By on April 11, 2014

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Originally, I wanted to borrow an Octavia RS as the ultimate example of the “nice things you Americans can’t have”. But then I decided not to. I had three reasons. First, the RS, unlike “ordinary” Skodas, isn’t readily available in any shade of brown. Second, I had already tested a diesel, manual wagon recently. And third, the diesel wagon really isn’t the Octavia RS you really want. It’s a compromise, something you choose as a company car, because gasoline engines are verbotten by your company’s policy and you need the space for hauling stuff to your vacation home each weekend.

Instead, I opted for the closest thing Skoda has to a sportscar; the Octavia RS with the 2.0 TSI/220hp engine, 6-speed manual transmission, and a liftback body. The choice of the engine was kind of obvious – if you want “sporty”, you don’t want diesel. No matter what diesel fans will tell you, diesels are always rattly, reluctant to rev and heavy, compared to the gasoline counterparts. They may be miracles compared to their predecessors from two decades ago, but if you want a fun to drive car, you want it to burn the right fuel.

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And the body? Wagons are cool, and they will, one day, make their way back to America, because they just make sense. But here in Europe, we have one more body style, which is even cooler than wagon. So cool that not even Jalopnik readers know about it. It’s called a liftback. From the outside, it looks much like a modern sedan, with a really short trunk. But when you open the trunk – voilá! – the whole rear hatch opens.

You say it’s like wagon, just less practical? Well, not really. For one, it doesn’t look like a wagon, which is apparently important to some people – even in Europe. And for a second, it’s not really that impractical. In some ways, it’s maybe even more practical.

While the liftback offers a bit less space than a wagon (and is a bit worse in case you want to transport really high items or stack stuff up to the roof), it has this HUGE trunk opening. Wagons, even fairly large ones, require you to push stuff inside them. Which can be a bit of pain with stuff like bicycles. A Liftback allows you to just place the thing inside from above – or reach over the sides, if you, for example, need to move the bicycle to the inside of the car, so you can close the trunk. In other words, liftbacks rock!

So, what do we have here? Basically, the Octavia is Europe’s take on Jetta (yes, the real Jetta is sold here as well, but no one really buys it). Unlike the Jetta, it is based on current generation of Golf and not the previous one, so it uses the new MQB modular system, basically the same engine line-up as Golf, it has a nearly identical suspension and the same electronic architecture. The radio/satellite navigation line-up to the fancy modern gizmos like adaptive cruise, lane assist and automatic parking can be had in Octavia. The RS, then, can be viewed as a slightly larger Golf GTI, with a huge trunk.

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But when you look at it, the word “Volkswagen” doesn’t really pop up in your mind. The word that does, though, is “Audi”. The stance, the edgy lines, even the bright blue paint really does make it look like a junior S4.  While the GTI is still kind of youthful car that doesn’t try to hide it’s relatively humble origins, the Octavia RS seems to be aimed at people who aspire to own this very car. Especially here, in its home market, the $30k (with tax) Octavia RS is sort of a mild luxury.

The only difference is that in Czech Republic, the RS gets more attention on the street than an Audi. Or even than the Town Car I drive. Or than just about anything else, short of supercars, American classics or a hot rodded New York cab (I daily drove that, for some time). With Skoda being the only domestic car maker,with just over 30 percent market share, the Octavia itself is fairly ubiquitous. But the RS is still quite new, and since it’s the top version of a car everyone has, did have, thinks about having or aspires to, it really gets people’s interest. It’s the Czech equivalent of a pony car or a fancy truck.

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But I digress. Let’s stop looking, and take the thing for a drive. Once you sit inside, the “junior Audi” idea re-establishes itself. Similar design, similar materials, similar take on quality – just less of everything. My special bonus points are awarded for the fact that the seats, while sporty, are flat enough to comfortably get in and out of, and that the steering wheel is round. My super special bonus points are awarded to the MQB modular system for the low window line and relatively narrow A-pillars. Compared to the Astra I tested previously, this makes the Octavia pleasantly easy to see out of.

