The Skoda Octavia RS is back, and continues to offer the same incredible value and practicality. We take it out for a brief taster to see what it’s like
The Volkswagen Golf GTI may be known as the consummate all-rounder, the one car that can do it all. But I'll let you in on a little secret: there’s something even better at that, and (in Singapore at least) it comes from the same showroom building.
That’ll be the Skoda Octavia RS, now here in its fourth generation, and sneaking into Singapore at S$199,900 (at time of writing). That’s a huge chunk more than the S$142k Skoda was selling the third-gen Octavia RS245 for at the end of 2020, but then COE prices were also about S$50k cheaper than they are now.
In summary, the Octavia RS is what happens when Skoda takes the hot drivetrain from the Golf GTI, packs it in an even larger body, and sells it for much less money.
It’s a car I've liked since it originally appeared 20 years ago, for its blend of performance, practicality, price, and profound subtlety, but which I absolutely loved 3 years ago when the new car’s predecessor (above) whisked myself and three friends to Kuala Lumpur in rock-solid stability in under 3 hours, with ample luggage space for a weekend away.
So what’s new with the new Octavia RS? Well, obviously it’s got all the changes that were made to the conventional Octavia lineup: a bigger body all-round, slightly more legroom and cargo space, and most obviously, a change to a minimalist, digital dashboard concept. Check out our review of the regular Octavia for a full rundown on those.
But compared to the old RS245, not much has changed. About the only new feature is the adoption of adaptive dampers from the Golf GTI, called Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC). In fact it uses the same 2.0-litre EA888 four-cylinder engine and seven-speed DSG as before, which is also now found in the Mk8 GTI. That means it produces the same 245hp and 370Nm of torque, giving a 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds.
So, what’s the new RS like? I only had a couple hours with the car, so I won’t delve deep, but it certainly had enough substance to leave an impression. It definitely has more visual impact the old one: the blacked-out grille, the aggressive bumpers, and 19-inch wheels are a departure from the more subtle tweaks previous Octavia RSes have had.
Slide aboard and you’re greeted by a unique “sport” screen for the Virtual Cockpit (VW and Skoda’s name for the driver’s instrument display), an Alcantara dashboard, and best of all, extremely grippy Alcantara sports seats.
As with the bread n’ butter Octavia, the materials and quality in the interior feel a lot more premium than the old model, and, thanks to the inclusion of physical buttons on the dashboard and steering wheel, the infotainment and driver’s display are significantly less frustrating to operate. Still wish there were good ol’ knobs for the aircon and volume controls though…
As you move off, there’s not a lot to clue you in that you’re sitting in Skoda’s performance flagship, as the DCC in comfort mode does such an excellent job of insulating you from all manner of road imperfections, something that the old car couldn’t match on its fixed-rate dampers. Sure, you might notice that the steering ratio is a lot more direct (just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock), and that there’s more forward surge on offer when you flex your right foot, but on the whole it’s all very civilised.
Find a twisty road however, and it doesn’t take long to unearth the RS’s other talents. Whack the DCC up into sport, and the car becomes a highly effective, if slightly clinical, road devourer. The meaty yet quick steering is confidence-inspiring and makes accurate placing of the car an intuitive affair, and the body control lent by the DCC is exceptional. As with the RS245 and Mk8 GTI though, the crowning glory is the limited-slip differential, which mitigates any trace of untidy wheelspin as you power out of corners, a trait which the old GTI sometimes frustrated me with.
It’s not as boisterous and playful as the new GTI – for example the rear end is much less willing to slide and assist with the car’s trajectory into corners, and the ESC can’t be fully deactivated – but then the Octavia RS has never been that sort of car. With a longer wheelbase and a significantly roomier body, the Octavia RS has always been a more mature, sensible kind of performance machine than an out-and-out thriller. Think an evening out at a chic bar rather than a night of balls-out debauchery at Zouk and you’ll get the idea.
Add to that the copious amounts of practicality built into the liftback body and 600-litre boot (the GTI can only muster 380-litres, remember), and the fact that it costs a whopping S$40k less than the Golf, and it’s not hard to see the Octavia RS’s appeal, even in the short time we had with the car. A full road test will reveal more, but for a brief first impression, I don’t think there’s a lot more to add to make a car more complete than this.