Give your­self a lit­tle lift

Skoda adds gloss — and no small per­for­mance boost — to its roomy and prac­ti­cal pair of Oc­tavias

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - RICHARD BLACKBURN CARSGUIDE ED­I­TOR richard.blackburn@news.com.au

SKODA calls its lim­ited edi­tion RS230 Oc­tavia a “toe in the wa­ter” ex­er­cise. The Czech brand is im­port­ing be­tween 70 and 100 ex­am­ples — in lift­back and wagon form — to gauge lo­cal re­ac­tion. It may be­come a fix­ture when the rest of the range is up­dated next year.

The RS230 will be fa­mil­iar to any­one who has driven a Volk­swa­gen Golf GTi Per­for­mance model. It has the same 169kW en­gine (230 horse­power, hence the name) and the same trick elec­tronic “dif­fer­en­tial” to stop the front wheels scrab­bling for grip out of fast cor­ners.

The look is com­pletely dif­fer­ent, though. The Oc­tavia looks like a sedan but its back lifts to free up a more prac­ti­cal load space. Iron­i­cally, the boot is more golf-bag friendly than the Golf, with a whop­ping 568L to the GTI’s 380L (the Holden Com­modore holds 495L). The rear seats are equally roomy, mak­ing the Skoda a tempt­ing propo­si­tion for a Com­modore or Fal­con owner look­ing to down­size with­out sac­ri­fic­ing too much grunt.

And the price is also tempt­ing at $41,990 for the lift­back and $43,190 for the wagon, com­pared with $46,490 for the auto Golf GTI Per­for­mance.

Skoda adds some gloss — lit­er­ally — to the RS to sep­a­rate it from gar­den-va­ri­ety Oc­tavias. The wheels, bootlid spoiler, front grille and side mir­rors are fin­ished in gloss black, while chunky, squared off dual ex­hausts and the oblig­a­tory red brake calipers com­plete the sporty look.

Inside, the lay­out is fa­mil­iar Volk­swa­gen group fare, al­though the heav­ily bol­stered sports seats are fin­ished in leather with red stitch­ing and there’s an RS logo em­bossed into the head­rests. Boy rac­ers will be drawn to the flat­bot­tomed leather steer­ing wheel, al­loy ped­als and door sills with RS lo­gos.

Techno good­ies in­clude adap­tive cruise con­trol, sat­nav, Ap­ple Car Play and An­droid Auto and dual-zone air­con.

The RS230 is avail­able only as a man­ual and Skoda claims a 0-100km/h time of 6.7 sec­onds, two-tenths slower than VW’s claim for the GTI Per­for­mance. Put that down to an ex­tra 80kg of bal­last in the Skoda.

Fuel con­sump­tion is frac­tion­ally higher but still im­pres­sive for a per­for­mance car at 6.3L/100km. Drive it as it’s

meant to be driven and that fig­ure is about achiev­able as a weight-loss claim on the shop­ping chan­nel.

Per­for­mance menus can be di­alled up on the mid­dle screen, as with the GTI. There is a lap timer for track days.

ON THE ROAD

The first thing you no­tice about the RS230 is that it’s pretty civilised in the bump and grind of the daily com­mute. The seat bol­ster­ing is sup­port­ive with­out hug­ging big­ger driv­ers too tightly, while the sus­pen­sion does a good job of in­su­lat­ing oc­cu­pants from poor road sur­faces.

There’s no doubt it’s firmer than the av­er­age small car but it’s not too choppy and doesn’t crash over bumps.

The sport but­ton is best avoided around town be­cause it pipes a fairly un­con­vinc­ing ex­haust noise into the cabin — it’s more ir­ri­tat­ing than ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

On the open road, when the en­gine is in the higher reaches of the rev range, it’s a dif­fer­ent story en­tirely, with a throaty roar that’s the per­fect sound­track for a blast through the bends. The sports but­ton also gives added weight to the steer­ing and makes the throt­tle more sen­si­tive.

Skoda has bor­rowed the “elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial lock” from the VW parts bin and it works well out of lower speed cor­ners. Not re­ally a diff lock, it does a sim­i­lar job, brak­ing in­di­vid­ual wheels to send drive to the one with the best trac­tion.

From the driver’s seat it feels as if you’re sling­shot­ting out of cor­ners. There’s no wheel spin and Skoda also man­ages the power de­liv­ery so the steer­ing wheel doesn’t tug at the hands un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion.

The low-pro­file 19-inch Pirellis give loads of grip and the steer­ing pro­vides plenty of feed­back and good weight for en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ing.

VER­DICT

For­get about dip­ping the toe, Skoda should dive in the deep end and add the RS230 to the per­ma­nent line-up. It’s a great blend of per­for­mance and prac­ti­cal­ity — fun to drive and easy to live with, even though a man­ual might not be ev­ery citys­licker’s cup of tea.

VW’s GTI is a fairly com­mon sight. Here’s some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent for per­for­mance fans to park in the drive­way.

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