Parked up at the builders’ merchants as I nipped in for some plumbing bits and pieces, my test Skoda Octavia vRS stood out among the Transits and other vans.
I was just about to go in when I was accosted by a couple of lads, one of who was an Octavia vRS owner.
A very evangelical one.
It’s very useful when this happens because you get an opportunity to swap notes.
First thing I needed to explain to my fellow Skoda enthusiast was that this particular car was a plug-in hybrid.
You can now buy Skoda’s hot Octavia with a diesel engine, petrol engine or as a PHEV. Spoilt for choice.
Oh, and as usual you have a choice of hatchback or estate. I favour the latter but we’re testing the former, in Race Blue metallic. It looks terrific as my new mate agreed.
First, a quick look under the bonnet. Being a member of the Volkswagen family the Octavia vRS iV (iV in Skoda’s language means an electrified model) shares its vital parts with other cars – in this case the Golf GTE and the Seat Leon PHEV.
This means a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine with 148bhp and an 85kW electric motor for a combined output of 242bhp. Add to that a 13kWh battery which gives the Octavia an electric-only range of up to 38 miles.
As usual with PHEVs we have a set of meaningless fuel economy figures for you to laugh at – a WLTP combined figure of 176.6-256.8mpg.
If you never charge up your car you’ll do no better than about 41mpg. By the way, forget about achieving 38 miles on battery power alone at this time of year.
The 13kWh of battery power brings with it several disadvantages.
Firstly, in the estate version of the car it robs 150 litres of luggage space; second, and this is more of an issue, the diesel and petrol vRSs have a 15mm lower ride height than a standard Octavia, but because of the battery pack that’s not possible in the iV. Lastly, those batteries add an extra 200kg of weight.
With a top speed of 139mph and 0-62mph in 7.3sec, the vRS PHEV is still a quick car.
The problem is that it is very disappointing to drive.
Even though you are sat in a very sexy sports seat you feel strangely high up in the car and when you get going you can really feel that weight from the batteries.
I’ve always been a big fan of these hot Skodas. I like the subtle image, the big space which you get with any Octavia, and the feeling that you are beating the system with a car that undercuts many posher rivals on price but is as good or even better to drive.
This vRS iV does most of those things and has an interior that’s well up to the quality of an Audi or the new Golf.
But what’s the point of a hot hatch that doesn’t feel exciting to drive? It’s like seeing Sir Mo Farah struggling to run for a bus.
Our test car is fitted with VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control which is a £925 option – and this when set in Sport helps give the car slightly more precision but it doesn’t cover up the car’s weight and higher centre of gravity.
The great advantage of a PHEV is the tax saving if it’s a company car.
But if you’re buying privately and BIK tax is irrelevant then I’d strongly recommend sticking with either the petrol vRS or the diesel version.
There is another alternative if you’re keen to be green and are a business user and that’s a PHEV version of the regular Octavia.
It still has 200bhp, has a 6% BIK tax rating and is cheaper. Talking money, the vRS iV costs £35,020 without options. That’s around £3,500 more than the vRS petrol.
To sum up – if you’re stepping out of an old Octavia vRS I think you’ll find this plug-in version very disappointing.
Skoda Octavia vRS iV five-door hatchback
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, 148bhp, plus 85kW electric motor
Fuel consumption: 176.6-256.8mpg
Co2 emissions: 26-36g/km
Volkswagen Golf GTE
Same powertrain as the Octavia, less space inside.
Mini Countryman PHEV
Plenty of style in and out. No match for the Skoda on performance.
Seat Leon E-Hybrid FR Sport
Brisk, stylish but boot space seriously robbed by batteries.