What do you call a Skoda with two exhaust pipes? These days, not a wheelbarrow! Once the butt of every automotive joke, VW have done a lot to reinstate the reputation of Skoda. The Czech factory has knocked out some pretty impressive stuff in the past few years, some of which have shown its sister companies a thing or two. Whilst a few people may still snigger and jeer in ignorance, the rest of us can take advantage of some pretty fine machinery.
A good few years ago I remember sitting in the then brand new Octavia vRS on the Skoda stand at the Birmingham Motorshow trying to convince my Dad that he should get one. Unfortunately, the oddball allure of Saab drew him in, but the impression the undercover police car made on me stuck. Fast forward half a decade and I’m sitting in a dealership in my hometown of Leicester, paperwork in hand waiting for MY vRS to be brought round to me. A 53,000 mile 2005 face lifted Octativa was now officially mine. Whilst it’s not an obvious choice for a 25 year old, I do have an excuse which will hopefully become apparent in the next couple of months, but needless to say, I wanted something that was reasonably quick, could handle the daily commute and also carry a fair bit of kit whilst towing a trailer. Being a long term VAG fan, the big Skoda seemed ideal and the reputation for build quality and reliability were sure to provide trouble free motoring, right? Wrong!
Seven miles. Seven admittedly fun miles, but seven all the same. That’s as far as I made it from the garage! Sitting parked in the entrance to a field with the engine sounding like a broken cement mixer, a horrible wave of panic was spreading through me. I could almost taste it! I had been warned. As I stared at the dash, engine symbol burning bright orange, I feared the worst. I switched off the engine, popped the bonnet and tentatively opened it expecting to see oil, aluminum filings and bits of engine sprayed liberally across the engine bay. Rather confusingly, all I see is a rather normal clean looking bit of black plastic. I peak over the bonnet to check I’m still standing in front of the same car and then look back. Nothing! After a quick oil check (fine) I decide to fire it up again. There’s that cement mixer! After consulting with the manual, I decide to limp the car home (about a mile) and phone the AA. The cause of this awful mechanical racket? A knackered ignition coil! A very common fault as it turns out, but in the first hour of ownership?! Seriously unlucky!
Understandably after this rather shaky start I was a little nervous about pushing things too much, but as the miles passed my confidence increased. It’s been 20,000 miles since that first little hiccup, and despite one more coilpack going, the Skoda has otherwise been faultless. Driving a car every day can turn you against it fairly quickly, but the Octavia does a good job of doing everything well, cosseting on the motorway slog, and shrinking around you on a good B road. It’s not perfect with the wheels getting out of sync with the damping when faced with a pot marked lane, but given a sweeping A road, the vRS really excels. A trip to the legendary EVO triangle, taking in the A5 towards Betws-y-Coed, the A543 and B4501, really highlighted how confidence inspiring the car can be. Despite horrible conditions, the slightly understeer led chassis balance mixed with an occasionally lively rear end and wonderfully linear power deliver when on boost made for very rapid progress on a relatively unfamiliar road. Whilst a Clio Trophy would undoubtedly have provided the final 2 tenths of enjoyment, I can guarantee, I wouldn’t have felt as fresh getting out at the end of the 3hr slog back home!
I was recently scanning through ‘The Knowledge’ in EVO and noticed their summary of the vRS:
‘Remarkably Fun and Capable’
I couldn’t agree more!
Next time….the joys of servicing and a few mods from the VAG parts bin!