Skoda Octavia vRS 4x4 review - does extra traction equal extra fun?

The practical Octavia vRS and vRS estate get the option of all-wheel drive, for a £1450 premium. Is it worth the extra?

This is the same Skoda Octavia vRS we know and (if not quite love) admire, with an extra pair of driven wheels.

Skoda sells more compact all-wheel drive vehicles than any other company in Europe and the all-wheel drive vRS adds extra traction to the car's existing qualities, such as a handsome design, enormous interior, and high levels of equipment.

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Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

The bad news is that the Octavia vRS 4x4 is only available with the 181bhp 2-litre diesel powerplant, rather than the punchier, smoother petrol unit. This is a sensible move of course, as the 4x4 is already a niche model and it’s more likely those in the market for a practical, all-weather family car would opt for a diesel variant.

What it does mean is that the Octavia vRS 4x4 can't be considered a kind of value-brand Golf R Estate, which is a shame. It's also DSG-only, so from a driving interaction perspective there’s another dimension missing.

On the plus side, the diesel offers relatively strong performance. The 0-62mph sprint takes 7.6sec, illustrating the extra traction of the 4x4 model - it’s three tenths quicker over that metric than the front-wheel drive car.

Technical highlights

The Octavia's 4x4 system uses VW's latest fifth-generation Haldex setup. In this application the Haldex clutch can direct up to 50 per cent of the engine’s drive to the rear axle, which should be enough to get out of most sticky situations, though it won’t turn the vRS into a wild drift monster either. The vRS 4x4 also uses the Group’s electronic differential on the front axle, which already finds admirable traction from the front-drive models.

What's it like to drive?

Unfortunately, the majority of our time with the vRS took place on a snowy, frozen surface. Great fun of course, but such tests are of limited use when assessing a car's dynamics in a way most customers would experience them. It's great for showing off the behaviour of the 4x4 system though.

Driven briskly on the ice and with ESP intervention engaged, the vRS 4x4 was exactly as safe and undemanding as you’d want a car like this to be. Traction and grip from the all-wheel drive system (aided by a set of Michelin Pilot Alpin snow tyres) is very impressive. Even as multiple Octavias smoothed the surface to an icy sheen, the car proves sure-footed in slaloms, open turns and tight corners.

It’s telling that even in Sport mode with the ESP switched off, the Octavia needs the full repertoire of rally-style techniques to get it to misbehave - using weight transfer to prompt the car to slide, before throwing armfulls of steering lock at the corner and using full throttle to coerce the Haldex to send power to the back axle.

There are no Focus RS-style ‘Drift Mode’ shenanigans here then, and ultimately it’s a system designed for those who want extra security rather than extra fun. The ice does show up some of the vRS’s other virtues though - while the steering is light, there’s actually a useful amount of feedback, which makes it easy to determine the grip levels available. The diesel lump pulls well too, albeit over a short rev range. It’s a pity the DSG hangs on to gears too long in automatic mode - you’re better-off using the wheel-mounted paddles if you want to make relatively silent progress.

We only got a brief taste of the car on dry asphalt, and the majority of the time it feels much like a front-wheel drive model - albeit one that absolutely refuses to spin its front tyres accelerating hard out of junctions. We’ll reserve final judgement for when we test the car on UK roads.

Price and rivals

The Octavia vRS 4x4 starts at £27,315, a premium of £1450 compared to the equivalent front-wheel drive diesel vRS. The estate body adds an extra £1200.

It remains a value proposition then. Only Ford’s Focus ST diesel estate undercuts it on price, but then the Ford doesn’t offer all-wheel drive. Nor does Volkswagen with its equivalent Golf GTD and GTD Estate, surprisingly - you’d need to opt for the Golf Alltrack, and Skoda has its own (cheaper) Octavia equivalent of that, the Octavia Scout 4x4.

Skoda quotes combined economy of 57.7mpg and CO2 of 129g/km for the Octavia vRS 4x4 - a little short of the front-driver’s 64.2mpg and 115g/km.

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Skoda Octavia vRS review
Skoda Octavia vRS hatchback

Skoda Octavia vRS review

21 May 2020

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