Skoda Octavia RS 2021 Review

Skoda Octavia RS 2021 Review

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Skoda Octavia RS 2021 Review

Can the new Skoda Octavia RS really turn your attention away from hot hatches and other $50K performance cars? Well, yes…

Still sure you want that 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI? There may be a new GTI just around the corner, but what we have here is the equally all-new Skoda Octavia RS, which offers all the attributes the Czech speedster has always provided, only now mixed in with a substantially finer interior, loads of desirable tech and a chassis/drivetrain blend of rare talent. It is not the most out-and-out thrilling sub-$50K performance car ever, but it’s one of the most comprehensively likeable machines of its type.

No longer bargain basement

Everyone seems to be pushing upmarket these days. The quest for premium sales is going on all over the place, across multiple car classes, and now even Skoda has got in on the act with the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS.

Where its products used to be great value and relatively simple inside, this new 2021 Skoda Octavia RS – the flagship of the fourth-generation mid-size liftback sedan and wagon series that arrives in Aussie showrooms in late April – is a definitive signpost of just how classy the Czech company wants to be.

With the new Skoda Octavia range starting at $30,390 plus on-road costs, the Octavia RS liftback at $47,790 plus ORCs looks pretty steep. (The RS wagon starts from $49,090 plus ORCs.)

New Skoda Octavia Deals

But the price for the Octavia RS compares well to the likes of the manual-only 2021 Honda Civic Type R (from $54,990) or, indeed, the very car with which the Skoda shares so much – the incoming new-generation Mk8 Volkswagen Golf GTI, due a few weeks later during May and priced from $53,100 plus ORCs.

That said, the RS doesn’t look such good value up against the Hyundai i30 N (from $41,400) – which will soon get a dual-clutch auto transmission option – and the Ford Focus ST (from $44,890).

Nevertheless, for the outlay, you get one of the best-looking cars going in the segment, complete with the Octavia’s typically vast cabin – made even bigger with this new generation – in which there’s plenty of space for five adults on board.

The boot on this fastback sedan is also a veritable cavern at 600 litres with all seats in use.

Not only that, but the RS looks and feels superb inside, with its sculpted sports seats and attractive Alcantara detailing, and the equipment list is generous to almost a fault.

The latter includes an RS-specific Virtual Cockpit digital cluster, Matrix LED headlights and LED tail-lights, 19-inch ‘Altair’ alloy wheels, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a powered tailgate, keyless entry and go, ambient lighting and more.

Upmarket tech, touch-screen issues

Skoda has been swept up in the digital revolution occurring across the Volkswagen Group right now, fitting the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS with a 10-inch touch-screen infotainment set-up called Columbus.

In the main, this operates well and looks pin-sharp, and Skoda has also been more intelligent than parent company Volkswagen has with its Golf because the Octavia has a number of short-cut ‘hard’ buttons underneath the screen to get to key displays.

These work okay, provided you don’t ask much of the system immediately after start-up when the screen is still ‘booting’, but one or two frustrations remain with this interface.

For example, the traction control system is buried in vehicle settings, bizarrely under ‘Brakes’, meaning you need to press the physical ‘SET’ button on the console, then ‘Vehicle Settings’ top-left of the screen, then swipe right to get to ‘Brakes’, before tapping the box to get a drop-down menu of ‘Activated’, ‘TCS Off’ or ‘ESC Sport’.

What’s wrong with one single button to the right of the steering wheel that you press and hold to deactivate the traction control?

There are other niggles with this set-up, but in the main the Skoda’s infotainment and instrument cluster works in a more intuitive fashion than similar systems in the SEAT Leon and Golf equivalents. Mind, plenty of people will continue to lament the lack of physical HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) controls…

As to safety kit, there’s lots of it, with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, 10 airbags, side assist, lane change assist, emergency assist, and front and rear parking sensors all fitted from the off.

Powertrain smooth as silk

While other markets will get a plug-in hybrid Skoda Octavia RS called the iV, with 180kW, and a turbo-diesel variant with 147kW and the option of four-wheel drive, they’re not confirmed for our market.

