Drive Thru: Skoda Octavia RS

Skoda Octavia RS

Imagine you have your (affordable) dream car and love the joy it brings you. Whether that’s behind the wheel, or simply admiring the gentle shoulder line of its three-door shape. Your car has oodles of torque that make it a delight to drive. There’s enough power to have fun, but not too much to be stupid. Fuel economy, too, is quite good, if you want it to be.

Life is good.

Then, imagine you have to sell the car you enjoy so much! Not because of financial or other outside influences, but simply because impending fatherhood is about to render that svelte three-door shape a bit too impractical for its own good.

This is a predicament a mate of mine recently faced, and while his initial quandary gave him a little displeasure, it’s nice to know that everyone looks like living happily ever after.

Steve’s dream car was his Mk5 Golf GTI (pictured below). Like myself (or my wife that should be), as soon as the three-door option for the GTI was announced by Volkswagen Australia in late 2006, he took his chance to buy the perfect complement to his near mint condition 1985 UK-spec Mk2 Golf GTI. A few months later, when his new car arrived, the first in the country in United Grey paintwork, he was smitten.

If the GTI had to go, then what would prove to be an adequate compromise between driving enjoyment and family-friendly Sunday outings? Given the picture and title at the start of this post, it’s no surprise that Steve opted for a Skoda Octavia RS sedan.

Steve's old Mk5 Golf GTI

Skoda Octavia RS

To be honest, for Steve, there was only two choices. You see, he’s a bit of a Volkswagen nut, having owned quite a stable of Volkswagens in his lifetime. The replacement, then, had to come from the Volkswagen group. Peace of mind was paramount, so that meant a new purchase with a similar budget to his old GTI. The two choices were the Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TFSI or the Skoda Octavia RS.

Both models are built on the same platform as the Mk5 Golf and both models feature the same engine as the GTI. The Jetta, only available with DSG, the Octavia, offering the manual option. Both models were tested and, in the end, the feeling of control offered by the sweet 6-speed manual was one of the deciding factors for Steve looking to Volkswagen’s extended family, while catering for his own extending family.

So how does Skoda’s Octavia RS stack up against the Golf GTI? The best way to find out was to take an example of both for a back to back test, and that’s exactly what we did.

AUSmotive.comThe test Golf GTI (my wife’s) is almost a spec-for-spec replica of Steve’s GTI, it has three doors, leather seats and a sunroof. The only difference being some 18” aftermarket alloy wheels on my wife’s car. No matter, this will be a good way to compare the suspension set-ups of the Golf and the Octavia, which rides on 18” rubber as standard.

Out to the hills we went, remembering, we were attempting to see how close, or not, the Octavia RS is compared to the universally respected GTI.

The drive out gave a good chance to see how the cars compared in daily traffic. Initial experience showed that nothing was lost in general driveability. The 2-litre turbocharged engine feels as swift and useable for daily driving chores regardless of the clothes it wears. If anything, I found the Skoda better to drive in traffic as the gearbox felt a touch smoother and slicker than our GTI.

Ride quality between the two, not forgetting the GTI’s 18” aftermarket alloys, was a nudge in favour of the Octavia RS. There was no discernable difference over gentle bumps and road irregularities, but rougher, more severe conditions were less comfortable in the Golf. It’s worth noting that, even with standard 17” wheels, the GTI can be a little harsh in similar conditions. Put the Octavia’s marginally better ride quality down to its slightly higher ride height.

The Skoda’s dash layout is very good and it seems to be at least as well put together as the Volkswagen. The Golf has a definite edge in materials however, and this fact does make the Golf the nicer car to be inside. This is not a real criticism, though, as Volkswagen interiors are generally best in class, or close to. There’s no denying the Skoda’s interior would stack up favourably against any other car in its segment. Perhaps the biggest letdown, and sign of cost saving, is the lack of audio controls on the Octavia’s steering wheel. A few years ago this would not be a problem, but in 2008 it is an oversight when compared to the Skoda’s competition.

