Sometimes there are cars that arrive onto the market that are special: cars that pluck your heart strings, surprise you, or amaze you with their abilities. They might not set the sales charts on fire or even set new performance records – and yet, they stand out. An archetypal car of this type is the Skoda Octavia RS. It’s not the world’s most exciting sports car – nor is it the most popular – but across Skoda’s ten year career in Australia, the fun but sensible RS has helped the Czech brand establish a fiercely loyal following here – and the sales are starting to really flow. Across 2017, the brand will sell more than 5,000 cars for the first time – and that’s easy to understand, given how the Octavia RS, and each Skoda, seems to combine good value, pleasant driving manners and strong practicality.
But the RS delivers far more than just pleasant driving manners. The Octavia RS (from $38,890) is the performance model among the small-to-midsize Octavia range – a car that shares a platform, and many components, with the Volkswagen Golf. The RS is effectively Skoda’s version of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, sharing that car’s punchy 169kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and the GTI’s manual and dual-clutch automatic gearboxes. Australians love fast Golfs, so it’s no surprise that this more practical interpretation of the Golf GTI is the most popular Octavia among local buyers. The popularity of the fast Octavia means it makes plenty of sense for Skoda to turn up the wick even further: enter the 2018 Skoda Octavia RS 245.
The RS 245 is a more powerful, better-equipped and commensurately more expensive brother to the stock RS. Essentially based on the Golf GTI Performance – and borrowing that car’s 180kW/370Nm tune of the Volkswagen Group’s EA888 2.0TSI engine – the RS 245 is Skoda’s fastest-ever production Octavia. This isn’t the first time a super-RS has been offered in Australia: the RS 245 follows on from last year’s very limited-edition RS 230, where Skoda dipped a toe into the water by importing 70 examples to Australia, all of which quickly sold (one to my old man).
In fact, the RS 245 hews closely to the RS 230’s formula: there’s more grunt than the standard RS (power is up 11kW, torque by 20Nm) – and there’s more technology to harness that grunt to the ground. Like the RS 230, the RS 245 benefits from a tremendous front-end mechanically locking differential to increase cornering force. The RS 230’s four-colour palette is carried over – it’s a choice between black, red, grey and white. There’s still a choice of station wagon or liftback sedan, but this time, the RS 245 adds the option of a seven-speed dual clutch automatic into the mix; the RS 230 was manual-only. And, critically, the RS 245 is not a limited edition; it is a permanent addition to the Octavia range.
Naturally, adding power and a differential means a considerable price increase over the attractively-priced Octavia RS, which starts at $38,890 for a manual liftback. There’s a $4,500 premium to get into an RS 245, which kicks off at $43,390, with the handsome wagon body style that over 70% of Octavia customers opt for adding a further $1,500 to the tariff. All up, choosing a DSG-equipped RS245 wagon that earns more than 50 percent of overall Octavia RS sales – costs $47,390 plus on-road costs.
The RS 245’s price premium also buys a little more equipment than a standard RS. The 245 adds in sexier 19-inch alloy wheels, leather-alcantara seats with electric adjustment, and memory for the driver, and auto-folding mirrors. That’s on top of the stock RS’s adaptive LED headlights, 9.2-inch touchscreen with navigation, CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, AEB, and active cruise control. Outside, you’ll find RS 245-specific blackout trim elements, but the absence of a true ‘halo’ colour means that the Octavia’s Q-car status is totally unthreatened. Pull up to the lights and nobody will suspect the performance on offer. It’s little surprise that several Australian state police forces are considering the RS, where the model’s subtlety gives it a key advantage.
However, the RS 245 misses a few key features. Certainly, an electric tailgate ($500) should be standard, and the relegation of some desirable features into two broad option packages limits the ability to pick and choose features. It’s surprising to find that keyless entry and start is not standard – a buyer must add the $2,300 Tech package (which also includes a 10-speaker Canton stereo, automated parking and adaptive dampers) to be able to unlock and start the car without a physical key. There’s also a $1,500 Luxury package that includes heated front and rear seats, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring. Skoda tell us that 80% of Octavia RS buyers choose both packages, driving the average transaction price towards $50,000 territory.
So, with facts and figures dealt with, what is the Octavia RS 245 like on the road?