So we have the EA888 2.0-litre TSI, with the same 180kW as the iV and all backed up by 370Nm of torque.

This drives the front wheels through a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission only – other markets have a six-speed manual gearbox option – and delivers performance that might be in danger of only being termed ‘warm’ these days, rather than hot, seeing as there are now hatchbacks that run sub-4.0sec 0-100km/h sprints.

However, the EA888 loves to rev and the Octavia RS liftback feels far more urgent and far more insistent than a 6.7sec on-paper time might look.

Bypassing some occasional slight step-off hesitance from the DSG, in general the 2.0-litre TSI is largely lag-free and impressively muscular right around the dial.

It never sounds coarse or harsh, not even when it’s being spun out to 6500rpm, and in fact it has a pleasingly raspy, natural-sounding tone to it as it flies past 4000rpm and starts to deliver its best work.

Therefore, the RS proves itself perfectly fast enough for just about anybody’s needs, we reckon.

Such a good drivetrain is this that it works almost as well as a long-distance cruiser, with the effortless torque making the Skoda notably flexible in-gear. It is genuinely a delight to drive, everywhere – in town, out of town, on the highway. Quite brilliant.

Composed everywhere

Options on our European-spec version of the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS liftback included a head-up display (HUD) and the Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) three-mode adaptive dampers, with Comfort, Normal and Sport settings.

Delve into the Individual mode set-up menu and you’ll find a remarkable 15 different settings for the firmness (or otherwise) of the suspension. (Note: Comfort is level 4/15, Normal 8/15 and Sport 12/15)

HUD and DCC are part of an extensive bundle in Australia called the RS Premium Pack ($6500), but we would advocate getting the kit for the chassis control alone – it gives the Octavia RS such magnificent operating bandwidth in a wide variety of situations that you’ll rarely find the Skoda wanting dynamically.

In Comfort, it glides along serenely despite the 19-inch wheel-and-tyre combination at all corners and it suppresses wind noise fantastically too.

It’s not quite as good at keeping tyre roar out of the cabin on poorer surfaces, there being an extra degree of cavitation going on in that massive boot at the back, but by the same token it’s not unbearably loud at speed and the Octavia RS returned 6.9L/100km on a gentle highway cruise.

On the flipside of the coin, it’s good fun in the corners. The Skoda’s not immensely thrilling, but its Sport mode steering has excellent weighting (if not masses of feel), and with exceptional body/wheel control, the machinations of the VAQ electronic diff and a playful rear axle, you can stoke the Octavia RS up into a decent, flowing groove on the right roads.

It is certainly not a dull car and is one that should rightly please driving enthusiasts.

The urbane performance choice

Accepting that the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS maybe isn’t as outright engaging as something like a Honda Civic Type R, a Ford Focus ST or a Hyundai i30 N, we’re also happy to go on record as saying it’s still a deeply enjoyable circa-$50K performance car in the twisty stuff, nonetheless.

It has a lusty engine, a composed chassis and – with the DCC fitted – an exemplary breadth of composure to its suspension.

And yet it does all the things a Skoda has always done so well on top of this.

Big enough to qualify for residence in the mid-size segment, the Octavia RS has a huge passenger compartment compared to its smaller performance rivals, a cavernous boot, smart exterior styling – much nicer than the ill-judged experiment with the quad headlights on the Octavia Mk3.5 – and, overall, a large-car feel at price that belongs in the segment below.

It has crept up a bit in terms of the expenditure needed to own it, but at the same time it also has a quality cabin that is almost unrecognisable from the one that went before it – and this interior is, we’d argue, better than that in the Golf 8.

So, if a hot hatch/liftback is supposed to be practical and plush on the one hand, and then a demon when you want it to be on the other, we can’t think of many cars from any other manufacturer that balance this trade-off better than the new 2021 Skoda Octavia RS.

It might be the slightly grown-up performance car choice these days, but that only makes us love it all the more.

This is a blindingly-talented all-rounder from the Czechs and one that has basically done the seemingly impossible. It’s out-Golf-GTI-ed the Golf GTI.

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