At start-up, the engine doesn’t make much of a fuss, but throwing the sweet shifter into first reveals gobs of torque from low down, making it almost impossible to stall. What made me more anxious was the ride. The “sporty” VW products, including Audis, which this car tries to mimic, tend to be on the harsh side. And with 18” wheels (which are, by the way, extremely pretty, and also very prone to scratching) on a relatively small car, this is a reason to worry. But the RS surprises here. While it’s definitely not a plushy, comfy ride, it perfectly bearable even on the broken city surfaces I usually drive on. While it looks much more aggressive than last month’s Astra, it’s got enough ground clearance to not scratch under any normal circumstances. Nice, liveable and rational. Just as a Skoda should be.

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What’s a bit less rational is the driving style this car invokes. In this country, Octavia RS drivers are known as one of the biggest jerks on the road – up there with Audi drivers. It’s easy to see why. The car works like it was designed for you to drive like a total asshole. While 220hp doesn’t sound like much, the ever present torque really helps, and the RS has a way of disguising speed that makes you drive like a total lunatic and not even think about it. You’re just leaving the traffic lights like a normal, sane person, when the little devil inside the car just whispers to you “See that gap between the slow car in the left lane and another slow car in the right lane? You can totally fit in there!”. And before you know it, you’re weaving in and out of traffic at twice the posted speed limit. It takes some restraint to start driving like a normal person again.

And this theme continues when you leave the city limits. Most of all, the RS is super easy to drive fast. The combination of torque, the traction provided by the XDS (a fake electronic LSD in the front), the grip and the stability lets you cover the ground at huge rates of speed, without the car asking anything back. Between the XDS and the unkillable ESP, it’s a car that your grandmother could drive stupidly fast. A 100+ mph run on backroads? No problem. And no drama.

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It’s even quite easy on gas. You can get over 35mpg in real life, it you’re driving sanely (e.g. in a way that won’t put you in jail), around 20mpg during “slightly spirited” city driving, and maybe 15-16mpg on the backroads, driving in the manner that would definitely put you in jail Stateside.

Which sounds totally great. But it also reveals a great problem for some of us. That the Octavia RS is not even a little bit like homemade mayonnaise, and that it doesn’t resemble an automatic watch in the slightest.

What I’m blabbing about? Let me explain.

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The “petrolheads”, or driving enthusiasts, are like any other enthusiasts in the world. They want two things. They want to stand out of the crowd by earning things, and they want things not to be fake. Like foodies, who will spend their lives perfecting their perfect recipie for artisanal Sriracha mayonnaise, instead of just going out and buying bottled, mass produced stuff. They do it because the homemade stuff is better, but also because they like the challenge, and they like the notion that they are just better than those ordinary folks who don’t know any better than going to the supermarket. Or you can compare them to watch enthusiasts, who will spend unbelievable amounts of money on watches that, in the end, do their job significantly worse than a $20 Casio. They will despise anything with “Quartz” written on it, because it’s not real watch. And they put high value on the manufacturer making its own movements, because using someone else’s, not matter how nice watch you put them into, is just “not right”.

And this is where the problems with Octavia RS come to light.

You have your electronics to help you stay on the road, and fake electronic LSD, helping you get loads of traction, but also disrupting already artificial (or, ahem, fake) steering feel. In hard cornering, the steering wheel sometimes gets heavy when you would expect it to be light. You can get used to it, but it’s not really the connection with the car you really want. At least the quick engine responses make it quite easy to do non-fake heel and toe throttle blips, although the pedals are not well positioned to do that, with the accelerator being too far below and to the right.

And then there’s the sound. In the “sport” mode, something called a “performance sound generator” is active, emitting deep, fake engine sounds from the speaker somewhere on the firewall. Not only is it fake – it even sounds worse than the natural, raspy engine sound in the “normal” mode. Luckily, this feature is optional and you can avoid it. In fact, I would be willing to pay for it not to be there.

The “fake” theme continues with the design as well. There are fake exhaust tips, fake grilles and fake inlets in the front bumper.

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If you’re looking for honesty, driving enjoyment and tactile experience, you will be better off in a much slower and cheaper Skoda Rapid. The Octavia RS is not the car for petrolheads. It is not a car for people who spend all the time thinking about cars and driving.

