Familiarity is a nice thing, isn’t it? That pair of shoes you know aren’t going to rub, or the coat you’re sure won’t let the cold in. Having something reliable on your side is comforting, leaving you safe in the knowledge that you’ll be looked after and won’t be let down.
It’s what I’ve been getting from the Octavia vRS recently. It has quickly become my go-to for all kinds of jobs; motorway slogs up and down the country, trips to the local tip and even a run to the airport. It’s my comfortable pair of shoes.
I’ve just been bowled over by how multifaceted it is, in truth. Despite being on the smaller end of the estate car size spectrum its boot exceeds that of much larger rivals and because it’s deep and square, it’s up to the job of carrying all kinds of things. The entire car is relatively low, too, so getting heavier items in – or asking the dog to jump aboard – is really easy.
And I think that ease-of-use is what the Skoda does really well. It’s not over-burdened with systems and the ones which are there can be easily deactivated. I frequently switch off the lane-keep assist – which ‘steers’ you back into the centre of the lane should it think you’re straying to one side or the other – as it can be a little confused by narrow roads or cars parked at the side of the lane you’re in. This isn’t an Octavia-centred issue, either, most vehicles fitted with it struggle with the same problems. On the motorway it’s excellent, but around town, it’s just not as you’d like it.
So with some other cars switching it off requires a full day’s worth of trawling through menus and settings. The Skoda? Two presses of a steering wheel-mounted button and you’re done. It means you can easily switch it back on at a moment’s notice, too.
This is how lane assist controls should be made. Two presses. No menus or hold-downs. The best I’ve seen pic.twitter.com/USGu9l37qX
— Jack Evans (@jackrober) November 29, 2021
It’s a common theme across the whole car. Whereas other Volkswagen Group cars have ditched buttons entirely, Skoda has kept some of the key ones in. Physical controls for the heated rear screen or forward blowers make a huge difference in the winter and save you from having to go through the screen’s menus. When it’s cold, you just want to get the screens cleared and get moving, right?
All of these aspects have meant that I’m really quite familiar with how the car works and operates. Of course, having a six-speed manual gearbox is about as familiar as you can get and even though I’ve sometimes lamented that third pedal – mainly when stuck in crawling M25 traffic – I think I’d opt for the manual ‘box if I were choosing my own vRS. I love the added engagement that it brings and it also allows you to really enjoy the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine to the best of its abilities. Though it’s brawny in the mid-range, it’s still an engine that loves to be revved out, so having complete control of the gears allows you to fully exploit this.
Nothing says ‘quiet Friday’ quite like an evening jet wash trip pic.twitter.com/mHvoWvcU9O
— Jack Evans (@jackrober) November 19, 2021
Have there been any issues? Well, despite having spoken to other people with an Octavia vRS who have reported a multitude of problems with the infotainment screen, ‘mine’ hasn’t missed a beat. It once got a little stuck with Apple CarPlay, but it figured this out in a few minutes and we were away. On a particularly grimy day recently the forward collision alert did throw up an error, but I believe this to be down to the forward sensor becoming covered in muck. A jet wash later and everything was back to normal. I’ll admit that these features shouldn’t be sent off-track by a little bit of British road grime, but the Octavia isn’t a car heavily reliant on them in order to move forward – after all, there’s still a human behind the wheel.
On a particularly icy day, I was quite impressed by the traction I got from the vRS too. It’s just front-wheel-drive, after all, and with relatively performance-orientated tyres, I thought it might end up stuck fast, but that wasn’t the case. I think that with a set of winter tyres fitted it could be seriously good on snow and ice, in fact.
I’ve also yet to break the magical 50mpg barrier, despite having got the heady heights of 48. It might sound quite dull, but seeing a car with 242bhp manage it would be quite the achievement. I’ve got plenty of miles to get done over Christmas, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to nail it down then.
But in the meantime, the Octavia continues to be a familiar and reliable friend. You can never have too many of those, right?
Model: Skoda Octavia vRS Estate
Model as tested: Octavia vRS Estate
Price as tested: £32,285
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 6.6 seconds
Emissions: 159-177g/km CO2