vRS: Retro Road Test

01_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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?

03_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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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2020 Skoda Octavia prices, specs and ordering confirmed

Skoda builds its seven-millionth Octavia

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2020 Skoda Octavia hatch

2020 Skoda Octavia prices, specs and ordering confirmed

2020 Skoda Octavia hatch

The new 2020 Skoda Octavia range opens for ordering in June with prices starting from £22,390.

Three specs will be available from launch: SE First Edition, SE Technology and SE L First Edition.

Skoda is loading up the standard features on the special First Edition variants to help the new fourth-generation large family hatchback hit the market running.

2020 Skoda Octavia estate

The new Octavia will be available in estate guise from launch, as well as the hatchback. Estate car prices start from £23,370.

2020 Skoda Octavia specs

2020 Skoda Octavia interior

Entry-level SE First Edition grade will have more than enough standard equipment for many.

It includes climate control, an 8.25-inch touchscreen, five USB-C ports (including one in the rear-view mirror for connecting to a dashcam), LED headlights, ‘Virtual Cockpit’ electronic instruments and a safety pack that features lane-keeping assist and Autonomous Emergency Braking.

SE L First Edition costs from £25,150. These models get more chrome trim on the outside and bigger 17-inch alloys.

An enhanced Columbus infotainment system with 10-inch screen and online access is fitted, plus an electric driver’s seat, all-round parking sensors, keyless entry and adaptive cruise control.

SE Technology models are aimed at company car drivers. These have fuel-saving 16-inch aero alloy wheels, the Columbus infotainment system and ‘Laura’ voice control. Prices start from £22,640.

2020 Skoda Octavia engines

2020 Skoda Octavia hatch rear

Three engine choices are available at launch. Petrol buyers take a 1.5-litre TSI 150, while diesel customers have a choice of either 115hp or 150hp 2.0-litre TDI.

The 2.0 TDI 150 has a DSG automatic gearbox as standard: the other two are six-speed manual.

Skoda says it will broaden the engine range available on the new Octavia throughout 2020.

Ordering for the new 2020 Skoda Octavia range opens at retailers in June, with cars arriving for test drives and delivery from July.

2020 Skoda Octavia prices

SE First Edition

Hatch

1.5 TSI 150: £22,390

2.0 TDI 115: £23,300

Estate

1.5 TSI 150: £23,370

2.0 TSI 115: £24,280

SE L First Edition

Hatch

1.5 TSI 150: £25,150

2.0 TDI 115: £26,060

2.0 TDI 150 DSG: £28,460

Estate

1.5 TSI 150: £26,225

2.0 TDI 115: £27,405

2.0 TDI 150 DSG: £29,515

SE Technology

Hatch

1.5 TSI 150: £22,640

2.0 TDI 115: £23,550

Estate

1.5 TSI 150: £23,620

2.0 TSI 115: £24,530

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Skoda builds its seven-millionth Octavia

Skoda Octavia seven million units

The Skoda Octavia has surpassed seven million units produced. Arguably the Czech marque’s definitive model, the Octavia has been on sale for 61 years.

The seven-millionth Octavia has just rolled off the line in the factory at Mlada Boleslav. This followed a bumper 2019, when 363,700 Octavias were delivered. The new fourth-generation model made its debut in November.

“The Octavia is the heart of our brand,” said Michael Oeljeklaus, Skoda board member for production and logistics.

“Having enjoyed success since the mid-90s, it has contributed significantly to transforming Skoda from a regional market leader into an internationally thriving carmaker that has now firmly established itself as a high-volume manufacturer. This milestone is therefore a very special event for us and is a great testament to the fantastic work of our colleagues in the production and logistics department.”

Skoda Octavia seven million units

The original Octavia offered much of what the latest one does. A combination of affordability, dependability and an array of contemporary technology. While today, that means a voice assistant named Laura and LED lighting, in 1959 it meant independent suspension for all four wheels.

The original Octavia was Skoda’s eighth model since the end of the Second World War. That’s where the ‘Oct’ in its name comes from. The first 400,000 of the seven million Octavias made to-date were the first generation model, built between 1959 and 1971.

Modern Octavia: the VW revolution

Skoda Octavia seven million units

The modern-day Octavia debuted in 1996, developed under the Volkswagen Group umbrella. This is where the Octavia success-story takes off, with the marque shifting 61,000 in 1997, then 117,500 in 1998.

The first-gen car continued in production until 2010, in parallel with its successor after 2004, reaching over 1.4 million units by the end.

The 2004 second-generation model lasted until 2012, with 2.5 million made. The third-generation car spanned 2012 to 2019, with around 2.6 million made.

Skoda Octavia seven million units

With the fourth-generation model taking over in November 2019, all that’s left is the hot vRS model. It’s due to debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

While previous iterations have employed petrol and even diesel power, this new model is expected to be the first plug-in hybrid Octavia vRS. Here’s to the next seven million Octavias, and the next 60 years.