It is, though, a perfect car for someone who likes fast cars, would like to have a car that is fast, and likes other people to see that he has a fast car, but is not willing to sacrifice anything to the idea. For the same price, a Renault Clio RS (at least the previous generation), a used M3 or a Miata will get you much, much more reward from getting your driving right. The Octavia RS will be a perfect choice for a family guy, who wants to soothe his mid-life crisis, but isn’t in position to buy a dedicated sportscar. With this, he can have a bright-coloured, lightning fast machine, and a reasonable family car – all in one reasonably priced package.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz and serves as editor-in-chief at www.USmotors.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a borrowed Lincoln Town Car. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

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26 Comments on “Review: Skoda Octavia RS...”


  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    The US did briefly have a liftback with the 1st generation Mazda6. Also the Acura RSX. This might be pushing it, but I would put SAAB 9-3s closer to a liftback than a hatchback.

    It looks like a great concept; unfortunately, I haven’t owned one. I did keep my eye out for a Mazda6 V6 5spd liftback the last time I changed cars, but they are tough to come by.

    Nice review, especially the conclusion.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Doesn’t the liftback concept, in the U.S. at least, date back to the 64.5 Mustang?

      Also, I remember hearing about liftbacks, notchbacks, fastbacks, something called a shooting brake, and a couple others I’m forgetting. I’ve never quite gotten the difference really.

      Regarding the review, I think it was very well done with information that I found entertaining. Some of it probably doesn’t directly translate for me because I don’t tend to drive in ways where I would get any real use out of the capability, but I do like reading about it.

      In the U.S., at least Minnesota, most d-nozzles seem to drive Maximas and to a lesser extent Altimas. Apparently those scream, I am insecure hear me roar. Superpoos are a close second.

      • 0 avatar
        Vojta Dobeš

        1964 1/2 Mustang is NOT a liftback. It has a small trunklid and the rear window doesn’t lift. IIRC, the Fox body was a liftback.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        Where I live the roads can be great as long as it is not rush hour, but the manpower is all around. Definitely more fun to have a MR2 or early Miata then a pony or AMG type. Even if there weren’t cops everywhere it would be pretty easy to wrap yourself around a tree at the speeds a modern car can get to.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        The Ford Sierra/Merkur XR4Ti is another one.

        In the early design stages; the original Ford Taurus was also going to be a four door hatchback; since it was inspired by the Ford Probe III and Sierra. But later on, it became a sedan with a seperate wagon offering.

        http://autosofinterest.com/2012/09/21/design-notes-1986-ford-taurus/

        http://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1986-ford-taurusmercury-sable-at-this-moment-you-mean-everything/

      • 0 avatar
        fredtal

        How about a 1949 Kaiser Vagabond?
        http://bringatrailer.com/2012/05/08/hatchback-pioneer-1949-kaiser-vagabond/

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      I had a 2004 Mazda 6 GT Sport V6 5speed, (sport being Mazda Canada’s nomenclature for the hatchback model).

      It was the most freaking useful car I ever owned, from a flexibility and cargo hauling standpoint.

      Sadly, the 3.0 V6 cribbed from Ford delivered atrocious fuel economy and chugged oil, else I never would have sold it.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      The ’85+ Chrysler LeBaron GTS and Dodge Lancer also come to mind. A friend of mine had a LeBaron GTS for several years, thought very highly of it.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        My uncle had a LeBaron GTS as well. 2.2l Turbo with a 5 speed stick shift. It was really well equipped too, digital dash, fancy seats. Fairly unique ride.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    funny how different countries have different perceptions of the same cars

    the Octavia VRS is like a Golf GTI for non douchebags

    the GTI is now the iphone of cars owned by latte sipping hipsters who feed their cars low octane because premium is too expensive

    the Octavia is the car of the silent sophisticate – theres only 4 dealers in a city of 3.5 million so you have to seek it out

    its certainly not a car for ‘hoons’ as we have 400hp+ V8s and turbo sixes for about the same money and really.. FWD isnt favoured by any motoring enthusiast really went it comes down to it

    i do like the Czech engineering flavor to be honest

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Yeah, it really is funny. In fact, the biggest reason I would never buy an Octavia RS is that I live in Czech Republic, and here, it’s a car for douchebags. In a different country, I would think about it (but not in Australia, I would LOVE me a Falcon V8).

