It seems it’s bargain performance car month here at Esquire. A few weeks back, we took out the Hyundai i30N, the Korean carmaker’s first-ever performance machine, and now, we have the Skoda Octavia RS245.
Unlike the Koreans, this isn’t the Volkswagen-owned Czech carmaker’s first go at the performance car game, but we’d go so far as to say it’s Skoda’s best one yet.
We know what you’re saying. You’re going, “oh, this is just a VW Golf GTI with a boot and a low-rent interior”, a successor to the now-discontinued Jetta GLI, if you will.
It’s amazing how right, and at the same time, totally wrong you’d be if you thought that way. Allow us to elaborate.
Broadly speaking, the Skoda Octavia is a Golf GTI. They share a chassis, an engine and a good deal of electronics.
But that’s where the similarities end, because while there are a lot of similarities, you’d also find that the Octavia and Golf are completely dissimilar peas in a pod.
For starters, the Skoda has a boot—a particularly large one at 590 litres (against the VW’s 380 litres), accessed through a liftback tailgate, which gives the impression of saloon normalcy while still retaining a hatchback’s monster load aperture.
There’s also a touchscreen infotainment display with a 9.2-inch screen, like the Golf… ish. Unlike the Golf, you’ll have to deal with more rudimentary graphics, and with the Octavia, you’ll also have to do without a fully digital dashboard.
And the materials used in the Octavia are also a bit of a bummer. Sure, you get those fancy Alcantara-trimmed bucket seats, but its cabin gets uncomfortably large amounts of hard black plastics. In more interior bad news, the over-long gearlever looks a little out of place and its shift action doesn’t have the satisfying thunk of the one in the Golf.
Still, it’s hardly bad by any stretch of the imagination, and the only reason it falls short of the mark is because the Skoda has a more illustrious sibling. And against the infotainment system graphics in the VW, the ones used in the Skoda feels, well, low-rent and more than a little rudimentary.
If, however, you can live with a not-as-fancy interior and some bizarre missteps including Skoda’s decision to pipe the engine sounds into the cabin through a synthesiser, the Octavia RS245 is a overlooked gem of a car, easily the performance bargain of the year.
But before we get into that, we really need to talk about that synthesiser, something Skoda calls the Performance Sound Generator. Now, we’d understand if its engine note was reedy or quiet, but the Octavia RS245 has one of the best four-cylinder notes in the business. Even more galling is how the Performance Sound Generator is permanently active in the car’s sportier drive modes. Oh well.
Alright, so anyway, the Octavia. It shares a 2-litre turbo engine with the GTI, though here it produces 245hp against 230hp. But the Octavia will need the extra 15hp, since it’s carrying around over 100kg more than the GTI, so in spite of the bump in power, the former has a worse power-to-weight ratio. Thankfully, its 0-100km/hr time remains identical, at 6.4 seconds.
Enough about on-paper stats, though. You should know by now that only tells a small part of the story. Where the Octavia has a clear edge over the GTI is in how it’s far, far more effervescent, a trait the VW has been steadily losing since the Mk.VI rolled onto the scene and exacerbated by the current Mk.VII car.
Perhaps it’s because of the garish chameleon green our test car was painted or maybe it was the car’s rougher build quality and marginally worse refinement, but we think the Octavia’s personality is what the GTI’s should have been.
You always get the feeling that the car—even in its Normal drive mode—is up for some metaphorical rolling in the hay. It has the friskiness and sparkle so lacking in the GTI, which has gone all serious and grown-up. The irony being that the Octavia isn’t a hatchback (well, it kinda is, but don’t get us started), but a more staid saloon.
And the extra ratio it has over the GTI (a seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box) makes the Octavia great fun to short-shift. The transmission is a great match for the engine and while the top few ratios are galactically long, the lower ratios are pleasingly short, adding to the fun factor.
And the cherry on top is how the Octavia RS245 costs just SGD129,900, which is staggeringly good value, no matter which way you slice it. It even manages to be cheaper than the Hyundai i30N, which is doubly incredible.
Sure, you’ll have to live with a few niggles, but if nothing else, the Octavia is a welcome addition to the budget performance car segment, and if we can make so bold, the true spiritual successor to the Golf GTI’s original design brief.
That is to say, cheap to buy/run, a bit rough around the edges and most importantly, an absolute hoot to drive fast.
ENGINE 1,984cc, 16-valves, inline-four, turbocharged
POWER 245hp at 5,000-6,700rpm
TORQUE 370Nm at 1,600-4,300rpm
0-100KM/HR 6.6 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/hr
TRANSMISSION Seven-speed dual-clutch
FUEL CONSUMPTION 6.6L/100km
VES BAND B (No rebate/surcharge)
PRICE SGD129,900 (including COE)