The new Skoda Laura vRS plays the part but does it only partly. It's fast and practical, but not a true vRS.
The original Octavia vRS that came to India circa 2005 was the first turbo-petrol in the country. This hot Octy set a performance benchmark, even if there were very few takers for it. The new Laura vRS has to fill a sporty niche while also appealing to an even wider audience. The question is, can it do both?
We found out the long way down to Chennai from Mumbai via NH4 for our annual track day at Sriperumbudur. Setting off in the middle of the monsoons, we left a potholed Mumbai, sped down wide, open expressways and sampled some of the unfinished bits of the Golden Quadrilateral.
To begin with, buyers of the Indian vRS will feel a bit shortchanged and that’s because this one isn’t as well specified as vRS’ elsewhere. It comes with the same 160bhp, 1.8-litre turbo-charged, direct-injection petrol unit in the standard Laura TSI. European cars get a 2.0-litre, 200bhp TFSI motor and 225/45-R17 rubber as standard, compared to the narrower 205/55-R16s we do. As for the suspension, the ride height remains the same as the regular TSI, but the springs are stiffer with more coils.
A few things set this car apart from the regular Laura TSI – namely daytime LEDs, different alloy wheels, a spoiler on the boot and a new, more aggressive chin. You even get seven vRS badges stitched and stuck all over the car to assure you that it’s not the Laura TSI you’re driving. The insides too are different – you get sportier part-leather, part-Alcantara front seats, a meatier three-spoke steering wheel and the touch-screen audio system from the L&K variant.
Even so, we feel that all this somehow doesn’t bring out the vRS in the Laura. The first clue lies in the car’s ride height – there’s much daylight between the underside of the car and the road, and the big gaps in the wheel arches tell you this car hasn’t been appropriately lowered. The second clue comes from the way it rides over Mumbai’s roads – it’s definitely stiffer than the regular TSI but it’s still comfortable. Uncomfortably so, for a vRS.
With the regular, more comfy TSI around, Skoda could have afforded to take the harder, less comfortable route, and made a far more driver-centric car of the vRS. This car tries to tread a middle path, and so isn’t as sporty as we’d like it to be.
The bright side is, the suspension setup works really well. The vRS’ ability to soak up the odd ripple on the roads to Chennai without so much as a wiggle is truly astonishing. Even through NH4’s wide, long corners, the car stays planted and poised. The only blemish comes when you try to change your line mid-corner, where the car gets a wee bit unsettled. Even through tighter corners, the car isn’t too happy when you attempt to make quick direction changes. Wider tyres would have helped. That said, the steering is entertaining with its weight and directness.
Adding to the fun is the 1.8 TSI’s performance, which is so strong that it made us question the need for the extra 40bhp that the 2.0-litre TFSI offers. We’ve previously dedicated pages to the TSI’s willingness to pull hard from anywhere in the rev-band and are once again compelled to do so after this drive. The phenomenal engine cruises effortlessly and silently at triple-digit speeds too.
Flicking through the six-speed manual ’box is enjoyable and if you use it well, you’ll get to 100kph in 8.38sec, which is the same as the regular Laura TSI.We found a practical side to the vRS en route to our track day, after carrying equipment like cameras, the VBOX, luggage for three for four days and assorted track gear in that massive 560-litre boot without complaint. And, as long as you switched drivers every few hundred kilometres, the passenger in the rear seat wouldn’t complain about the low seating and the lack of thigh support.
We completed our 1400km journey to Chennai barely feeling the effects of a long drive. It even returned a respectable 10.5kpl and, mind you, the car was loaded and we weren’t taking it easy either.The vRS is a very rounded package, one that has a good blend of sportiness, practicality and feel-good factor. We just wish it could have been more true to its badge.