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First drive: Skoda unleashes Octavia RS230

Manual labour: The Skoda Octavia RS230 adds extra oomph to already-potent package, but manual-only spec may narrow its appeal.

Hot Octavia RS scores more herbs and tricky diff Skoda Australia is interested

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Skoda logo17 Sep 2015

By TIM ROBSON

HOT wagons are a thing with Volkswagen Group at the moment – and it’s a heartily commendable sentiment.

Skoda’s already excellent Octavia wagon is made even better with the addition of an RS moniker, and it’s showing on the sales floor, with a six-month waiting list for the spec and colour of your choice.

The RS package, in essence, mimics that of Volkswagen’s Golf GTI, with the potent EA888 2.0-litre four-pot turbo under the bonnet, a multi-driving mode switch in the cabin and a great chassis bolted underneath. In load-lugger guise, it simply adds a breadth of flexibility to an entertaining package.

The RS230, launched at the Frankfurt motor show, takes that package and breathes on it just a little, via a little more noise, a little more power and, more crucially, an updated front limited slip diff.

Australian-spec cars already get an electronically operated mechanical limited slip diff, but this unit – as fitted to the VW Golf GTI Performance – is an electro-magnetic locker that can instantly send 100 per cent of its torque to the wheels with the most grip. Put simply, it allows the feisty Octavia to get its mumbo down in a more meaningful manner.

The exhaust, meanwhile, sports a new pair of mufflers and a reconfigured rear section for a bit more aural theatre.

The engine upgrade is in line with the distinction between VW’s Golf GTI and GTI Performance twins an ECU remap nets the Octavia RS seven more kilowatts, no more torque and nips a tenth of a second off the car’s 0-100km/h time to 6.7 seconds when teamed with a manual gearbox.

Yes, a manual gearbox. While GoAuto tested the RS230 with a six-speed DSG, the word from Skoda Australia is that the RS230 will arrive in Australia in 2016 in limited numbers and in manual guise only.

The rationale is that Skoda’s performance-preferring punters are more likely to plump for a self-shifter when selecting a car for themselves. Having tested the manual RS on home soil, it’s proven itself to be an excellent package, and one that suits the marketing brief to a tee.

“We’re very interested in adding the car to the local line-up,” said Volkswagen Australia public relations manager Kurt McGuiness. “If it’s confirmed, it won’t be a limited edition, and the desire would be to replicate what we have (specification and price-wise) at the moment.

“Think about the jump between the VW Golf GTI and GTI Performance.” Mr McGuniess added that Skoda is very good at packaging and getting the price right for the local market, but that a lack of DSG choice is not down to the Australian office.

“It’s a limitation imposed by the factory,” he said.

The only problem with this argument is that the DSG actually exists, and is very good. Combined with shift paddles, the combination is every bit as performance-orientated as the manual, but crucially allows the owner to slip it into D, switch the drive mode selector to Normal mode and waft along with the traffic in comfort.

Visually, hints of black set the RS230 apart, with an all-black grille, a black roof, rear-view mirror caps and a set of bespoke colour combo 19-inch wheels. Inside, there’s a flat-bottom steering wheel, while the rest is straight RS spec.

This, in itself, is no bad thing at all. The RS is individual, comfortable, practical and rapid, and adding a little more to the mix only enhances it.

It’s not much bigger than a Golf, but it feels substantial and resolute, with excellent balance front to rear, great suspension control and confident handling. The power being propelled through the front tyres is harnessed more effectively with the new diff, though the engineers have still allowed the fronts to scrabble and chirp for traction if the loud pedal is thumped hard enough.

The large 19-inch rims and subsequently low-profile tyres can nibble at the steering wheel on rougher tarmac, while the Skoda’s lane-keeping control can also add a strange feeling to the steering. Switch it off, however, and the electric steering weights up well and provides good, if not Lotus-like, levels of feedback.

Practically speaking, both the sedan (with its large hatch tailgate) and wagon are larger and more practical than a regular five-door hatch, and its distinctive looks are a huge selling point.

There’s no word as to when Australia will see the RS230 – and indeed, whether it will even be called a 230 (a number than applies to the car’s horsepower rating). Octavia RS Performance, perhaps? No word, either, as to how much the mechanical additions will add to the RS, which starts at an incredibly reasonable $37,590 plus on-roads in manual sedan form, or $39,090 in wagon guise.

Rightly or wrongly, its manual-only status will naturally limit its appeal. This, of course, will suit a cross-section of buyers, 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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