ŠKODA OCTAVIA RS 2021 Review

May 21, 2021

Carsales.com.au

Smarter and snazzier, Skoda’s mid-sizer ups its game with fourth generation now on sale.

The fourth-generation Skoda Octavia has finally landed in Australia, bringing a fresh look, new technology and higher levels of safety. The sporty Octavia RS sedan and wagon head the new-generation line-up with a familiar 2.0-litre turbo-petrol drivetrain and new interior smarts that ought to extend their proven appeal.

Growing up

This is the Skoda Octavia RS all grown up.

Skoda’s Australian formula for affordable, clever and well-equipped vehicles has won over droves of buyers in recent years. And the outgoing third-generation Octavia was a case in point: it was the car-maker’s best seller locally and a poster child for accessible performance.

For the new fourth-generation 2021 Skoda Octavia that arrives in Australian showrooms this month, there’s a slightly more upmarket formula at play.

Let’s see how it works.

Bases covered

The 2021 Skoda Octavia is again available in three grades – Ambition, Style and RS – and two body styles – liftback sedan and a wagon – for a total of six model variants in Australia.

Skoda’s officials indicate the Scout crossover is set to be offered in Australia down the track – likely in the form of a limited-edition model – but haven’t revealed plans for the plug-in hybrid Octavia RS iV.

As such, the 2021 Skoda Octavia range opens with the 110TSI Ambition sedan at $30,390 plus on-road costs – $5500 more than its direct predecessor ($24,890 plus ORCs).

Skoda Australia is quick to point out the entry-level Octavia brings a claimed $6350 worth of extra standard equipment. See our separate pricing story for full details.

New technologies standard across the A8-series 2021 Skoda Octavia line-up include a 10.0-inch infotainment screen with touch slider and the latest version of the Volkswagen Group’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, plus a head-up display, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED Matrix headlights, LED fog lights and tail-lights, traffic jam assist, emergency assist and up to 10 airbags.

Also standard across the range is a powered tailgate, keyless starting and central locking, ambient lighting, auto wipers, silver roof rails, privacy glass, electric parking brake, umbrella in driver’s door, luggage compartment floor cover, foldable luggage hooks, two tablet holders, power windows/mirrors, rear centre arm rest and sports spoiler (wagon).

Standard safety equipment at base level extends to front assist autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, eight airbags (including one between the front seats), adaptive cruise control, anti-slip regulation, electronic brake force distribution, electronic differential lock and rear parking sensors.

Officially, the Octavia line-up boasts a five-star safety rating date-stamped to 2019.

Sitting atop the Octavia line-up for 2021, as before, is the Octavia RS driven here. The sports sedan costs $47,790 plus ORCs, while the equivalent RS wagon on test adds $1300 to the price, making it unchanged at $49,090 plus ORCs.

Features unique to the top-drawer RS include 10 airbags, passenger protect assist, emergency assist, side assist/lane change assist, a 15mm-lower sport chassis, progressive steering, auto hold assist, 19-inch Altair brushed anthracite alloys, RS sports seats, Virtual Cockpit with RS logo and animation, plus sport display layout with flat tacho, five Type-C USBs, digital radio and front/rear parking sensors.

The optional RS Premium Pack ($6500) adds adaptive chassis control, powered front seats, head-up display, heated front/rear seats, ‘virtual pedal’, 12-speaker Premium Canton audio, park assist, driver’s seat massaging and depth adjustment, drive mode selection, three-zone climate, rear sun blinds and heated/folding mirrors.

The only standalone options are a tow bar kit ($2100) and panoramic sunroof (wagon only) for $1900. There’s also a three-year/45,000km service pack that costs $800, or $1400 for five years/75,000km. All new Skodas come with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. The Octavia RS has a 1600kg braked towing capacity and is fitted with a space-saver spare tyre.

Good gear

The new 2021 Skoda Octavia RS is powered by a familiar 180kW/370Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that consumes 6.8L/100km on the official combined economy cycle and is paired with a seven-speed wet dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox with electronic front axle inter-wheel lock.

The veritable EA888, as it is widely known, has been around for many years and will also be doing duty in the forthcoming Volkswagen Golf GTI.

As before, it requires a minimum 95 RON premium unleaded fuel in Australia.

In the Octavia RS, the powertrain is complemented by 15mm-lower sports suspension, progressive steering and 19-inch Altair brushed anthracite alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone Potenza rubber.

The Octavia RS is suspended by a MacPherson strut front with lower triangular links and torsion stabiliser, and a multi-link rear with one longitudinal and three traverse links.

Sporting flavour

Slipping into the bolstered driver’s front bucket seat in the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS presents perhaps the biggest changes for 2021: a bristling new interior.

For Skoda aficionados, this is wholesale change. For anyone else, the Octavia RS presents one of the smartest and functional interior layouts in the business.

