Skoda Octavia vRS 230 Estate 2016 Road Test

Any hot hatch worth its salt has to boast a huge outright power figure these days. So it seems. Just look at the Civic Type-R. The old car had 200PS and was more than quick enough for most, yet the new model boasts a mammoth 310PS. Is that immense figure really necessary in a hatch? Or is it something for men in pubs to boast about how much horsepower their car has. We suspect the latter.

Skoda has resisted going down this route with the Octavia vRS. Despite boasting 220PS as standard we've always stopped short of labelling it a 'hot hatch'. It's much more than that. True it may not have the raw edge of a Focus ST or the engaging handling of a Civic Type-R, but the Octavia vRS is an outstanding all-rounder when it comes to blending ride comfort, everyday practicality and strong performance. Plus many owners appreciate the more understated styling.

But has Skoda finally been bitten by the power bug with its new vRS? Well not quite. As its name suggest, the vRS 230 only gets an extra 10PS over the standard car. That's enough to make this the most powerful car to ever wear the vRS badge - but in the world of performance hatchbacks, it's pretty ordinary.

What the vRS 230 does get is a new electromechanical front locking differential. It's the same system used on the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance - a car which the vRS 230 basically mirrors. This diff can direct 100 per cent of the engine torque to either front wheel if needed. The idea being that it gives you more traction when exiting a slow corner.

Skoda Octavia V RS 230 (10) (1) 

So does it make a big difference? Well compared to a standard vRS you won't notice any big change when you're nipping to Sainsbury's with the kids in the back. After all, while the vRS is a sporty Octavia - it's still an Octavia - a practical family car. But if you get the opportunity to drive the vRS 230 with a bit of gusto, the front diff comes into its own.

It gives you far more confidence coming out of a slow corner, with better traction meaning more power transferred to the road rather than being lost through a spinning front wheel. As a result the 230 is more grippy and surefooted, helped further by a 13mm (12mm in the hatch) lower ride height. This also has benefits in high speed corners, where the vRS 230 is mightily impressive for what is essentially a big estate.

Like the standard vRS there's a positive-shifting six-speed manual gearbox as standard or a DSG automatic as an option. We'd always go for the manual over the DSG - it suits the vRS well and is more reliable than the dual-clutch DSG which has been plagued by problems. That said, the DSG does have its strengths with super-rapid shifts, but choosing it increases the 0-62mph time from 6.8 seconds to 7.0 seconds (in the Estate), while economy also suffers.

While the new front diff makes a difference, the 10PS is barely noticeable in everyday driving. Which is hardly surprising. The extra power is more a token in order to differentiate this from the standard vRS and make it seem distinct enough to justify the extra outlay. In case you do forget, it has '230' stickers down the doors, just for good measure.

Skoda Octavia V RS 230 (9)

What the vRS 230 does get is plenty of extra standard equipment to help justify the additional £2100. This includes the Amundsen touchscreen navigation system, electrical door mirrors, privacy glass plus leather heated vRS sports seats that are also electrically adjustable - things which are optional on the standard vRS. Aside from that, the interior is identical with the same quality feel, good fit and finish and a great driving position with lots of adjustment.

To make it stand out, the vRS 230 gets the 19-inch Xtreme alloy wheels (in black rather than the grey available with the normal vRS) plus black mirrors caps, grille and roof rails.  This is of course available on the standard vRS as the Black Design Package plus for an extra £800. Those in the know will also spot the black exhausts and the black 'v' on the vRS badge rather than the standard grey. 

All that does help to justify the increase in price, with the vRS 230 costing £26,350 for the hatch and a further £1200 for the Estate. The only disappointment is that while Skoda has given the vRS the option of four-wheel drive - like the Golf R - it's only available with the TDI engine and DSG gearbox.

Is it worth the extra? Well the new diff will certainly find favour with keener drivers and the fact the 230 is a more exclusive model gives it some added allure for vRS aficionados. It's still good value against the competition too, especially the estate which has few natural competitors aside from the Ford Focus ST. If you want the best the vRS has to offer - this is it.

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