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Skoda pulls off an unusual mix of performance and practicality

Octavia RS shows that diesel sports cars aren’t a contradiction in terms

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The new Skoda Octavia RS diesel

The new Skoda Octavia RS diesel

The front cabin of the new Skoda Octavia RS

The front cabin of the new Skoda Octavia RS

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The new Skoda Octavia RS diesel

Diesel engines are big powerful distance machines ideally suited to long-haul, but they shouldn’t be used in a performance car. For real performance, you need petrol. Right? I think most people would concur with those broad statements. There is no doubt that little resonates more with a ‘sports’ car than the rasp and snarl of a powerhouse petrol motor.

Skoda would beg to differ. Skoda? Yes, the upstarts, the cheek of them trying to pawn off a diesel in a performance car. Yet that’s what they’ve gone and done with their new Rally Sport (RS) Octavia model.

I have to say a diesel RS sounds like a contradiction in terms. Surely there are unacceptable compromises? And if you were going to go RS, why not buy the ‘hotter’ petrol version (245bhp versus 200bhp in the diesel). It really is what you’d expect, isn’t it? Petrol equals purr and performance. Diesel equals what?

But before I give you my driving impressions after my recent test drives in the diesel, let’s put some context on this whole Octavia RS thing.

The easiest thing to do is to regard it as a roomy liftback (there is an estate version as well) that is designed to win over those who might formerly have opted for a Golf GTI or GTD.

So what has changed with those buyers? Well, they now require room to accommodate a growing family and their associated accoutrements — as well as the driver’s lingering penchant for a bit of something extra. So it’s a combination of speed and need, practicality and performance.

Call it what you like, the fact of the matter (the figures are there to prove it) is that RS versions of Octavias have been among the most popular buys in its class for years. The previous generation accounted for a decent chunk of sales within the range as a whole. So there is likely to be demand for it.

Just maybe the inclusion of a diesel adds to its real-world relevance (it does, for example, sip just 5.1-litres every 100kms). Practicality abounds. The cabin has the room of the ‘ordinary’ Octavia. The same goes for the boot (from 600 litres to a canyon of 1,555 litres with the back seats folded). There are several stowing slots and, generally, if you didn’t look too closely at the RS sports upholstery, front sports seats, DSG paddles, RS wrapped dashboard insert with red stitching or ‘carbon/black’ decorative inserts, you would take it for a nicely decked-out interior in a well-appointed family car.

Until you press the start button that is. As if transformed, that 200bhp diesel engine sounds like a throaty petrol — thanks to Skoda’s synthesised engine noise, which you either consider part of the RS show and performance or think it false and obtrusive. I, for no reason other than a strong dose of lockdown boredom, fell into the former category (well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). I revved and revved to my heart’s content for the first static minute of making acquaintance. It was a bit childish of me but I quite enjoyed the idea of hearing petrol from a throbbing diesel.

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The front cabin of the new Skoda Octavia RS

The front cabin of the new Skoda Octavia RS

The front cabin of the new Skoda Octavia RS

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All that, rightly, took a back seat when I got this out on the open road. There I discovered an agility that surprised thanks to taut and balanced underpinnings and a snappy, smooth gear change (7spd auto) that I engineered via steering wheel paddles.

It’s got good damping built into the suspension to accentuate clean, sharp steering and true-feel chassis reactions. In other words, it engaged me. I felt confident I could push it hard and not have it get it all agog or cause me handling concerns. It was nothing too extreme, but there was an enjoyable bit of energy transmitted to, and through, the steering.

I have to stress I am not talking excess here. I am talking a brisk pacey drive that showed the car at its best. We are talking 7.4 seconds from a standing start to 100kmh. I can hear some ‘real car’ drivers sniggering at that.

It was, rather, an unusual mix of relaxed and stimulating driving in an unfussy sort of way. It brought a sharp sense of immediacy.

Would I buy it? I’d have to say yes because I took to it straight away. But I also see little reason or relevance for the majority of so-called ‘hot’ cars — where and how do you drive them legally on our roads?

So chalk up this diesel Octavia RS as a victory for moderate rather than petrol-head performance. It won’t set the world on fire but I’d say few cars can bring as pleasing a mix of fun and practicality.

Facts & figures Skoda Octavia RS

Price €42,245; after options €44,219.

2-litre 4cyl diesel 200bhp, 7spd auto, €210 tax, 0-100kmh 7.4 seconds. 5litres/100km.

Spec on test car included electric front seats, 10ins touchscreen display, eight speakers, cruise control, rear-view camera, virtual cockpit, Smartlink, several USB ports, 19ins alloys, Matrix LED headlights, LED tail lights, spread of safety items.


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