Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - RS TDI 5-dr hatch
Engine response, quick, smooth shifting DSG transmission, handling and ride balance, interior packaging, value
Room for improvement
Firm seats an acquired taste, lack of features such as steering-mounted audio/cruise controls and paddle shifters, question over resale value
29 Apr 2009
By PHILIP LORD
ALTHOUGH by no means the first to do it, Skoda’s turbo petrol Octavia RS launched in 2007 offered a family liftback and wagon with elements of sports hatch but with more room than any hot hatch could deliver.
The Octavia provided the necessary kilowatts via the turbo-petrol four, deep bumper spoilers, big wheels, bolstered seats and, of course, the option of lurid colours plus loads of room inside in either liftback or wagon guises.
The RS also rated high on safety and Volkswagen quality, while a bargain price topped the deal. Yet there was no automatic transmission, and for some, this – and the uncertain resale values of Skoda – was a deal breaker.
Then in late 2008, Skoda introduced a turbo-diesel RS TDI with the option of a DSG automated manual. So is it really possible to provide lazy, two-pedal driving and 350Nm of tyre-squealing acceleration, all in a family-friendly package offering space, low emissions and consumption? Read on ...
The RS TDI became the premium Skoda until the arrival of the Superb in mid-2009. The RS TDI has the same features as the RS 2.0 petrol, but at a $2000 premium. The six-speed DSG automated manual option (at an extra $2300) is the key point of difference.
The bolstered RS front seats feel supportive and not as awkward to get in and out of as some similar sport seats. The bolstering is not sufficiently aggressive that you feel as though you need to lever yourself into the seat, but the seat back can feel overly firm. The rear seat also feels like it needs a cushion – it is firm, bordering on hard – but appears well contoured for two occupants, with plenty of head room and legroom. Like most cars, whoever ends up as the centre occupant in the back has clearly pulled the short straw, with its hard, high perch.
The driver’s view of and reach to instruments and switchgear is quite good, with large, well marked dials and switches. Some, however, are beginning to look a little dated, with the steering column wands originally belonging to something like a Golf IV, and the driver’s door pull again looks as if it was pulled from the Volkswagen obsolete parts bin. Overall, it gives the impression of a quality cabin, but even the uninitiated will sense that something’s not quite right with the lack of cohesion in some of the components in design and feel.
The Octavia’s liftback design means rear vision is compromised, but the view to the front and sides is pretty good. The narrow side mirrors might look good, but they do not have the range of vision that they should. Somehow, they are not deep enough, and a quick glance over the shoulder before lane changing is not something you will want to forget in this car.
Driving a few diesel cars lately serves to remind us that all of them, to a greater or lesser degree, sound more rattly and harsher than petrol cars, but the issue is whether that will get on your nerves and make you feel like you’ve unwittingly bought a car powered by a truck engine.
Thankfully, the RS TDI is on the quieter, smoother end of the scale, and is hard to pick as a diesel when cruising at its 1800rpm tick-over in top gear at 100km/h. While it has the traditional boosted diesel pause off-idle as the turbo gathers momentum, the effect of 350Nm of torque is felt clearly as the tacho swings towards 2000rpm.
The introduction of a large wad of torque is done with some tact, but if you floor it on a 90-degree suburban corner, expect the full wrath of the traction control system as it quickly hoses down the chirping front tyres before they attempt to lay copious amounts or rubber.
While the 1.8-litre petrol turbo is quite linear in its power delivery, it is clear that this turbo-diesel, while not annoying sharp in its torque band, requires some caution when applying throttle.
Get used to keeping the engine on the boil between 2000-3500rpm, as it can be a useful weapon. Shooting for gaps in the traffic or needing a quick, safe overtake are all pretty easy with this car, once you know not to expect a whole lot to happen under around 1800rpm and beyond around 3500rpm. Even though it will extend to its 4500rpm redline, it is happier upshifting at the peak power point of 4200rpm.
We managed to get fuel consumption down to 7.2L/100km in a urban/country mix, but we were not exactly driving for economy. You’d do better on an easy highway run, but in town you might expect to see up to around 8.0L/100km.
The DSG transmission does a great job of swapping cogs, and while slow manoeuvres on inclines are not its forte, it is a good substitute for an auto box.
The Octavia has well weighted steering, responding well, if not with as much feel as it could. The chassis is responsive and the 18-inch tyres grip well, but you get the sense that the steering and suspension of the Mazda6 work better. The Skoda is not bad, but it’s not the best.
Despite the occasional fidgeting on undulations, the firm suspension delivers a good, supple ride, disturbed only by large potholes.
The RS TDI seems to erase any excuse you might find for not owning a performance liftback or wagon. It has the performance, economy, handling, ride and space to be everything to everybody ... except you really need to be a diesel convert to enjoy this car.
For those petrol heads for whom diesel just doesn’t cut it, at least Skoda can sell you a 2.0 TFSI-powered RS.
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