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Mike Stevens | Nov 14, 2009 | 17 Comments

2009 Skoda Octavia RS Diesel Wagon And Petrol Hatch Road Test Review

“Škoda... one word; Octavia... next word.” I correct a friend of mine for the third time that morning. He has a habit of referring to the white Octavia RS parked in front of our breakfast venue as a “Skodavia.”

He's mucking around, but there's a harsh reality in the jest. Any newcomer to the Australian market - like Škoda - has to build both brand awareness and trust, while also trying to get across a message about its model range.

From a standing start, in this kind of crowded - and sceptical - market, defining "well, what the hell is it?", isn't easy.

Fortunately, while this may not be Škoda’s first foray into Australia, it is certainly the one that holds the most promise.

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With the backing of the powerful Volkswagen Group, the Czech brand now offers a level of quality that seriously challenges the parent company's products, with pricing that places it at the pointy end of Euro offerings.

And Australians are starting to catch on. While it's early days, more and more Octavias are gracing the streets of our metro centres.

With a mildy refreshed Octavia RS now available, we put two variants through their paces to determine what kind of appeal the manual-equipped turbo-diesel wagon and DSG propelled turbo-charged petrol hatch offered.

 

Styling

For a car that could hardly be described as controversial, the Octavia certainly manages to divide opinion.

Some may find the conservative lines handsome and comforting, others will fail to be thrilled by a look that is less then cutting edge.

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There’s certainly an Eastern European vibe to the styling, which includes a few Škoda hallmarks such as the body-colored pillars which blend into the upper door skin, blocky tail lights and Octavia badging integrated into the headlamps.

The bonnet features a heavily straked centre-line, which flows into the middle of the chrome-framed grille and draws attention to the winged arrow badge front and centre.

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As part of the RS package, the Octavia wears a deeper set of bumpers. The rear is set off with a dual-tipped chrome exhaust, while a wide mesh-filled intake in the front bumper, flanked by driving lights and LED running lamps distinguishes the front of the RS.

Together with hunkered down suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels, it’s a look that is subtly menacing.

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The wagon manages to be the most conventional-looking of the pair, but only because of the hatch’s hidden tailgate, blended into the sedan-like lines and topped of with a small rear wing.

 

Interior

Inside the Octavia, the theme of muted European conservatism continues. And as we've come to expect from Skoda, the level of fit and finish is difficult to fault.

The dashboard is laid out logically and in a manner that is pleasing to the eye. Dash and door trims are covered in soft-touch matte black grained plastics and dressed up with brushed-metal spears.

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The seats look almost race-ready with a combination of leather, alcantara and cloth, or optional full leather trim; both of which feature embroidered RS logos on the front and rear seatbacks.

Front seats are equipped with nice deep bolstering, providing plenty of grip through corners. The driver's seat is six-way manually adjustable and finding the ideal driving position is a breeze.

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The rear bench features a degree of sculpting and the standard trim proved itself to be 'grippy' enough to keep passengers comfortably in place.

Those relegated to the rear will have little to complain about with leg-room only becoming tight behind the tallest of front seat occupants.

Large windows provide excellent visibility for those stationed outboard.

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The only tight spot is the centre position in the rear. Thanks to the sculpted pseudo-bucket styling of the rear bench, it can get a little uncomfortable on longer trips.

While the wagon offers a typically wagon-esque cargo bay, with an integrated cargo blind and a variety of cargo tie-down points, the liftback is truly surprising.

Opening the tailgate on the liftback reveals a wide deep opening with 560 litres of available volume (versus 580 for the wagon) and a useful hook to keep shopping bags in place.

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With seats folded, the wagon yields 1620 litres of space, while the hatch grows to 1420 litres, both via a 60:40 split rear bench.

 

Equipment and Features

Straight off the rack, the Octavia RS comes with a long list of standard features.

As well as the aforementioned sports seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, lowered suspension and sports body kit, the RS includes dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake, trip computer and auto headlights and wipers.