The Octavia’s seats, featuring a leather/alcantara combination are supportive enough and while not quite up to the comfort and overall look of the GTI’s heated leather seats, we’re splitting hairs here.

Skoda Octavia RS

Skoda Octavia RS

Skoda Octavia RS

Skoda Octavia RS

Interior room and cargo space give a big tick the Skoda, obviously. Rear seat legroom is a touch bigger, but the boot is where it is at for the family man. And the Octavia’s boot is massive! Plenty of scope to gobble up a pram, the inevitable baby paraphernalia and still leave plenty of room for mum and dad’s things as well. The Octavia also features under seat storage up front, which offers a bit of extra practicality against the MY07 Golfs.

Around town, then, the Octavia is more than up to the task compared to the GTI.

Skoda Octavia RS

When the going got tighter, twistier, and the driver’s pulse started beating faster, the Octavia did a bloody good job of mimicking its more fancied cousin. The Octavia RS is not as accurate on turn-in, but the mid-corner grip offered by the factory fitted 18” Dunlops is nothing short of astounding. If you’ve messed up your corner entry a bit, the mid-corner grip on offer will save you, bringing you back on course with a minimum of fuss. The grip is so good, if it can’t save you mid-corner, then you must have stuffed up your entry speed horribly.

There’s little to choose between the two cars when it comes to braking. Likewise on more open and sweeping corners, where both cars feel planted and surefooted. At legal speeds, anyway.

According to Skoda’s spec sheet the Octavia RS tips the scales at 1400kg, that equates to around a full tank of fuel more weight compared to a manual three-door GTI. The extra weight doesn’t show, nor the extra bodywork hanging over the rear axle. In fact, if you could drive both cars back to back while blindfolded, you’d be hard pressed to pick the difference.

Skoda Octavia RS

Skoda Octavia RS

Skoda Octavia RS

Despite the closeness in driving experience the GTI does have the edge, and it does offer more confidence. This is to be expected, of course. What is pleasing, from Steve’s point of view, is just how close the Octavia RS is compared to his old GTI.

From an independent observer, all that remains to split the cars is the price. With the Mk6 Golf on the horizon in 2009 and the new GTI to follow, most likely in 2010, you can no longer buy a regular Mk5 Golf GTI in Australia. Those still wanting the GTI experience need to go for the Pirelli edition, while stocks last.

At the time Steve collected his GTI (April 2007) the base price for a standard three-door model was $38,490, leather seats and sunroof added an extra $4880 to the equation. Comparatively, the Octavia RS sedan starts from $37,490. The even more family-friendly wagon options costs $39,490. The Skoda v Volkswagen pricing is pretty close in other words. Too close? Possibly, although, those looking to buy a three-door GTI are not necessarily in the same group as those looking to buy an Octavia RS sedan, as this article proves. More pertinently, the closest match from the Volkswagen range is the Jetta 2.0 TFSI—with DSG transmission only—which retails for $39,990.

Skoda Octavia RS

Skoda Octavia RS

One might expect the price differential between the Volkswagen and Skoda brands to have a bit more daylight between them. Even if Skodas come with a more impressive three year/unlimited kilometre warranty, compared to Volkswagen three year/100,000km offering. A case of badge snobs need not apply for Skoda ownership, one may suspect.

Badge snobbery aside, the Octavia RS is an immensely capable car. The rear boot and generous interior space allow it to swallow up the demands of a small family with ease. Importantly, as we discovered, the Octavia RS is also a lot of fun to drive once the kids are tucked up in bed and a winding road beckons.

As a nice postscript to this story Steve’s partner gave birth to a healthy boy a week or so back. Mum and bub are in tip top condition, safely home from hospital. Steve and his new family can now look forward to many miles of entertainment ahead.

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Skoda Octavia RS