The 2021 Skoda Octavia RS is a value-packed, fun sedan to drive daily, with the ability to tackle the corners as well. It cuts a stylish figure on the road too.
When was the last time you drove a sedan that left you genuinely excited? Take the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS sedan for a run, and the answer will be, ‘five minutes ago’. Skoda’s updated take on the sensible way to have fun is a cracking car with driving dynamics to match the shape styling.
I write sedan because that's what I’ve been driving at launch, but there is, of course, an even more practical wagon variant as well. If ever there were a platform that questioned the rush to SUVs, this is it. Sure, there might be harder-edged performance fodder in this price bracket, but few of those cars have the panache, comfort and all-round usability of the Octavia RS.
If you’ve wondered where the Czech arm of the GVW Group platform wants to position itself, the Octavia RS muddies the waters even more. Is it as premium as a VW? We reckon it is. Is it as usable and well-engineered? Definitely. Is it as practical? Perhaps even more. The Octavia RS is undoubtedly a car that leaves you convinced you’ve spent a lot more than you actually have.
The RS sedan as tested here (liftback to be accurate) starts from $47,790 before on-road costs, while the RS wagon starts from $49,090 before on-road costs. In other words, you’re getting a lot of car – and performance – for the money. As we’ve come to expect from Skoda.
The Octavia shares much of its DNA with the Volkswagen Golf, and as such, it’s almost impossible not to make the comparison between the two. While it’s unlikely you’ll ever talk a GTI tragic out of a Golf, the VW badge costs just over $3000 more than the very similar Octavia. As ever, the Octavia’s standard feature list is also lengthy.
Octavia RS is powered by a 180kW/370Nm 2.0-litre TSI engine mated to a seven-speed DSG driving the front wheels. 0–100km/h in 6.7 seconds doesn’t raise eyebrows when you see it on a spreadsheet, but the RS feels, and indeed is, more than punchy enough day-to-day. The ADR fuel claim is 6.8L/100km and on test we used an indicated 7.9L/100km. On a prolonged freeway run we saw a live figure in the low sixes, so it's going to be an efficient long-hauler.
The styling, to my eye at least, is sharp and sporty. We had plenty of people stop to chat during our week with the car, and all of them were vocally enthusiastic about the way it looks on the road. I reckon it's a beautiful-looking sedan or wagon, with just the right sprinkling of sports styling without looking silly.
At the front, you get Matrix LED headlights, and there are LED tail-lights out the back too. The 19-inch alloy wheels suit the design as well, and from any angle the Octavia RS cuts a sharp figure on the road.
Inside the cabin, the Octavia RS is, to steal the name of another product in the range, superb. It’s beautifully trimmed, attractive and comfortable, with ergonomics as practical as the space on offer. Alcantara highlights deliver on the sports theme, and the dedicated RS digital Virtual Cockpit display looks right at home in front of the driver.
A powered tailgate adds to the practicality when you’re shopping or loading strollers and sportswear into the boot, there’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, ambient lighting, and a high-quality 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that worked perfectly on test. CarPlay also worked faultlessly for us on test, both connected and wirelessly. Wireless charging is a useful addition as well.
We loved the quality and clarity of the screen, the graphics and the response of the new infotainment system, and while there is some complexity to the menu systems at first glance, there are short cuts (including buttons) that you can get familiar with to control the most pressing functions. For example, it took me a while to find stop/start in order to deactivate it, but I’m told that there’s a shortcut to access that function. We’ll look more deeply into that when we spend some more time with the Octavia post-launch.
My only grievance with the system that I don’t think will waiver over time is the lack of physical buttons or controls for the HVAC system. It’s surely simpler – if a little more cluttered – to have buttons and switches to control the AC system, for example, especially when you’re on the move. It’s one of those situations where you might get used to it the longer you spend with the car, but it seems needlessly complex to me.
The cabin is enormous for this segment. There’s an incredible amount of room thanks to the clever packaging, and the seats are comfortable across the front row and both outboard seats in the second row. Crucially, there is room for five adults if you head off on a fully loaded road trip. And there’s still a massive boot in play as well – 600L with the second row in use. On that subject, the clever nets, mats and storage options in the boot leave you wondering why all manufacturers don’t just follow Skoda’s lead.
There’s the slightest hesitation from the DSG when you step off the throttle in traffic, but it’s by no means a deal-breaker, and this DSG is tuned to be up there with the best we’ve tested. The 2.0-litre feels meaty right up into the outer reaches of the rev range, and it’s willing to work, too, right out to redline without running out of puff.
More than fast enough, then, the RS also sounds tough too, with the exhaust open, a throaty burble delivering just enough hairy chest without an annoying drone. That remains the case even at highway speed, where some systems can get annoying. Not so the RS, and it’s a pleasure to leave in the noisy mode all the time. We certainly did.
Twisty roads are the RS’s friend, with neat steering, beautiful balance, a supple chassis that doesn’t do anything silly, and exceptional body control. The electronic diff comes into play here, but the quality of the balance across the front or rear axle means your comfortable daily driver becomes a more than competent corner carver without any fuss.
The highway is, strangely enough, where the RS comes into its own. You might not expect it to be such a competent long-hauler, but it is. It’s effortless, efficient, comfortable and engaging in just the right amount to make long drives enjoyable.
Despite running 19s and 40-series tyres, our Octavia was at all times comfortable and wafted along in Comfort mode without the road beneath taking away from the insulated feel inside the cabin. Wind noise wasn’t a factor either on our test. We noticed some tyre and road noise on coarse-chip sections of freeway, which would get annoying on longer runs, but it’s a factor with most modern cars and broad, low-profile rubber.
The Octavia gets a full suite of active safety gear, as you’d expect at this level, and is covered by a solid Skoda Australia warranty that runs for five years/unlimited kilometres.
To say the Octavia RS isn’t as engaging at nine-tenths as some other offerings isn’t really fair, because it isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to handle the daily grind, with a fair dob of fun thrown in, and that’s exactly what it does. It’s a properly enjoyable car at the pricepoint, too, and that needs to be taken into account whenever you’re assessing the RS.
What it can do for the price is noteworthy. The quality that is inbuilt and the standard features list just adds to the appeal. This is a fantastic sedan or wagon, and it’s one you should consider if you’re shopping for a useful daily driver that feels huge in the cabin, but isn’t huge in the metal.
Skoda continues to deliver to a promise of clever, well-engineered vehicles that do exactly what the potential buyer wants. The 2021 Skoda Octavia RS is the latest in a long line, and it’s a rewarding drive.
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