The front seats and door mirrors are heated, while the glovebox is cooled. There are map lights front and rear, height-adjustable front seatbelts, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and alloy pedals.

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Standard safety gear includes six airbags, ESP, tyre pressure monitoring (TPM), WOKS whiplash optimised head-restraints, and pre-tensioning front seatbelts.

Optional equipment includes xenon headlights with dynamic angle control, cornering function for the front foglights, front park sensors (to compliment the standard rear sensors), satellite navigation with a 30GB hard drive, a glass sunroof and leather trim.

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Entertainment is provided by a six-disc MP3 compatible in-dash CD player with eight speakers. DSG equipped cars also get a multi-function steering wheel with audio and trip computer controls and shift-paddles.

 

Mechanical Package

The Octavia range offers a range of petrol and diesel engines with the performance-headlining RS offering a high output version of each.

For petrol-heads, there’s a 2.0 TSI turbocharged petrol motor which produces 147kW of power between 5100 and 6000 rpm. Torque comes in at 280Nm between 1800 and 5000rpm.

If the setup sounds familiar it should. The Octavia has the same heart beating beneath its chest as the just-superseded Mark V Volkswagen Golf GTI.

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This engine sees a 0-100 sprint of 7.3 seconds for the liftback and 7.5 for the slightly heavier wagon. Fuel consumption is the same for both body styles at 7.7 l/100 km for the manual gearbox and 7.9 l/100 km for the DSG transmission.

Switch to the RS diesel, and you're sitting behind a 2.0 litre TDI turbo-diesel engine, producing 125kW at 4200 rpm and 350 Nm of torque on tap from 1750 to 2500 rpm.

The RS diesel is not quite as quick off the mark as its petrol-engined stablemate: liftback and wagon sprint to 100km/h from standstill in 8.4 and 8.5 seconds respectively.

Making up for the slight lack of pace, the TDI returns a combined fuel consumption figure of 5.9 l/100 km when teamed with the manual gearbox or 6.0 l/100 km for the DSG.

Those gearbox options include a traditional six-speed manual, or the VW group’s six-speed dual-clutch automated Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG). Both deliver power to the front wheels but do so without the assistance of a limited slip differential.


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Front suspension is provided by MacPherson Struts while the rear end runs a multi-link set up.

Steering is an electro-hydraulic setup and braking is provided by ventilated front and solid rear discs clamped by single piston calipers, painted red for good measure.

 

The Drive

While outwardly there’s little that gives away which engine or gearbox combination sits under the bonnet of each, from behind the wheel the pair couldn’t be more different.

The 2.0 TSI has a muted and almost diesel-like idle, but when pushed takes just a brief moment to gather its thoughts, before belting around to the redline.

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There is a distinct lack of fanfare - so smooth and polished is its performance. It can at times leave you doubting the level of performance on offer. A state of mind quickly cured with a serious prod of the accelerator.

The 2.0 TSI has no qualmes about lighting up a front wheel from a standing start, or even chirping a wheel on the change into second. In combination with the slick-shifting DSG, this is a quick, thrilling and highly-addictive drive.

Cracking the whip over the TSI reveals just a modicum of torque steer as the wheel rocks a little in your hands, but the RS is no wrist breaker... not even close. What you do get is a particular well-balanced feel through the wheel (a deftness of touch) that seems to be a Skoda trait.

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Yes the 2.0 TSI is still one of the world's great engines.

Which brings us to the surprise package: the diesel. Where the TSI hesitates just a fraction before delivering its highly-strung left hook, the TDI just belts you across the chops.

It's a simple case of mathematics. The TDI feeds a hairy chested 350Nms through the front wheels (compared the the TSI's 280Nm) and feels noticeably stronger off the mark than its petrol engined sibling.

The TDI is also an extemely well-mannered diesel engine. Injection clatter and a reluctance to seek out the redline, are two diesel traits not in evidence.

