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Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - RS230

Our Opinion

We like
Quick, comfortable, well-equipped sedan and wagon combo with a bit of personality
Room for improvement
Manual-only stance will limit its audience

10 Nov 2016

IT’S been a while coming, but Skoda has finally managed to land a handful of the brand’s most potent car to date, the Octavia RS230.

So named for its horsepower output, the RS230 will only ever be seen in limited numbers locally Skoda Australia managed to source just 70 from an application or 100 – and ideally it wanted twice that number.

The RS moniker for the Octavia has been a successful one, with more than 40 per cent of the total sales of the mid-sizer being the more sporting derivative.

But why just a manual? Skoda Australia tells us that the six-speed DSG option isn’t available to us, thanks to our designation as a ‘hot-weather’ territory.

It’s an odd one, this hot-weather discrimination ostensibly it’s designed to protect turbo engines against lower-grade fuel, but it’s the first we’ve heard of a gearbox not making the grade.

It’s not like the RS230 is massively more powerful, either. Just seven kilowatts are added via an ECU retune, while a new rear section of exhaust that incorporates a new pair of mufflers has also been added, and may well liberate a kilowatt or so.

No extra torque is provided on top of the 350Nm of the stock car, either, though the delivery curve is, according to Skoda, longer and flatter, and tops out 200rpm higher (1500-2600rpm)Australian-spec RSs already get an electronic diff, but the RS230 gets an electronically activated mechanical locker. Put simply, it allows the feistiest of Octavias to get its mumbo down through the front wheels in a more meaningful manner.

The EA888 2.0-litre engine upgrade is in line with the distinction between VW’s Golf GTI and GTI Performance twins those seven more kilowatts slice just a tenth of a second off the car’s 0-100km/h time to 6.7 seconds.

The MQB chassis is a great place to start, and Skoda’s engineers have imbued the Czech-built Octavia RS230 with enough character to separate it from other performance versions of the same platform that are sprinkled throughout the VW Group.

The longer wheelbase of the Octavia gives it stability and solidity that sets it aside from the proliferation of hot hatches out in the market for about the same money. It feels like a more substantial car in all respects.

On the road, the RS230 really is an entertaining, accomplished car, no matter the price. Its balance between a comfortable ride and razor-sharp handling is almost perfect, its steering set-up is nigh-on excellent thanks to its mechanical variable-ratio rack and that more talented front diff, and it's quiet, refined and easy to drive.

Braking is firm and fulsome, with large front rotors and sliding callipers giving the RS a firm, meaty pedal feel. You even get painted callipers (but not fancy one-piece multi-piston items, sadly).

The front tyres can chirp and scrabble if you’re too hard on the gas, but the overall balance of the car is dead on target for its RS badge – and that hint of scrabble adds to the essence of the car, in a way.

It’s firmly sprung and damped, but not unduly so, while its roll stability is excellent. It’s lively and entertaining, and a little unruly if you want it to be, but that’s part of the RS’s appeal.

In wagon form, especially, it’s a genuine high-performance sleeper for not much more money.

The interior, too, takes the quality of a typical VW Group product and adds a little Skoda vim. The main difference is the addition of a lap timer to the binnacle screen, and to be honest it’s not really needed in the car. It’ll cut laps at a track day, sure, but it’s more about delighting in the handling rather than trying to reel in Golf GTIs.

Skoda’s interior designers, however, think that everyone must drink espressos or energy drinks, because all eight cup and bottle holders in the Octavia aren’t large enough to take regulation-sized sports water bottles, 1.5-litre bottles or even a slightly oversized coffee cup. It’s a surprisingly annoying blight in an otherwise cleverly appointed car.

Ultimately, the manual-only status of the RS230 will naturally limit its appeal. This, of course, will suit a cross-section of buyers just fine, and the additional specification of the RS230 simply underlines the Octavia RS’s underdog status as one of the smartest everyday performance car buys of the decade.

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