Volkswagen and Audi have a licence to push higher up the performance hatch food chain, however, Czech brand Skoda stoically champions its principle of putting value first.
That means its RS performance sub-brand has been neglected of late, with Fabia versions axed despite a strong presence in top-level rallying and rumoured plans of a Superb RS shelved in the wake of Dieselgate.
The only car in Skoda’s current range that’s allowed a high-performance variant is the Octavia. Recently facelifted, the standard RS is a creditable car but lacks the dynamic finesse its rivals offer. Now a new range-topper has joined the line-up looking to address that.
Previously the limited-run Octavia RS230 sat at the top of the pile, but for the facelift it has evolved into the RS245, which will not have a limited production run and is available in hatchback and estate forms.
Updates over the regular petrol RS model (which has the same output as the outgoing RS230) include work on the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, which gets a new turbo, oil pump, injectors, manifold, timing chain, fuel pump and pistons. As a result, 169kW becomes 180kW and 350Nm of torque becomes 370Nm.
On the outside, there’s some black detailing and massive, blinged-up 19-inch alloy wheels, as well as, importantly (and just like the earlier 230), a proper limited-slip differential on the front axle. However, this time around there will be a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission on offer, which will command a premium, instead of the manual-only RS230.
The general flavour of the car is not dissimilar to the usual RS qualities we’re accustomed to. All of the positive traits remain: a flexible ride with a pleasant, well-built cabin and truly cavernous space. The boost in power is only subtle and shaves just a tenth of a second off the car’s 0-100km/h time (now 6.6sec), so it still feels free-revving and powerful, if a little slow to build up the pace from low revs.
It’s also a little less impressive in the grand scheme of this segment now that other hot hatches are pushing the 200kW-plus mark with all-wheel drive set-ups at a similar price bracket.
But the biggest dynamic difference over the rest of the RS range comes as a result of the LSD. The RS245 is noticeably better at putting down its power out of corners than the standard RS; it will still understeer, but not to the extent the standard model does.
The agile front end is only let down slightly by steering which, although precise, light and quick, doesn’t offer much feel and robs the driver of some enjoyment. Eco, Comfort, Normal and Sport drive modes are available via a vRS button on the centre console that alters the steering, throttle response and gearshifts.
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In Sport, the car really livens up and the upgraded exhaust that the 245 gets sounds great, if a little artificially enhanced, while an Individual mode lets you mix and match settings. Adaptive dampers are standard and help to soften the ride at a cruise or firm it up when pressing on, but even in Comfort the suspension is still firm, although not quite as jarring as that of some of its key rivals.
Also newly available with the RS245 is a seven-speed DSG, as opposed to the six-speed unit for the rest of the range. Like the six-speeder, it shifts quickly and calmly during regular driving while becoming more aggressive in Sport, but it can be slightly hesitant on kickdown.
The extra ratio means that the engine is not only more powerful, but also more efficient – the combined fuel consumption figure has been cut to 6.4L/100km in DSG guise – and it makes cruising even more refined and relaxing than before.
And underneath it all, it’s an Octavia. It gets a solid driving position with loads of adjustability and great visibility out of the cabin, a top-notch touchscreen infotainment system (which now gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring), and it’s generally massive and practical inside.
It’s a thoroughly commendable product that is now closer than ever to being as entertaining as it is practical. It’s the best of both worlds.
The Octavia RS still makes the most sense at the entry level of its line-up, but this range-topping RS245 certainly stakes a claim for consideration by delivering a pretty fantastic package of everyday useability and driver-focused vigour.
It’s expensive, but still lineball with the Volkswagen Golf GTI and only a bit more than the Focus ST. And although it’s slightly slower than both, it could prove to be the easiest of the three to live with.
These improvements make the 245 worth the premium (yet to be defined) over the 230, but for the most enjoyment, and to shave some money off the list price, we’d stick with the slick manual gearbox on the 245.
Whichever guise you choose, this is the fastest, most powerful and most complete Octavia RS yet.
4 out of 5 stars
Likes: Now with DSG; pragmatic performance
Dislike: Still some front-end push; lacks steering feel
2018 Skoda Octavia RS245 Specs:
Engine: 1984cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 180kW @ 5000rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 1600rpm
0-100km/h: 6.6sec (claimed)
Price: $42,000 (estimated)