CarsGuide Review ŠKODA OCTAVIA RS

ŠKODA OCTAVIA RS 2021 Review

ŠKODA OCTAVIA RS 2021 Review

21. 5. 2021

OCTAVIA RS

The Skoda Octavia RS has built as strong a reputation among ‘those in the know’ as many entire car brands wish they could forge with customers.

And when an all-new version of the Skoda Octavia RS comes along, you can bet there’ll be an influx of existing customers weighing up whether they should hang on to their old car, or trade-in for the new one.

I can conclusively say to those buyers - and any potential new customers in the market for a sporty sedan or wagon that boasts European engineering and styling, huge amounts of tech, and a fun and fast drive experience - that you should buy one of these. Read on to find out why I think this is one of the best new cars of 2021.

Oh, and for the record, we know that in Europe it’s called the vRS, and the badges here say vRS, but Aussies consider the ‘v’ silent. Why? Nobody knows.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10

The Skoda Octavia 2021 model range is topped by the RS model, which is available as a liftback sedan ($47,790 MSRP/plus on-road costs) or as a wagon ($49,090 MSRP).

Want to know about driveaway prices? The sedan’s drive-away price is $51,490, while the wagon is $52,990.

There are other models in the 2021 Octavia line-up, and you can read all about the pricing and specs for the grades here, but just know this: the RS model doesn’t just attract a premium because it has a more powerful engine; it’s also really nicely equipped.

All Octavia RS models have plenty of standard gear, including full Matrix LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights with sequential indicators, 19-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers, a rear spoiler, a black exterior highlight package, black badge lettering, and a lowered suspension setup.

Inside there’s a leather and fabric lined cabin, sports seats, a 10.0-inch touchscreen media system with sat nav, digital radio and smartphone mirroring, five type-C USB ports, the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit driver info screen, and all RS grades have keyless entry, push button start, front and rear parking sensors and plenty of other safety spec besides - more on that in the safety section below.

If you want a bit more, there’s the RS Premium Pack, which costs $6500 and adds adaptive chassis control, electric front seat adjust, heated front and rear seats, driver’s seat massage function, a head-up display, semi-auto park assist, three-zone climate control, and rear sunblinds - even in the sedans.

Choose the wagon and there’s an optional panoramic sunroof, too, which adds $1900 to the price.

And there’s a range of colours available, too: Steel Grey is the only no-cost option, while metallic choices ($770) comprise Moon White, Race Blue, Quartz Grey and Brilliant Silver, while Magic Black Pearl Effect is also $770, and the Velvet Red premium paint (seen on the wagon in these images) is $1100.

All told, you could be seeing an on-the-road price of about sixty grand if you option your wagon up to the hilt. But does it feel like it's worth that? You bet.

Considering midsize rivals? The choices include the Hyundai Sonata N-Line sedan (price TBC), Subaru WRX sedan (from $40,990 to $50,590), Mazda 6 sedan and wagon (from $34,590 to $51,390, but no direct competitor to the Octavia RS) and the VW Passat 206TSI R-Line ($63,790).

Is there anything interesting about its design? 9/10

There have been plenty of changes - this is an all-new car (except for the powertrain, more on that below), and as a result it rocks an entirely new look both inside and out.

The Skoda Octavia RS has a bit of a strange history when it comes to its appearance. The early ones had that sharp, snouty front-end, but a facelift changed that. The last generation ones had a great look from launch, but a facelift wrecked that.

This new-generation Octavia RS brings an all-new design that is more angular, sporty and powerful looking than ever.

The front end is nowhere near as busy in terms of the design this time around - the bold black grille and air intake finishes and crisp LED headlights look sharp and smart, and it’s a lot less fussy than before, though the angular lines that run up from the bumper to the tail-lights might take a bit of getting used to.

The choice of liftback or wagon might be a non-consideration for you, but both look great in profile (the sedan/liftback arguably looks better!), with really nice proportions and some strong character lines creating a muscular stance. Some of our team think the wheels look a bit tame (especially compared to the amazing rims on the previous RS245), but I like them.

The rear of the liftback model is less distinctive than you might hope, with a familiar look that we’ve seen on other brands - that’s mainly down to the tail-light design, which is similar on the station wagon model. The estate, though, is more easily identified - and not just because of that on-trend lettering across the tailgate.

