By Andy Enright
The second generation Skoda Octavia was the car that finally put the ghost of dreadful old Skodas to rest. Yes, the Daily Mail would continue to poke fun for some years to come, but to the informed buyer, the Octavia offered Volkswagen Audi Group engineering at a bargain price. The vRS model represents the sporting version of the range and served up much the same engineering as the Golf GTI with more space and a little more subtlety. It makes a brilliant used buy whether you choose saloon or estate, diesel or petrol engine. Here's what to look for.
The first generation Octavia had started with the RS badge, decided that Ford, Porsche and Audi had already muscled in on that particular patch and then changed it to vRS. Those early cars were fitted with the 180bhp 1.8-litre 20-valve turbo engine and make great used bargains, but the car we're looking at here is the second generation car initially fitted with the seriously superior 197bhp 2.0-litre TFSI turbo four, available in hatch or estate form. These debuted in summer 2006 and were immediately followed by the Octavia 2.0 TDI PD vRS diesel, sporting a 168bhp powerplant.
From September 2008 all vRS models got a specification upgrade which ran to 18-inch Zenith alloys, dual zone climate control, a jumbo box central armrest with 3.5mm auxiliary in socket, rear electric windows and cruise control. A run of 500 higher spec Limited Edition models was announced in January 2009 while April of that year saw a more major upgrade with the introduction of a facelifted vRS. This featured a redesigned front grille featuring the vRS logo and headlamps which could be upgraded to xenons combined with an adaptive front lighting system. The vRS also got front fog lamps with optional cornering function and LED lamps for daytime lighting. The rear lights were redesigned and new 18-inch Neptune alloy wheels are available. Other changes to the vRS included a new metallic paint, Anthracite, and a lowered sports-tuned chassis. The car also lost a little weight - the petrol version by 20kg and the diesel by 15kg. With better aerodynamics, the maximum speed of the vRS was also higher.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Octavia has proven a hardy thing but there have been some teething issues . A common fault Is water leaking into the rear foot wells through the rear doors. This is usually down to the rear carriers leaking and allowing water that runs down the window to flow into the car and dealers will fix this under warranty. Water has also been known to get into headlamp units. A recall was issued for the Octavia's dual mass flywheel, which had been reported in very rare instances to come apart. The key other thing to check is for uneven tyre wear. Skoda dealers have been issued with new instructions for setting up the suspension's camber to improve tyre life. The Maxidot display system can occasionally display sporadically dead pixels and the cruise control switch may need replacing if the vehicle doesn't maintain a constant speed.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2009 Octavia vRS 2.0) An alternator is a big ticket item at around £450, while a clutch assembly is around £215, making these parts of the Skoda ownership experience as upmarket as Volkswagen claim. Front brake pads are a reassuring £50 a pair, whilst a starter motor is around £135.
On the Road
With the same 197bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged FSI engine as the Golf GTI, the Octavia vRS remains a real entertainer. The bigger bodyshell shaves a fraction off the car's sprint to 60mph but slippery aerodynamics restore balance by giving the Octavia a higher top end than its lauded Volkswagen relative. The figures for the Octavia hatch are 60mph in 7 seconds flat and a maximum speed of 149mph. The estate version adds another string to the Skoda's bow and this is only a smidgeon slower to 60mph but adds the practicality for which Octavia estates have long been renowned, filling an interesting niche amongst budget performance estates. Skoda also offers a 2.0-litre TDI diesel vRS derivative packing 170bhp. This is no slouch, making 60 in 8 seconds and running onto 140mph. Drive one a little more gently and you could average almost 50mpg.
This current Octavia vRS benefits from Volkswagen's quest to endow the Golf chassis with Ford Focus-style driving manners. Even with the wick turned down a good few notches, it can't help but feel extremely capable when stitching a series of bends together. Ventilated brake discs are fitted, as is ESP stability control and TPM tyre pressure monitoring.
Beefed up shock absorbers and springs give better road feel and flatter cornering. The steering feels like a good hydraulically assisted set-up but is in fact electro-mechanically assisted. Many of the early versions of this steering set-up felt unacceptably artificial but the Octavia's helm feels meaty and rewarding at speed, reverting to fingertip light at parking speeds. Impressive stuff. The gearchange is light and positive and the multi-link rear suspension keeps the sort of bump and thump that often afflicts cars with more rudimentary torsion beam setups at bay.
The Skoda Octavia vRS is the poster child of the informed car buyer. It tends to be targeted by people who also are rather comfortable in their own skin and aren't concerned what their neighbour thinks about the badge. That says a lot of good things about vRS buyers. It makes a good used buy, but with so many around you shouldn't feel pressured into buying the first car you see. It's a buyer's market right now so be fussy and haggle hard.