Power to the people: How the Octavia RS has become 'a car for the plumber and the barrister'
First drive: Skoda Octavia RS
For some reason the Skoda Octavia RS crosses divides other cars can't manage. It seems to have hit on a sweet spot between practicality and performance.
Regardless of occupation or location, people want one. Skoda say buyers range from "plumbers to barristers and from students to pensioners".
I was surprised to learn as many as 470 are bought each year. That's 10pc of all Octavias purchased annually.
Hardly a year has gone by that they didn't up the power of the petrol version. However, our interest is almost exclusively diesel and they don't change its power output levels so often, thankfully.
Now they have given the cars a facelift and equipment boost in line with the rest of the range. And they'll be here in advance of 172-reg.
But as far as the 230bhp petrol version is concerned it's kinda out of date already because there is a 245bhp model coming (called the RS 245 naturally) later on in the year. They are bringing in the revised RS230 for June. It will be replaced later on by the 245. But, really, we need only concern ourselves with the diesel (which isn't getting any more power) for now anyway.
The reason I've been driving these cars is down mainly to some technical updates, visual facelifts and equipment upgrades.
And there is a price hike. The 'new' RS will cost around €600 more than the pre-revision model. That starts it from €34,450 for the 2-litre 184bhp diesel. There are DSG and all-wheel-drive versions too.
Expect the 245bhp petrol to cost more again. It all depends on what you want really - the 230 now or the 245 later. You'd never know; they might even have a 260 waiting in the wings by the time the 245 arrives.
For now, however, you get the facelift (new LED headlight and tail lights), upholstery and instrument cluster. Basically it's the same treatment the Octavia hatch/Combi have already received. The RS is 15mm lower than the conventional hatch and, importantly, the rear track is now 30mm wider - which makes a difference - and you can get 19in alloys. Or maybe you'd prefer the Combi (estate) version - from €35,450.
The Octavia Combi Scout, here next month, gets a similar visual and equipment overhaul. Around 150 people buy one of these each year; it's got rugged off-road looks and 4WD so it's popular with those who need pulling power (towing capacity of 2,000kg) and some off-road ability. The 2-litre 184bhp diesel 4x4 with 6spd manual box is usually in highest demand. Prices are up around €1,200 (from €35,495). For Ireland, 18in wheels are standard - they look a million dollars compared with the 17in on test.
They've upgraded infotainment systems in both cars, and claim the new 9.2in touchscreen Columbus is the best in its range.
There is also online ability for news, weather etc while its Care Connect system is an option - it has an emergency call function and remote access to your car through your smart phone.
The fun part of the event was getting to lash the RS230 around a track with most of the driver aids disabled.
That gave it a greater edge and got the old pulses racing a bit - nothing too frantic. It was an impressive drive (by the car) and never once did it feel skittish on a technical, tight course.
I could say the same for stints through the slalom (dry and wet) course but the bold young fellow broke out in me with the 'slippery skid pad' - where contra-steer and a little bit of help from the handbrake made it the most challenging, and enjoyable, drive of the day.
The plumbers who buy RS models would have loved seeing so much water squirting in all directions.
In fairness, the sessions showed the car's engineering in good light.
As did the ease with which the Scout negotiated a moderately challenging off-road route.