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While on paper the TDI doesn't win the drag race against its TSI sibling (it runs out of breath too soon), it certainly delivers its oomph in a more impressive manner. There is also the added bonus of a very un-diesel like woofling exhaust note above 2000rpm.

The TDI uses less fuel, makes a more rewarding noise (oddly enough) and serves up a more serious dose of 'off-the-line' thrust, so you'd be expecting it to be the pick of this litter?

Not necessarily, as there is a price to pay for that juicy hit of torque. Where the TSI will shake the wheel a smidge to remind you its working hard, torque steer in the TDI is more pesistent.

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Drive the diesel RS with intent, and you can expect the ESP light to strobe itself silly (particularly in the wet), along with regular and vociferous protest from the tyres. If this is your idea of fun, then you'll find the TDI RS a hoot to drive.

On the other hand, the TSI brings some better manners to the table. It has a wider more useable powerband, and is an easier car to drive on the limit. Where the TDI's hard-punching torque can buck you off your line, the TSI simply zings its way to the next gear change.

The gearboxes provide just as interesting a point of difference. The DSG does a good job of acting much like a regular automatic around town, and, when left to its own devices, will quickly search out the most economical gear.

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However it also has lightning-fast reflexes. When extra acceleration is called for, it responds in an instant, kicking down in milliseconds.

Sports mode sees each ratio held almost to the redline, and is really only suitable for the track or the odd lonely mountain road. Unless of course you are a die-hard enthusiast...

The only way to reach a compromise between the two settings is to select manual mode and use either the shift lever or the stumpy paddles hiding behind the steering wheel. We found the shift lever was the easier of the two.

The close ratio six-speed manual is a joy to use, and being conventional guys, we'd take it over the DSG. The shift-action is well-weighted, and the short-travel clutch intuitive in its feel.

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Suspension tune is quite a reasonable compromise between precision and comfort. It's firm enough to induce some bucking over broken bitumen at low speeds, but the trade-off is some seriously confidence-inspiring handling.

There is little separating the handling of the hatch and wagon. The wagon carries a little more weight over the rear wheels, and feels more firmly planted in the rear as a result.

On the open road, wind and mechanical noise remain well-suppressed, but the tyres can become a little raucous on the coarse coatings of most sealed roads.

Visibility all round is excellent. The liftback’s thicker rear pillars are harder to see past then those of the wagon, but few cars can match the Octavia’s all-round ease of vision.

Verdict

We really like the Octavia RS, in all its flavours. If the chatter on TMR is anything to go by, then we are not alone, as there appears to be a growing band of happy Octavia RS owners developing in this country.

Choosing between the diesel and petrol is made easier when you consider the cost. Pricing starts at $37,990 for the manual TSI hatch. The TDI will cost you another $2,000 and the DSG gearbox a further $2,300. If the wagon is your preference then you'll need to find another $2,000.

A manual TSI hatch makes the most sense to us, but we can understand finding the extra dollars and choosing the diesel, the DSG, or even the wagon. There are really no wrong choices to be made here.

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There are however two big decisions the potential RS buyer has to make. The first is choosing the Octavia RS over its close relative, the newly minted 2010 Golf GTI. The GTI is now packing more punch (155kW) than the 2.0 TSI, and an even more sublime chassis than its predecessor.

If five doors are a requirement, the GTI can be had from $40,490. Squeeze into the three door and the fun starts from $38,990. Of course the GTI currently doesn't offer a diesel or wagon option, and it costs more.

The second is choosing a Škoda. Škoda has been working hard to re-establish the brand in Australia, and frankly we are astounded that so many Australians still struggle to separate the 80's Škoda from today's Škoda. As more experience the Škoda product, this will change.

Petrol or diesel, manual or DSG, hatch or wagon; the Octavia RS is beautifully built and a bucket-load of fun to pilot.

A serious value for money proposition and a 'must drive' if you are in the market.

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