But this will all change, according to the manufacturer, with the launch of the Octavia vRS – the quickest and most powerful Skoda ever made. It is hoping that its introduction will boost brand awareness and, ultimately, sales.
Building on the success of the old model, the designers have attempted to bring more ‘emotion’ to the Skoda brand without sacrificing functionality. Consequently, it is aiming to attract new customers, particularly the traditionally badge-conscious who would not have previously considered a Skoda.
In terms of looks it is more ‘warm’ than hot-hatch, but the subtle differences such as the deeper bumpers, rear spoiler, twin exhausts, green brake callipers and 17-inch alloy wheels all hint at the performance aspect.
Inside it is similarly understated with half-leather sports seats, which are supportive in all the right areas, plenty of aluminium trim on the doors and dashboard, black rooflining and a chunky three-spoke steering wheel.
The Octavia is available in estate and hatchback variants, but expect the latter to make up the majority of sales, thanks to its more conventional aesthetics as a performance car. It is powered by the same 2.0-litre TFSI engine used in the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Skoda is aiming the vRS at a broad range of rivals including the Megane Renaultsport 225, Vauxhall Astra VXR, Ford Mondeo ST220 and Volvo V50 T5.
While it may not have the extreme looks or outright performance of some of its competitors, the combination of useable power and everyday practicality is a compelling proposition.
It has plenty of safety kit, too, including traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution, four airbags, ESP stability control and tyre pressure monitoring. The standard equipment list is equally impressive with climate control and a six-CD changer, while an electric sunroof and satellite navigation are optional extras. The vRS is due to go on sale in December, with the hatch costing £17,500 while the estate will carry a £700 premium. Skoda is aiming for annual sales of around 2,900 and fleets are expected to account for half of this
Behind the wheel
SHARING similar underpinnings as the Golf GTI it is not surprising that the Octavia vRS handles very well. The steering is well weighted and direct and there is an abundance of grip, although being front-wheel drive there is a tendency for some understeer if pushed hard.
The rear section of the body has been reinforced to increase strength, while the suspension has been lowered and modified. Shock absorbers and springs have also been fitted which result in a ride which is firm, but thankfully not harsh. The result is a car that inspires confidence on the twisty stuff, but is still comfortable on motorway journeys.
There is a noticeable increase in road noise over the standard Octavia, due mainly to the larger alloys and low- profile tyres, but there is very little engine noise, even at high revs. Some drivers might be disappointed by the lack of a good exhaust note – it is more a smooth whoosh than a nice throaty rasp, but again this has its benefits at cruising speeds.
Skoda wanted to retain the everyday practicality of the car, but you can’t help reflecting that it hasn’t gone far enough down the performance route.
WITH just under 200bhp and a 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds the vRS is not a slow car. While the refined turbocharged 2.0-litre engine pulls well, the vRS never feels as though it has got the raw pace to get the pulse racing like its Fabia sibling can.
Model: 2.0 TFSI vRS
Max power (bhp/rpm): 197/5,100
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 207/1,800
Max speed (mph): 149
0-62mph (secs): 7.3
Fuel consumption (mpg): 35.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 190
On sale: December
Prices (OTR): £17,500 (hatch), £18,200 (estate)