Wednesday, September 8, 2021

SKODA OCTAVIA RS - A GOLF BY ANOTHER NAME by John Crawford

Volkswagen Group, under the direction of Ferdinand Piëch, became the leader in platform sharing and modular vehicle architecture. Today nobody is surprised that so many of all VWAG’s models feature common platforms, common power trains, common electronics and unashamedly have familial relationships.




It doesn’t matter which stable they’re from - VW, Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti - there are bits’n’bobs common to all of these famous brands, and from its position as the world’s second biggest carmaker, it hasn’t hurt the Group, or any members of the family.



When VWAG acquired Skoda, it was close to being an automotive basket case. It lacked vision, infrastructure, a prominent status in the automotive world ‘outside’ the Czech Republic (or, Czechoslovakia, as it was then), and more than anything it didn’t sell enough vehicles to properly fund its future.

Concurrent with taking over Skoda, VW was well into its stride with the whole platform-sharing regime, and Skoda’s future would be assured because of it. Come to think of it, Piëch’s vision ensured the same rosy futures for Seat, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti. VW breathed fresh life into some of the world’s best-known brands, and built its future as a carmaker on making all these marques successful.

 

However, let’s get to today’s story. The 2021 Octavia RS started life as do all cars - in the design studio, and the first sketches revealed a sharper, less fussy look for the brand's most popular model.




After I’ve pushed the Start/Stop button on the steering column of the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS wagon, and travelled less than 100 metres down the road I’m almost convinced that this car is powered by Subaru’s Boxer engine. The engine note emanating from under the hood is decidedly ‘burbly’, and a strange noise, compared to other Group family members.

 

When I stop and lift the hood, there’s no giveaway as to what’s under the usual ‘plastic hat’ over the engine.

However, craning my neck to see 'under the hat', I’m sure I can identify a ‘tuned’ branch exhaust manifold which is responsible for delivering a car with an interesting noise from the front, rather than from the exhaust pipe.

 

If I was driving a Golf GTi, I guess I would be hearing the same sound, because everything at the business end of the Skoda, is lifted straight out of the Golf GTi’s power train specification. A 2.0L turbo four, mated to a very smooth dual-clutch transmission is what you’ll get when you drive a Golf 8 GTi.




So, let’s celebrate Piëch’s imagination. In this instance you get a Golf GTi for (slightly) less money, loads of practicality, sharp external styling, superb materials and interior design and finish, and a car which from my perspective makes much more sense as a family mover than some high-riding, overweight, thirsty and top-heavy SUV.

 

Okay, you say, it’s got a Golf GTi heart, but is it sporty? Answer, yes, very much so. This is one of the most enjoyable station wagons I’ve ever driven. There are cheaper, more domesticated Octavias, but this RS variant is the car I would choose.


Along with the ‘boxer burble’ you get tenacious grip, predictable and controllable handling when you’re travelling faster than you should be, and on top of all that fun - you get a truly practical family car, hiding under the sporty badges.




I have only one complaint about vehicle dynamics, and it’s a Yin-Yang situation concerning the tyres. They are Bridgestone Potenzas. They’re very grippy, and contribute to the car’s excellent handling, but sadly, when you’re driving on concrete-paved freeways they set up a truly unpleasant harmonic noise at a frequency and pitch that’s destined to have you calling for earplugs. On hot-mix bitumen, the noise disappears completely.

 

And, just in case you think the guy writing this has got the comparison all wrong, let me throw some numbers at you.

 

Wheelbase: Golf 2636mm; Octavia 2636mm. Front track: Golf 1535mm; Octavia 1539mm. Rear track: Golf 1512mm; Octavia 1530mm. Overall length: Golf (wagon) 4633mm; Octavia 4689mm. Sorta close, right? The differences in the rear track and overall length accommodate some of the practicality of the Octavia versus the Golf wagon.


Yep, this is automotive conjuring at its best.

 

For me the Skoda Octavia RS wagon is a skilfully-resolved example of automotive architecture. It’s stylish, beautifully finished, smartly equipped and satisfying to drive. Best of all - it’s not an SUV.

 

I was really impressed with the design and treatment of the instrument panel. Sure there are a couple of slashes of fake carbon-fibre, but a large part of the sweep in front of you is covered in a tasteful, understated suede-like cloth, with not just red stitching, but a strip of red LED light across the passenger side of the cockpit.




Mind you, as sales have improved, prices have escalated. Not by outrageous amounts, but in the end, you’re getting what you paid for - a quality European vehicle with impeccable breeding, and you won’t have to mortgage the house to buy it.

 

The current status of Skoda in the Australian market seems to be right where the company expects, given the volatility caused worldwide by COVID. In fact predicting sales  and market share improvements, at this point is futile.


Skoda Australia’s CEO, Michael Irmer says he would like to see sales reach 10,000 units a year, but at this stage it’s a goal, and Skoda has enjoyed a relatively stable market share last year and through most of this year at just below 1% of the market.

 

The company sold 7000 vehicles in 2019, a number which fell 5.6% in 2020 – but COVID notwithstanding 10,000 vehicles does not seem, to me, to be an unreachable target when both selling conditions and supply chains improve.

 

Also, whilst a one percent share may not sound like a healthy result, Skoda is attracting a particular type of buyer, according to Irmer. They are buyers who want a European car, with European performance and finish, but, he says, they are not expecting to pay bargain basement prices. This suits the Skoda strategy - to take value from the leverage it gets from using common VW Group platforms, powertrains and parts, but still managing to hold the line on prices.

 

According to Michael Irmer one of the strongest points of appeal has been the introduction of after sales service packs. He says this is perceived as of greater value by buyers than a low purchase price, and this bodes well for maintaining the ‘European Positioning’ element in the Skoda proposition.


Like all VW Group products there's a big move away from actual switchgear and execution of pretty much all functions is via a touchscreen - and that's bloody dangerous. Every time you need to change something (anything), you must take your eyes off the road. Like I said, this move to touchscreens is life-threatening!


This Skoda Octavia RS may not be (in the opinion of some) the greatest car in the world, but it’s clever, and that’s what Skoda is about these days.


Also, it’s still a very proud export from the Czech Republic, employing thousands, and ensuring the Skoda badge remains on the list of historic automotive names which still survive fads, fashions and the ignominy of failure.


JOHN CRAWFORD 

1 comment:

  1. When I come to a halt and lift the kj to j, there's no indication of what's beneath the usual 'plastic hat' over the engine. However, craning my neck to see 'under the hat,' I'm confident I can identify a 'tuned' branch exhaust manifold that is delivering a car with an interesting noise from the front rather than the exhaust pipe.

    ReplyDelete