How Skoda's RS diesel 4x4 is smooth rather than startling
This time of year roads are muddy, slippery and wet. No better time to take the first Irish drive in the new Skoda Octavia RS 4x4 diesel (with DSG) across the back roads of Wicklow, Wexford and Carlow.
Any car can feel good on the smooth tarmac that bathes so many kilometres of our national road network now.
The vRS was no different. But I saw no sense in wasting time cruising along. It would be a sin not to see what it could do on mud-slip stretches, coarse road tops and twisty, narrow bends.
The vRS doesn't look like a hair-raising scoundrel on four wheels. It doesn't proclaim its prowess to the world. It's fiercely understated.
Even the gardai at two checkpoints around Tullow, Co Carlow didn't give it a second look. Normally they'd have a word or two about something special like this.
Behind the wheel it is familiar Octavia territory, apart from the specially adorned flat-bottomed steering wheel, the vRS inscripted leather seats and various reminders of its speciality here and there.
There are no blaring noises from the exhausts, no flared nostrils, no pawing at the ground. The petrol version is better at that sort of thing. This just goes. Fast, yes, but not tyre-burning, tail-wobbling cloud-of-smoke fast. Just gone. No fuss and no trouble for me.
Indeed, if I had a criticism after nearly 300kms of demanding more from this, it was that I would have liked more rawness to come through; from the steering, the wheels and chassis. This just swatted aside anything I threw at it - without letting me know really.
Swinging briskly into tight right-handers in misty Wicklow with a treacherous film of mud and recent rain on the road should have felt more difficult. There should have been a shimmy, an uneasy imbalance. There wasn't. That of course is the benefit of all-wheel-drive - they prefer to call it 4x4. You don't get too many hatchbacks with it - don't forget the Octavia is big family car primarily - but what a wonderful ally it can be. I hadn't a moment's concern the entire drive. It's a real grip and traction boost.
And I did not spare the horses, within legal limits and where safety permitted, but there was no unsettling this. Hard braking, swift direction change; still no nervousness. Just a long curve of pulling power and loads of muscle at the end of the accelerator. I used the shift paddles on the steering wheel a lot; it's a great way of generating energy and involvement and was a bit better than the sometimes slightly lethargic kick-down on the 6spd DSG.
Maybe I missed or expected more. This was almost too capable. What a strange criticism, I hear you say. It's really a compliment tinged with a little misgiving that it makes everything so ordinary.
One thing is for sure. You can most certainly use this every day for the mundane and mandatory driving chores (loads of rear-seat and boot). It is that low key. And quiet. I hardly noticed the engine even when, bold boy, I had those revs tapping close to the 5,000rpm red line.
I'm told there is a small but significant core of people who have been asking about this car for some time.
The petrol is a better option for those who want the cymbals and drum rolls every time they get in but the diesel is by far the more practical option; you get reasonable performance and still keep your road tax and fuel consumption at most affordable levels.
Ultimately though, it is an vRS and it could do with letting us know that a little bit more.