  • avatar

    An enjoyable review. I rented a previous generation Octavia (and almsot all the Octavias in Germany are wagons) and liked it a lot except for the rather cheap and Plain Jane interior which has been addressed big time in the newest version. My diesel used very little fuel but clattered a lot so I agree that the model to take is the gasoline one. The RS sounds ideal: sufficient power, more than enough interior room to get the racing bicycle inside and atrractive styling. I could put up with the fake stuff for the benefits of the good stuff.

    The Mazda 6 liftback was a great idea: almost all the room of the wagon but without the extra weight to haul around when you didn’t need to carry cargo. It is too bad almost nobody in North America wanted one.

  • avatar
    dude500

    This car’s front, back and profile looks almost exactly like the pre-facelift Audi C6 A6.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    Good review. “perfect choice for a family guy, who wants to soothe his mid-life crisis, but isn’t in a position to buy a dedicated sportscar”. I resemble that.

    Also that steering wheel looks comfortable, maybe the best I’ve seen.

    Even though I can’t access Skoda / Peugot / Renault etc., I would read a few more of these.

  • avatar
    Perc

    I have €0.02 to add about the practicality of these cars.

    I did some research before buying mine in 2012. The cargo capacity is almost the same between the liftback and estate models. The actual boot space below the parcel shelf is identical – the only difference between these two is that the estate has a slightly (yes, slightly) longer roof. I don’t know about the MQB generation but I would assume that it’s the same story there.

    I might have to hand in my petrolhead card now because I ended up buying the 1.4T 122hp estate when there would have been a 1.8T 160hp liftback on the lot for pretty much the same money. What can I say? I like the looks of the wagon – the second gen liftback looks a bit frumpy in non-RS trim imo.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Great review. Shame cars are getting so damn synthesized. Makes me appreciate my motorcycle that much more, even though sometimes it conspires to kill me

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    While I have one of the more sporting wagons around, a six speed manual tranny rwd e91 3-series, I would much prefer the diesel. It’s a wagon, it is supposed to be more practical and less sporting. The 320d is just a fabulous blend of speed and economy. I have other things to drive when I just want to have fun.

    As to liftbacks – I’ve owned Saab 900s, one of the original cave hatches. I’ll take a proper big square Volvo or rwd Peugeot wagon any day. Though modern “sportwagon” designs make it kind of a moot choice.

  • avatar
    Featherston

    Does Skoda’s logo remind anyone else of a hand-traced turkey that a kindergartner would draw in the days leading up to Thanksgiving?

    My limited experience with Skoda has been positive: helping a colleague move to a new flat in London. We were able to get all of his (admittedly meager) possessions in to a rented, first-gen Octavia 5-door hatch. It seemed like a nice car for the price point.

  • avatar
    marjanmm

    Vojta, can you shed some light on why Skoda in all reliability surveys in Europe comes up as more reliable than VW even though Skodas are pretty much all built out of VW parts bin components?

    • 0 avatar
      Perc

      I heard this one once:

      Skoda’s roots can be traced back to the late 1800’s, half a century before Volkswagen started making cars. They’re still made in the same town where it all started, and the workers are proud of this fact. Meanwhile, VW’s are made all over the world by workers that can’t be bothered as long as they get a paycheck.

      I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but somehow it makes sense, doesn’t it? Not that the local workers have anything to do with the quality of the engines and transmissions that they get delivered as-is, but still.

      • 0 avatar
        Vojta Dobeš

        Perc, it can be that. It is true that most Skodas are still made in Mladá Boleslav and two other plants in Czech Republic (Kvasiny and Vrchlabí), and Czechs are generally patriotic about the brand (plant workers even more so).

        There are even lots of popular stories about “VW holding Skoda back” – since Skoda is on the bottom rung of the VW’s ladder, it’s obviously not allowed to have everything VW does. And Czech people tend to see it as “VW oppressing their domestic brand”, disregarding the fact that without VW, there would be no Skoda in this day.

        But it can also be caused by the fact that Skodas are generally less equiped and a little bit simpler. Also, the customers probably tend to be older, more sensible people (at least in Western Europe).

  • avatar
    Carlos Villalobos

    In Chile, a vRS is a car for people who knows. Very exotic. I have a previous gen one in black, so nobody knows what it is.
    I admit it takes restraint not to drive it like a douchebag.


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