2009 Skoda Octavia RS First Drive Review
ALLOWING MOTORING SCRIBES to mercilessly flog your new model for more than three hours at a track is a display of serious confidence in your product.
To launch the new look Octavia RS, Skoda Australia assembled the motoring press at Top Gear Australia’s test track at Camden Airport and let us loose.
There were no real rules, we weren’t asked to take it easy, or “only do a few laps”; it was more a case of “please ring the Octavia’s neck and let us know how you get on”.
So we did, and the Octavia RSs took what we dished out lap after lap, never faltering.
The new Octavia RS has proven that it can handle a beating, but is it really any different to the old Octavia RS?
Let’s take a look at what has changed.
The more things change, the more they stay the same?
The new Octavia RS has felt the sting of the surgeon’s scalpel, and what is best described as a conservative restyle is the result.
There is a new grille adorned with the RS logo, new headlamps - which can be equipped optionally with xenon lights and dynamic angle control - and the integrated headlight washers are now larger.
The front bumper has been redesigned and features a wider and more prominent air intake. The automotive fashion elite will be pleased to note that LED daytime running lights are now standard fitment, while cornering fog lamps can be optioned.
Standard wheels are 18inch Neptune alloys, although buyers can choose from a number of alloy wheel designs. You can also choose between seven paint colours when ordering your new RS.
Is Skoda building a better Volkswagen?
Skoda is known for its conservatively pleasing exterior design. Less well known is the outstanding level of quality seen in every Skoda we have driven, and where you notice it most is on the inside.
The interior is simple, attractive, well executed and beautifully put together. It is very difficult to find fault. The quality of the materials used and the fit and finish are more than you would normally expect from a car in the Octavia RS’s price range.
Setting the new RS apart from the old is a new style of interior trim specific to the RS, or for those who prefer leather, it can be optioned.
The dual-zone climate control air conditioning has also been tweaked and is now equipped with AQS (Air Quality Sensor). AQS constantly measures the quality of the air drawn into the vehicle and, if necessary, automatically switches to recirculating the interior air.
Essentially the new RS has been brought into line with the rest of the Octavia range and benefits from the many detail changes introduced earlier this year.
EQUIPMENT AND FEATURES
Like the Octavia on which it is based the RS features a comprehensive array of active (crash avoidance) and passive (crash mitigation) safety features.
Six airbags, front whiplash optimised head restraints, the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), advanced Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) and Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) and Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD) are all standard in the Octavia RS range.
On the track we found that the ESP was calibrated to allow a little leeway before taking the reins, but ensured that all scribblers in attendance kept the RSs on the blacktop.
In addition to the comprehensive RS standard equipment, the list of options includes numerous possibilities to customise the Octavia RS, including an electric glass sunroof, front parking sensors and the Columbus Satellite Navigation system with 30GB hard drive. Wagon’s can be optioned with ‘privacy glass’ from the 'B' pillar back.
Under the bonnet has seen the least change, with the Octavia RS retaining the same 2.0 TFSI four-cylinder petrol and 2.0 TDI four-cylinder diesel engines. Both are fantastic units and the fact that they remain unchanged is testament to just how good they are.
The 2.0 TFSI in-line four-cylinder petrol engine features computer-controlled high-pressure direct injection, turbocharging and intercooling. Power peaks at an impressive 147kW, which occurs across a 900rpm range from 5100rpm to 6000rpm. Torque peaks at 280Nm and is available from 1800rpm right through to 5000rpm.
The Octavia RS TSI manual liftback accelerates from 0 - 100km/h in 7.3 seconds (manual wagon in 7.5 seconds), lives happily on a diet of 95 RON unleaded, and emits 179 g/km of CO2 (manual liftback and wagon, according to ADR81/02).
The 2.0 TDI is a common rail direct injection engine that produces 125kW and 350Nm of torque (available between 1,750 and 2,500rpm), making it the most powerful diesel engine in the Skoda range.
It is also astonishingly quiet thanks to its relatively low compression ratio and very precise injector control. The 2.0 TDI is capable of taking the Octavia RS manual liftback from 0 to 100km in 8.4 seconds (manual wagon in 8.5 seconds).
