Brawn meets brains
Mid-size wagon blends turbo power with the latest gadgets — and adds more peace of mind
THERE is a new reason to consider a Skoda this week.
It’s a five-year warranty that moves the Czech contender into equal second place in the warranty wars in Australia, equal with Hyundai and only trailing the seven-year standard set by Kia.
The move to back its quality and reliability should improve secondhand values for owners.
The big question now is when — or if — its parent company Volkswagen will also increase its warranty coverage.
We already know Skoda makes very good, reliable cars that are also good value.
After driving the latest Octavia RS Wagon, I can also report that it is seriously sporty while still classy and practical for a family. There is a lot to like and I’m struggling to find anything nasty.
Even so, it’s the extended warranty — now five years with 100,000 kilometres — that could make the big difference for Skoda in Australia.
The Czech contender originally arrived as the junior VW brand, priced to sit below Volkswagen and offering a bit more space and style.
That idea went out the window when a former VW boss decided to cut prices to boost sales of the Golf and Polo,
pulling the rug out from under the Skoda effort.
Now the Czech battle plan is about boosting value, with a strategy of under-promising and over-delivering on cars that really are very good.
The Octavia RS is one of the best, with a 162kW turbocharged engine, frontwheel drive and a roomy station wagon tail that disguises the hot-hatch performance. Think of it as a Golf GTI in a school uniform. It’s not cheap at $41,890, but it is good value and the wagon price needs to be compared with the GTI hatch from $46,990.
The Octavia got a total makeover in June last year, bringing the package up to the standard of the latest Golf but with the usual design differences that give a Skoda — for some people — more personality with the same impressive VW quality cabin finishes. It also arrived with up to $4300 worth of value improvements.
Significant additions to the standard specification included auto safety braking and radar cruise control on all Octavia models. The basic car also has a rear camera, rear parking radar and smartphone mirroring on the centre screen.
The RS model trumps that with a drive-mode selector, sports chassis tuning, an electronic locking differential and shift paddles for the sixspeed DSG auto.
It’s important to also remember that the Octavia qualifies as a medium-class car where the Golf is only small, thanks to an extra 60 millimetres in the wheelbase.
ON THE ROAD
Very few people know what the Octavia RS is, or what it can do. It flies under the radar in almost every way and even the RS sports pack doesn’t make it a look-at-me kind of car.
It’s smooth, elegant and swift. It will easily handle a trip to the shops but really shines on long interstate runs, where the bi-xenon lamps, supportive sports seats and easy overtaking punch make it a great long-haul friend.
It’s also got a good sound system with excellent connectivity.
The idea of 162kW impresses friends but they really like what they see in the tail, with terrific carrying space, a big flat floor and good flexibility.
The turbo engine does a great job in all conditions and I like the mode selection switch, which allows me to wind back to Eco for commuting then run up to sports for the best throttle response and crispest shifts. It really punches from about 2500 revs thanks to 350Nm of torque, although that sometimes means the electronic differential control struggles to get power to the ground without limiting the engine’s output. The six-speed twinclutch gearbox works well in all conditions, although the plastic
paddles behind the wheel feel small and cheap. It also needs premium fuel.
For me, the RS also needs to be a bit more “special” inside, perhaps something more sporty in the dash and seat trimming, to move it further away from the Golf GTI.
The Octavia RS is a big little car with a big heart that’s enjoyable to drive and just gets the job done.
It’s hard to understand why Skoda is still struggling in Australia.
The Octavia RS is a really good car in a range of really good cars, with Volkswagen engineering and quality but without the stigmas that have hit the German parent company in recent years. It’s a car that does good family work and can also turn on the speed and driving enjoyment.
It definitely deserves The Tick, especially with the warranty change.