Like the standard RS, the RS 245 isn’t a precision scalpel designed to chase a Lotus down the Stelvio Pass. This is a practical family car that happens to be much faster, and better to drive, than most of its rivals. Producing 180kW/370Nm, sent through a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch, the RS245 is quick. Skoda claims a 0-100km/h time of 6.6 seconds for the DSG (+0.1 seconds with the manual), but the RS 245 feels quicker than this thanks to abundant torque across the rev range: the 370Nm peak lasts from 1,500rpm all the way to 4,300rpm, and by then, you’re really moving. Unlike turbo engines of old, the RS 245’s is linear and relatively lag-free. The engine makes a pretty nice noise, though the fake sound in the car’s sport mode is a bit too much for us.
The car’s local launch was held at the Farm, a private track on the NSW central coast, where we were able to really dance around the RS 245’s limits – and those limits are appreciably higher than the standard Octavia RS, thanks to the 245’s mechanical limited-slip differential at the front, as opposed to the torque vectoring by braking on the standard RS, which attempts to imitate a true differential. The real diff means you’re able to put the RS 245’s power down much earlier, relying less on the tyres on corner exit. While understeer remains very possible when entering corners at stupid speeds, the RS245 makes for a very entertaining family car. For starters, it’s very light on its feet, especially in the sedan, which at 1,391kg, shades the wagon by 50kg. While steering isn’t the last word in feel, it’s communicative enough to know what the front wheels are doing at any given moment.
The RS245’s two gearboxes are impressive as well. The new seven-speed dual-clutch auto is much more intuitive than other examples in the Volkswagen Group, and while the DSG is quick at shifting gears, the manual feels the quicker of the pair – perhaps because of its wider spread of ratios, allowing you to feel the full torque curve when riding the thing. Having said that, the arguably most impressive aspect of the RS245 is its ride quality, something you cannot say about the Subaru Levorg – the wagon’s major rival.
Despite large 19-inch hoops, the Octavia offers a firm but composed ride, one that makes you question the need for adaptive dampers, which have shifted to the available equipment list for the first time on an Octavia. This car rides so well that low-end Octavias – which feature much smaller wheels and less sophisticated rear suspension – feel less composed. Road noise has been improved, though the RS 245 is still not quiet inside, though nor are lesser Octavias. At least the RS 245 can blame its big wheels and sporty exahust for the din.
Pulling over gives an opportunity to take in the Octavia’s static attributes. Despite this car’s slender external appearance, the massive cabin and 568 litre boot (588 litres in the wagon), expanding to 1,558 litres with the seats folded, shows up several SUVs for sheer utility. In the back seat, six footers have more than enough room. The volumes on offer don’t tell the whole story; this is a Skoda, so there are a number of clever practicality solutions, from protection netting in the boot, a dual-sided rubber and carpeted boot floor that hides an umbrella underneath. In the cabin, the ‘simply clever’ touches extend to a bin in the driver’s doorcard, bump grips in the doors to help open a bottle with one hand, and, with the Tech pack, Qi wireless device charging.
The Octavia’s cabin is a well-made affair. The plastics used throughout are a shade less plush than those in the more expensive version of this car – the Volkswagen Golf – but they are superior to the Volkswagen Tiguan SUV, which has too many hard surfaces. The Octavia features plenty of soft-touch materials, and the leather upholstery on the seats and steering wheel feels expensive – maybe nicer even than in the equivalent Volkswagen.
Technology-wise, the Octavia received larger touchscreens earlier in 2017, and the RS sub-range all feature the superior 9.2-inch size. This screen is large, and offers a beautifully crisp resolution – it’s a big improvement on the previous 8-inch unit in the pre-facelift Octavia, though the lack of a physical volume knob and a lack of physical shortcuts (that the smaller 8-inch unit features) limits functionality somewhat. The navigation is easy to use and projects directions on the driver’s information display, though we wish the Octavia was available with a fully-immersive digital driver’s display like Volkswagen’s Active Info panel.
Overall, the RS 245 is a worthy addition to the Octavia range. It builds on the Octavia RS’s existing strengths – ace practicality, a roomy, quality cabin, and a long list of equipment – by adding even more sportiness. In particular, the 245’s peach of an engine, and well disciplined ride quality, allow it to outshine its competitors. It’s no wonder Skoda sell every Octavia RS they get their hands on: the waiting list is, in fact, quite long. In fact, the RS 245’s biggest problem is actually the existence of the standard Octavia RS, which is already so good we question whether we’d swallow the additional $4,500 premium of the 245. Regardless, the Octavia RS 245 feels special, and those buyers graduating out of a Mazda MX-5 or Golf GTI – two cars Skoda names as common trade-ins – need not worry about losing a sense of fun in this practical vehicle. The RS 245 provides fun and practicality in spades. Practical and sporty? The Octavia RS 245 does it all for a reasonable price.
Key specs (as tested)
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