In 2013 Skoda launched probably its best vRS yet – does the Octavia still stack up a decade later?
By Matt Bird / Friday, 27 October 2023 / Loading comments
It made total sense for the third-generation Skoda Octavia vRS to make its global dynamic debut at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed. We Brits can’t get enough of sporty Skodas, the combination of strong performance, keen pricing and no-nonsense sensibilities so often a winner for a nation of pragmatists. Perhaps it would never be the star of the show at the Duke’s garden party, but taking the vRS to Goodwood got it out in front of a clued-up audience – i.e. exactly the kind of buyer that Skoda attracts.
The recipe for Mk3 vRS was familiar from its predecessors, and had plenty in common with the contemporary VW Golf as well as a good chunk of power – 220hp. The key this time was the switch in architecture, the old PQ35 platform of the previous Octavia switched for VW’s MQB modular toolkit, which made for a lighter yet larger family hatch. The equivalent Golf GTI made significant strides forward from Mk6 to Mk7 – the same was true for the Octavia.
A new engine came in – the now ubiquitous 2.0-litre EA888 turbo – which, though only adding 20hp, improved efficiency; those fresh underpinnings made it a noticeably keener steer; and the new Jozef Kaban-penned design gave the vRS a more confident, assertive look. ‘Business as usual then. And business is good’ was the PH verdict back in the day. There were petrol and diesel engines offered, manual and auto ‘boxes, hatch and wagon – a vRS for all.
There was a facelift in 2016, which brought a new front end that looked quite a bit like a W212-era Mercedes E-Class and 10 more horsepower for the vRS, soon followed by the vRS 245. The 230 saw the Octavia get the VAQ locking diff technology as had been found in the Golf GTI Performance Pack, while the 245 introduced the option of the seven-speed DSG.
Perhaps the first thing to note about this particular vRS – a very late 245hp car – is how much less annoying it is than a new model. There was an optional Virtual Cockpit by this stage, which feels of limited benefit, but also knobs, and dials, and buttons… for something to deal with every single day, this still feels like the better solution. If, inevitably, a tad less snazzy than something brand new.
Those after an automatic vRS would do well to seek out a facelifted car with the seven-speed – it’s the superior transmission. Still not flawless, with cheap paddles and an occasional reluctance to change down, but a big improvement on the six-speed for responsiveness. It complements the Octavia’s fuss-free nature almost perfectly – stick it in drive, go fast, don’t think too much about it. While carrying a wardrobe.
Do think about the drive, however, and there are things to appreciate. The vRS feels lighter and more agile on its feet than the chunky frame might lead you to believe, for which the sub-1,400kg kerbweight can surely be credited. The ride on the optional 19-inch wheels (but without the DCC dampers) is more than acceptable as well. A tad choppy at low speed and not the last word in absolute control, but well suited enough to both cruising and bruising. The modest mass ensures it accelerates nice and briskly, too, a solid 273lb ft wodge of torque working wonders for mid-range muscle.
While instinct would suggest a later car with the VAQ would be worth having, it’s not quite the gamechanger that might be hoped for. In greasy conditions there’s more fight from the front end than we’ve become used to with the best FWD cars, doubly frustrating when a flare of wheelspin then convinces the gearbox it needs to change up. The brake pedal can be a tad snatchy, too.
Up to a point then, the vRS is a really sorted car to hustle along, though it certainly has a comfort zone. The modes don’t really help the situation, either, feeling quite binary in their approach and not doing much for confidence: the throttle pedal is on or off, the steering heavy or light, the sound muted or overbearing. There are elements of the newer vRS – chiefly a better-controlled front axle and more finesse to the settings – that have improved this.
But play to the Octavia’s strengths (be patient with the throttle, basically) and it remains a satisfying steer. Not least for its ability to get something this genuinely humongous (590 litres of boot space, dontcha know) down a road at genuine hot hatch speed, while able to (almost) tour like a large saloon as well. Even on this brief refresher drive, the vRS feels like classic sporty Skoda: not exactly unforgettable, but probably very hard to replace as a do-it-all performance car. Especially with all of them out of warranty now – a whole world of tuning options is your oyster…
Definitely. There’s very little reason not to. Nothing else is capable of as much under one roof for the money as an Octavia vRS, which is why the model was so popular in the first place. That it boasts handsome looks and a logical interior in its favour only makes its case stronger. The Mk4 is a better car to drive, but this one arguably nails the unpretentious yet unputdownable vRS thing more emphatically.
To that end, in fact, we’d probably seek out a pre-facelift model to get the most out of this vRS generation. The original look is somehow less attention-grabbing but more stylish, and there’s no danger of the interior having been optioned with gimmicks either. It’ll be down a bit of power, but not a noticeable amount. And more is only an ECU flash away.
Whether you should go without the VAQ of the 245 model is a tougher call. It must be improving traction, however the fact a VAQ-equipped car still struggles to put power down makes it feel less than essential. And a vRS isn’t really about on limit thrills, anyway. You’ll live without – go easy on the gas in the lower gears and keep the front tyres fresh.
Though the years since this car was replaced with the Mk4 have wreaked havoc on the used car market, they can still look relatively good value. This run-out Challenge edition wagon from 2019 is loaded to the gunwales with kit, comes in the good green, is low mileage and costs £22k; for £10,000 less than that something like this handsome, early manual estate is available with 70,000 miles. Finally, those after a hatch surely won’t improve on this: a 245hp model, in red, and with the six-speed. There still won’t be much better for £20k to drive home from Glasgow…
SPECIFICATION | SKODA OCTAVIA VRS 245 (2013-2019)
Engine: 1,984cc, turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive (7-speed DSG optional)
Power (hp): 245@5,000-6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 273@1,600-4,300rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,445kg [EU, including 75kg driver]
MPG: 42.8 (NEDC)
CO2: 150g/km (NEDC)
Price new: £27,595 (2017) Price now: from £6,000 (diesel), £8,000 (220hp petrol), £15,000 (245hp petrol)
- Skoda Octavia vRS (Mk3) | PH Used Buying Guide
- 2022 Skoda Enyaq iV vRS | UK Review
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