The cabin design has changed considerably, too - this is a more modern looking interior, with a pair of huge screens, a new steering wheel, revised trim, and still the clever Skoda bits you’d expect.

It’s a bigger car than before, now measuring 4702mm long (up 13mm) on a 2686mm wheelbase, while also spanning 1829mm wide and 1457mm tall. For the drivers out there, the track width has been improved front (1541mm, up from 1535mm) and rear (1550mm, up from 1506mm), which equates to a more stable cornering car. Does that size make it more practical?

How practical is the space inside? 9/10

The interior of the Skoda Octavia RS is considerably different to the models that have come before it - it seemingly walks its own line now, rather than following on from VW products like the last models seemed to.

As such, it feels more technologically advanced and more high tech than you might expect, and admittedly, some customers mightn’t love the way things have been reworked inside the car. But hey, you still get an umbrella in the driver’s door, so don’t go whinging too much.

That’s because there is a large 10.0-inch touchscreen media system which doesn’t just control your AM/FM/DAB radio, Bluetooth phone and audio, and wireless or cord-connect USB Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it also is the interface with the HVAC system.

So rather than having distinct knobs and dials to control the air conditioning, heating, recirculation and so on, you have to operate those through the screen. I’ve hated this in cars I’ve sampled it in before, and it’s still not my favourite means of air management.

At the very least there’s a home-key section at the bottom of the screen to make quick adjustments to temperatures (and seat heating if fitted), but you still need to go into the “Clima” menu to adjust fan settings, while there is a tablet-style drop-down at the top of the screen to allow a quick change to recirculation air (not as quick as a single button press would be, however!).

The air-con system also has a “modern” way for adjusting the temp, like “cool my hands” or “warm my feet”, which I think is lame. Thankfully there are classic controls with conventional icons.

What isn’t conventional is the volume controller, which isn’t a knob but rather is a touch-slider. It took me about two seconds to get used to and it’s not too sensitive. Those touch-slide controls are also included if you option the sunroof in the wagon.

Then there’s the Virtual Cockpit digital screen, which is configurable to a degree and allows you easy access to clear instrumentation via the steering wheel controls (which are new and different and take a little bit of getting used to). Premium Pack models also get the head-up display (HUD) which just means you’ve got to look away from the road less.

The dashboard design is neat and the materials are of a high quality, and the storage options are mostly really good, too. There are large door pockets for bottles and other loose items (and you get those clever little Skoda bins in there, too), and a large storage section in front of the gear selector with a wireless phone charger, too. There are cup holders in between the seats, but they’re not very accommodating for larger drinks, and the covered centre console bin isn’t huge, either.

In the back there are also large door pockets, map pockets on the seat backs and a flip-down armrest with cupholders (again, not massive ones).

The space in the second row is adequate for someone my size (182cm / 6’0”) to sit behind their own driving position, but anyone taller might find it a bit too squeezy. The front sports seats are large and a bit bulky so they eat into rear space a tad. That said, I had enough knee, toe and head room (but the panoramic sunroof does eat into headspace a touch).

If your passengers are smaller, there are dual ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat attachment points. And the amenities are good, too, with rear seat directional air vents and USB-C ports in the back (x2), plus if you get the Premium Pack you’ll also get rear seat heating and climate controls for the back, too.

The boot capacity is excellent for luggage space, with the liftback sedan model offering 600 litres of cargo capacity, and that increases to 640L in the wagon. Fold down the rear seats using the levers in the rear, and you get up to 1555L in the sedan and 1700L in the wagon. Huge! Plus there are all the Skoda nets and mesh holsters, a clever multi-stage cargo blind, side storage compartments, a reversible floor mat (perfect for muddy clothes or damp dogs!) and there’s a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor as well.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10

If you’re thinking about buying the RS model, you probably know it's the most powerful Octavia in the range.

The Octavia RS has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine producing 180kW of power (at 6500rpm) and 370Nm of torque (from 1600-4300rpm). This time around, the Octavia RS is only available with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (it’s the wet clutch DQ381 unit), and in Australia it’s only sold in 2WD/FWD front-wheel drive. There’s no AWD version available here.

Curious about whether there has been a power hike? Well, the engine specs numbers don’t lie. This new model has the exact same power and torque figures as the last one, and the 0-100km/h acceleration time is identical, too: 6.7 seconds.

Sure, it’s not as big a horsepower hero as the VW Golf R, but it arguably isn’t trying to be.

