Skoda Octavia vRS long-term test review: final report
The Octavia vRS really is a fantastic jack of all trades
Our rapid used estate’s time is up — and we’re sad to see it go
It was as though the Skoda Octavia knew it was going back into storage and had started to express its dismay through the medium of its sat-nav.
At least, that’s how it seemed. Just a few days before the car’s return, the system decided that I wasn’t on the M25, heading west, as my eyes would have me believe, but rather that I was on a north-easterly path, driving through the Hampton Court Palace Golf Club.
I rather hoped that wasn’t the case – apart from anything else, I’d just had the Octavia cleaned before it went back – but the asphalt beneath me was testament to the fact that I was still on the M25. I pulled off the motorway to take a photograph of the offending sat-nav screen and continued on my way.
The glitch sorted itself out by the time I embarked on my journey home, but it seems that it isn’t an unknown problem with the Octavia. Owners’ forums suggest it’s caused by either a connection fault with the GPS aerial or a problem with the aerial itself. At least it’s an easy fix.
Despite that minor niggle, I will admit I was a little sad when the chap from Skoda came to whisk our six-year-old Octavia vRS back to the firm’s heritage collection. By the way, the car’s provenance goes some way to explaining its low mileage and rather high value.
I’ve loved my regrettably short time with the Octavia vRS. It’s been a superb jack of all trades, and while there is the inevitable caveat that it’s the master of none, the estate has nevertheless been very good at the majority of things.
Whether it was being filled up with stuff, either by me or one of my colleagues (as the only diesel estate on the fleet for a time, the Octavia was in high demand), being thrown at a niggly B-road in a spirited fashion or simply sitting on a motorway for a trip to the relatives, the Octavia felt perfect for the task in hand and very hard to fault.
What sticks with me most, though, was just how adept it was on the daily commute. Every morning and evening, the Octavia’s considerable mid-range thrust, its gearbox’s ability to be in just the right gear, its comfortable seats and its easygoing controls made grinding through the M25 traffic a cinch.
Mind you, it wasn’t completely perfect. The optional 18in wheels land the vRS’s ride just the wrong side of uncomfortable. Smooth roads are fine, but you find yourself wincing into potholes and over larger expansion joints. I reckon the standard 17in rims would bring the ride comfort back in line.
The interior plastics aren’t quite as special as they could be. Cheap in places and dour in others, they are at least well screwed together, with nary a rattle. And while the dashboard design is a little bland, it does at least all work well – with the exception of the air conditioning panel. Its finicky buttons and slim fan display indicator mean you have to spend longer than you’d like when you want to adjust things. As with many diesel cars of this age, too, the Octavia took an age to warm up in winter.
But these were minor flaws in comparison to the Octavia’s towering talents. And as long as you don’t buy a super-low-mileage example like ours, it’s not even all that pricey as a used car. If you’ve only got the space for one car in your life, this one makes a very strong case for itself.
LIKE IT: STRONG ENGINE – The 2.0-litre diesel is usefully punchy, yet still returns decent economy. BIG BOOT – Takes tonnes of stuff, but a big drop to the floor makes loading tricky. FUN HANDLING – Flat cornering, plenty of grip and quick responses.
LOATHE IT: POOR RIDE QUALITY – On optional 18in rims, it’s quite crashy over larger bumps. Stick with 17s. DOUR INTERIOR – The air-con panel is fiddly and some of the cheap plastics mark easily.
I was on a mission to drive from my home in Basingstoke to Shropshire, to pick-up a 50-year collection of Autocar back issues.
It’s a three-and-a-bit-hour trip each way, so I needed a car that was adept at covering ground quickly and able to carry a fair load. Our Octavia vRS Estate ticked those boxes.
As an added bonus, it was an absolute hoot to thread along the dry A-roads north of Shrewsbury, and both comfortable and secure during the drive back down the M6 and M5 in horrendous monsoon conditions.
The only area that showed up the Octavia was its infotainment. I’m somewhat spoilt by a modern car that seamlessly hooks up to my smartphone, but I ran out of patience trying to work out how to pair my phone to the Octavia, even though a sub-menu on the main screen teased me that it was possible. The car’s regular keeper, Alex Robbins, later explained that you pair your phone via the multi-function display on the instrument panel. Of course you do.
Another blow was the lack of DAB radio. I’d forgotten what it was like to listen to the Saturday afternoon football on BBC Radio 5 Live as waves of static wash over the medium-wave signal.
Minor quibbles both, though; we managed without such things for decades, and it just means the engaging manner in which the Octavia drives is the real focal point.
Well, that and its load-lugging ability. As it was, I was only able to carry half of the collection. The Skoda had plenty of space to spare, but I’d underestimated just how heavy the stash of mags would be. As each large box was loaded into the boot, I checked the clearance between rear wheel arch and tyre and wondered whether I would have been better off using a less-potent load-lugger with a standard ride height. Mind you, that wouldn’t have been half as much fun.
SKODA OCTAVIA 2.0 TDI VRS ESTATE
Price new (2011) £19,905 Price now £15,000 Economy 47.3mpg Faults Starting glitch Expenses None
The last time the Octavia featured on Autocar, I was singing its praises as a consummate all-rounder. And since then it has set about proving my point.
First, snapper Will Williams nabbed it for a weekend in Cornwall, a trip from which he returned with a washing machine lodged firmly in the Skoda’s sizeable boot. Will reports that the Skoda was the perfect tool for the trip: fuel economy was distinctly respectable, the automatic gearbox made the inevitable traffic jams a breeze and, of course, the vRS’s gutsy diesel pulled well even with a domestic appliance sequestered within.
It was the weekend after Will’s return, though, that really highlighted just what a fantastic jack of all trades the Skoda can be. I quite fancied going for a drive on one sunday and I could have taken my old BMW 635 CSi but it was about time the Octavia got the chance to get its teeth into something other than my daily commute.
The tight, twisting B-roads of the North Downs proved ideal. The pace was slow, given the possibility of black ice, but even so, the Skoda’s ability to inspire confidence through faithful steering and prodigious grip shone through.
Granted, traction was an issue when the going got slippery, but feathering the throttle slightly would tuck the Skoda’s nose back in obediently without any hint of tailend lightness or body wallow.
No, the vRS doesn’t feel quite as sharp as some smaller hot hatchbacks. But then again, neither can you sling white goods into, say, a Volkswagen Golf GTI or Seat Leon Cupra with such abandon. The Octavia’s ability to carry all your stuff one minute and make you smile the next is quite a rare quality.
SKODA OCTAVIA 2.0 TDI VRS ESTATE
Price new (2011) £19,905 Price now £15,000 Economy 42.8mpg Faults Starting glitch Expenses None Last seen 7.12.16
Source: Autocar Online