Given our fuel economy and price conscious nature, carmakers avoid bringing affordable sportscars to India. So whenever we are offered a car that is even remotely sporty, our little circle of enthusiasts welcomes it with open arms. It is no surprise then that the RS version of the Octavia has a big fan following. But considering the uninspiring numbers that the Laura RS sold in India, Skoda is still unsure if the new Octavia RS makes any sense for India. Let alone the RS 230 they have shown this year at Geneva. But we wouldn't miss a chance to drive the car now, would we? On a really cold morning in Prague, with a good eight hours to kill before the unveiling of the new Superb, I got a chance to drive the latest Octavia RS. I drove the car around the Bohemian capital, followed by a quick highway run to reach a small circuit on the outskirts.
Needless to say, the roads in Prague are flooded with koda cars. But surprisingly the RS still managed to attract a bit of attention. It looks similar to the top-spec Octavia sold in India save for the honeycomb grille on the bumper, the spoiler on the boot and the LED tail lights. But it is hard to notice any of that. What you will notice though is the typical placement of the vRS badge (in UK, Skoda sells all RS cars with the vRS insignia) on the grille and a black diffuser at the back with rounded trapezoidal muffler tips on either ends of it. On the car you see here though, only the left side muffler had a functional exhaust pipe behind it. That is because the car I drove was a diesel.
The all-black interior isn't as lively as the rest of the car but features quality materials
You read that right, a diesel RS. It may sound like a ridiculous combination to an RS-purist or a die-hard petrolhead. You may even wonder what happened to my lust for the fast-revving motors and those beautiful exhaust notes? Well, that it is all still there and while I agree that the petrol powered RS, putting out over 220PS of power from its 2.0l motor is still the engine to be excited about, there are three very important figures claimed for the diesel that you just can't ignore. The petrol is the fastest production Skoda with a top speed of 248kmph but the diesel isn't too slow either, managing over 230kmph. If you shift right while getting there, you could hit 100kmph from standstill in a mere 8.1s - about 1.3s slower than the petrol counterpart. Try these runs in the petrol car and the fuel economy figure will probably match the acceleration figure. But the diesel still managed to stay over 13kmpl throughout my time on the track.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is a better match even for the diesel
So you see, the performance of the 184PS diesel motor is practically quite close to that of the petrol, while the 380Nm of torque offers the kind of midrange grunt that the petrol engine cannot match. In fact, the performance is enough (arguably) to tickle the enthusiast in you while at the same time keep your thrifty side happy (somewhat).
The RS sits 11mm lower than the regular Octavia and is suspended by a similar McPherson strut and a multi-link axle combination for the front and back respectively. It is set up stiffer in the RS though and would be completely unfit for the Indian roads. Like any other sporty car from Volkswagen, the ride quality is slightly firm but not jarring. The car also features an electronic differential which mimics the effect of a mechanical differential by applying brakes to both the inner wheels while cornering to improve agility. Despite being a front-wheel-driven car, the Octavia has negligible understeer and on tighter curves you can actually feel the effect of the e-diff. The small circuit that I was driving at was narrow and had too many tight bends. If I were driving anything more powerful (or even the petrol RS for that matter) I probably would have fretted about the circuit's nature. But should we drive this car in India, our weekend drives would be on similar roads. Even then, this vehicle is impressive. But here's the catch. Should Skoda equip this car with the relatively squishy rough road package like it does for all its cars sold in India, then the RS may not be as dynamic; and continuing with the low ride height would simply lead to a lot of underbody scraping to contend with.
The 2.0 TDI enigne is surprisingly impressive in RS guise
The Octavia is built on the same MQB technology platform that also underpins the Audi A3, but the RS feels a lot more involving to drive and more fun no matter what engine you choose. The Octavia's steering has a progressive gearing which makes it quicker and sharper when more lock is applied. So at city speeds you need much less input than you usually would and at higher speeds, it feels nicely weighted and more responsive.
A wheelbase 51mm longer than the A3 also means that the Octavia is a roomier car than the compact Audi. You may not like the all-black treatment of the interiors though. The red patches in the upholstery and faux carbon-fibre inserts do look a tad sporty, but the cabin just doesn't reflect the lively nature of the RS badge. The Alcantara trim in the Laura RS was much nicer in comparison. There are a few new aids in the RS like radar-guided cruise control, lane assist and multi-collision brake. The car has enough performance, but can feel sedate and boring at city speeds and so it has attention assist too.
The RS also lets you choose different driving modes through an RS switch. Eco mode maximises the fuel economy of the diesel motor and sport mode makes for a sharper throttle and steering response. It also comes with a superb exhaust note that is fit for a V6 petrol but unnatural for a diesel. It gets you excited instantly, but then you wonder why onlookers are so indifferent to it. That is because it is a synthesised sound that fills up the cabin through a speaker. To the outside world, this car is still a burbly diesel. But no matter which mode you are in, the RS feels lively and always eager to put a smile on your face. Spend enough time with this car and you will realise that a diesel RS isn't that ridiculous an idea. It has plenty of performance while being economical. And it is this combination that serves as a ray of hope, that the Octavia RS could still make sense for India.