Other markets get a diesel version of the RS, not to mention a hybrid take on it (plug-in hybrid/PHEV). But there’s no version here with an EV button, and Aussies can apparently thank our politicians for that.

Wondering about towing capacity? You can option a factory/dealer fit tow bar package, which allows up to 750kg of towing capacity for an unbraked trailer and 1600kg for a braked trailer (note, however, the tow downball weight limit is 80kg).

The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure for both the sedan and wagon versions of the Octavia RS is 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres.

That’s ambitious, and assumes you won’t drive it like it wants to be driven. As such, during our time with the sedan and wagon, we saw an average return of 9.3L/100km at the pump. The fuel tank capacity is 50 litres.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10

There’s not much left to ask for when it comes to the Skoda Octavia RS’s safety kit. It scored the maximum five-star crash test rating for its Euro NCAP / ANCAP testing in 2019, and it has forward day/night autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with cyclist and pedestrian detection that works between 5km/h and 80km/h, plus high-speed AEB for vehicle detection (5km/h to 250km/h), as well as lane keeping assistance that operates from 60km/h up.

There is also rear AEB, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, multi-collision brake, auto high beam lights, driver fatigue monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and airbag coverage totalling 10 airbags (dual front, front side, front centre, rear side, full length curtain).

There are dual ISOFIX and three top-tether anchor points for child seats.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10

Skoda Australia offers a few innovative ways to pay for your servicing. You can do the old-fashioned pay as you go maintenance, which is fine, but that’s not what the majority of customers do.

Instead, most buy a service pack, which can be had in three-year/45,000km duration ($800) or five-year/75,000km length ($1400). These plans save you $337 or $886 respectively, so you’d be foolish not to. They transfer if you sell the car before the end of the plan, and you get map updates, pollen filters, fluids, and roadside assistance included for the duration of the plan.

There’s also a subscription servicing plan, where you can pay a monthly fee to cover maintenance costs as required. It starts at $49/month and ranges through to $79/month. There are tiers of coverage including an all-encompassing version that includes brakes, tyres, car battery and key battery replacement, wiper blades and other consumables. It isn’t cheap, but you can opt out.

There’s a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, which is par for the course across most makers these days.

What's it like to drive? 9/10

This is the best Skoda drive experience you can get. That is to say, it offers power, performance, fun and functionality, poise and prowess… and plenty of other alliterative superlatives besides.

The engine? Excellent. It has ample power and torque, is refined and punchy, and has a great artificial sound generator that you can disable if you don’t like the “kinda like a WRX” tone it emits into the cabin. I love it.

The transmission? Tremendous. The best dual-clutch automatic transmission is one that doesn’t get in the way of progress, and that’s the case here. It is smooth for city take-offs, sharp enough for quick shifts on the fly, and altogether clever. A really great fit for this car, so much so that I don’t even mind there’s no manual transmission version available.

The steering? Super. It has a great amount of heft to it, though that can be varied by drive mode. Choose Comfort and it loosens up and lightens the weighting, while Sport mode makes it heftier and quicker to respond. Normal is, well, a nice balance, and there’s an Individual drive mode that allows you to tailor what you want - provided you buy the RS with the Premium Package. One thing with the steering is there is some noticeable torque-steer (where the steering wheel will tug to the side under hard acceleration), but it’s never to the point of annoyance or enough to make you lose your grip.

The ride and handling? Really excellent - damn it, I was going so well with the alliteration. I guess I could say the chassis is charming…? Anyway, the way the Octavia RS sits on the road is balanced and surefooted, feeling planted and controllable at all the speeds I tested it. The ride is really good, too, ironing out small and large bumps with composure akin to a luxury car at twice the price. The adaptive dampers in the Premium Package undoubtedly play their part in the way the body holds itself up, and the Bridgestone Potenza S005 rubber is grippy, too.

The only real downside of the drive? There is some noticeable tyre roar, and even at lower speeds it can be loud in the cabin. All in all, it’s more refined and yet also more remarkable to drive than the last Octavia RS.

Verdict

The Skoda Octavia RS is a car that you can confidently choose if you’re after a sportier driving midsize vehicle. It’s not an SUV, and we love that.

But also, if you’re the sort of buyer who just wants the top-spec because it has the most features, then it will offer you a great option that just happens to be sporty to drive, too. It’s one of my favourite cars of 2021 so far. 

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