There’s generous proportions throughout the cabin and the wagon’s 640-litre boot, plus ample incidental storage and some very clever everyday niceties.

Each occupant has access to an air vent and there are five USB-C points in total, as well as a 12-volt outlet in the boot.

The door pockets are deep and cavernous, although the front cup holders seem more appropriate for a piccolo cup than a bottle.

Six-foot-tall adults will have little trouble getting comfortable in the back seat, such is the legroom and headroom on offer, while parents will appreciate the rear sun shades and the quick-pull levers in the boot area for the 40/20/40-split folding rear seats.

Ultimately, the Octavia cannot compete with the high-set, larger rear door openings found in SUVs, but we found it easy enough to utilise as a family chariot.

There are some neat Skoda-isms at play, too, like the sleep-friendly rear head restraints (which adjust to kind of mimic one of those horseshoe-shaped airplane pillows), bins in the door pockets, umbrellas and a rubber mat lining the boot area.

Materials are nicely thought out for this price point as well: leather and fabric upholstery, black roof lining, Alcantara door panels, carbon dash decor and the like.

The Octavia’s updated dashboard and 10.0-inch infotainment touch-screen display present a little bare at first. There’s a deliberate minimalist layout at play, which means you’ll occasionally need to navigate through a couple of pages on the screen to change the fan speed, adjust the vehicle settings or music.

Similarly, when you’re in a rush, it feels as though the infotainment system takes an age to turn on upon start-up.

In honesty, though, we spent a few hundred kilometres in the Octavia this week and were soon accustomed to its screens. The slider volume function is a great way of adjusting volume on the fly without a knob, and there is still just enough physical switchgear to perform most basic commands without diverting your eyes from the road for too long.

Familiar traits

The latest RS wagon retains all of the key character traits in fourth-generation form: a punchy turbo-four engine, satisfying controls and an air of grace and confidence through the bends.

Starting with the drivetrain, which is a great accomplice for the 4.7m-long, circa-1600kg RS wagon. Power from the EA888 is both accessible and tractable, with peak torque of 370Nm arriving between 1600-4300rpm, segueing into a meaty mid-range before peak power materialises at a heady 6500rpm.Although so much of the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS is new, the driving experience is not. And that’s no bad thing.

There’s a signature hesitation from the DSG gearbox upon taking off, but beyond that point progress is smooth and refined. The automatic’s shifts are precise, smooth and well-timed, and the engine happily percolates around town onwards to easy progress to open road speeds, whereupon passage is smooth and comfortable.

At 6.7 seconds from 0-100km/h, the Octavia RS wagon is at risk of being classified as merely ‘warm’ in today’s market – especially in the face of the bourgeoning hyper-hatch market.

However, it is brisk enough for a smooth back road, the engine spinning freely to redline and filling the cabin with a raspy note – albeit one that is heavily digitised via a sound symposer.

The electronic front diff does an admirable job of plying that power down via the front Bridgestones, and for the most part is effective in its task.

Occasionally, however, harder acceleration is met with some torque steer, while tighter corners (like those found on mountain passes) will occasionally provoke a spinning wheel.

For regular driving, though, the engine and drivetrain are superb. In mixed conditions, you’ll have little trouble matching the 6.8L/100km claim, and there’s more than enough mumbo on offer to appease a family of five with a boot load of luggage on a trip away.

The RS retains superb feeling and feedback from its key controls, so much so that it stands out as a driver’s car in a segment that is fast being dictated by humdrum fleet vehicles.

The steering is beautifully weighted – light at low speeds yet weighing up dependent on speed and driving mode – the brakes feel nicely modulated through the pedal, and the body seems to strike a neat balance between comfort and performance.

On well-maintained roads, the RS feels largely compliant. There’s a sporty premise to its handling, but the suspension manages to take the edge out of most bumps.

In these conditions, turn-in response is also sharp and the body transfers its weight gracefully to the outside wheels to provide ample stability and grip.

There’s certainly more roll and pitch than something like a Honda Civic Type R, but the trade-off is softer passage.

On rougher B-grade surfaces, it’s easier to find the dynamic limitations of the RS. Pockmarked surfaces tend to provoke more noticeable thudding through the cabin, while mid-corner bumps occasionally unseat the car’s otherwise admirable mid-corner poise.

Furthermore, road noise is an ever-present theme – hardly unbearable but louder than the Skoda’s European pretensions might suggest.

The bottom line here is the Octavia manages to achieve its sporty objective while still delivering family-friendly comfort.

So you’re happy to put up with the occasional niggle or bit of road noise for the clear performance advantage.

Worth a look

The improvements brought with the new-generation 2021 Skoda Octavia RS are both tangible and worthwhile.

While the everyday performance hero has not changed much dynamically, Skoda has integrated a much more sophisticated interior and clever technology along the way.

It’s hard to think of another family chariot that ticks this many boxes at this price point.

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