Efficiency is the diesel’s forte with the TDI returning a miserly 5.9 litres/100kms (manual liftback and wagon, according to ADR81/02) on the combined cycle and outputs 155 g/km of CO2 (manual liftback and wagon, according to ADR81/02).
Both the TFSI and TDI engines are available with the standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed DSG gearboxes.
The new Octavia RS (like the old) has a reinforced rear body section. Skoda has braced the rear section of the RS sedan and wagon and used laser welding to join the roof to the side of the car. The result is a significant increase in torsional body rigidity.
Suspension has been lowered and features revised dampers and springs. MacPherson struts underpin the front end while the rear suspension is a multi-link design.
The launch program began at Sydney airport, and took us out to the rural hamlet of Camden and Camden Airport, located around 60km Southwest of Sydney’s CBD.
Camden Airport is best known as being the location of Top Gear Australia’s test track. The track uses the main runway as its straight, with a combination of roads and taxiing areas making up the rest of the circuit.
Following a brief familiarisation session we were told to have some fun and had the track to ourselves for the following three hours or so, in our case enough time to sample both the TFSI manual and DSG equipped RS.
It is no secret that the 2.0 TFSI is held in high regard by enthusiasts. It is a beautifully balanced four-cylinder that sings sweetly right up to the 7000rpm shift point we were given on the day.
The manual gearbox has a light and well-defined shift. It’s not a ‘snickety-snick’ rifle bolt action but it is imminently driveable. Combined with a light clutch and predictable ‘take-up’ point the manual is a fun drive.
The DSG equipped car certainly felt quicker as it belted through the gears but being a little old-fashioned, we still prefer the predictability of the manual.
That’s not to say the DSG put a foot wrong; it's a remarkable gearbox and if you can afford the extra $2300 to option one, no-one is going to question the decision. Left to its own devices the DSG was an intuitive drive partner on the track, picking the right gear for any occasion.
The RS was a hoot on the track. That nicely calibrated ESP system allows you to push harder into corners, brake later and seemingly defy the laws of physics through the cone chicanes by allowing you to tuck the front end in at speed without heading backwards into the grass.
Posting a quick time is all about maintaining forward momentum. You can catch the TFSI off the boil in a tight corner, where it will pause for a second as boost builds.
We noticed this in both the manual and DSG equipped cars, where second gear was just a fraction too tall for the speed we were carrying through two of the tighter corners.
Four fast laps would see the front brakes smoking heavily when you pulled into the pits, but there was no let-up in the way they performed.
Towards the end of the day a spongier brake pedal was evident (during the hot lap sessions) but the two cars being cycled through the hot lap program were given no quarter and no rest.
We picked a DSG equipped TDI for the trip back to Sydney Airport and had a brief taste of what the diesel RS has to offer. The big difference is torque and while the diesel runs out of puff just as the petrol is getting into stride, it swings a knock-out blow lower in the rev-range.
There is enough low-down torque in the diesel to unsettle the wheel in your hands under full throttle acceleration. It’s not quite torque steer, but the twitching wheel leaves you in no-doubt that this oiler is well muscled.
On the road, the diesel feels almost as smooth and eager as the TFSI, in fact we found ourselves double checking the marked redlines to confirm that we had indeed jumped into the diesel.
No, the new Octavia RS is essentially not a whole lot different to the old Octavia RS. It's a little sharper on the styling front and benefits from the upgrades introduced to the Octavia range earlier this year, but its a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
The new Octavia RS remains a cracking drive on the road and has proven that it can soak up some serious punishment on the track, all the while being an immensely entertaining drive.
We have a TDI and TFSI booked in for a full review and will bring you a comprehensive verdict after spending more time with both.
Until then we recommend that you finally (for some) put the ‘Skoda communist era’ behind you and take a close look at this beautifully-built, value for money performance sedan and wagon.
Pricing for the new Octavia RS starts at $37,990 for the liftback and $39,990 for the wagon and we suspect that most buyers will also add the optional six-speed DSG gearbox to the mix.
Surely that has to make the Octavia RS some kind of performance bargain?