Oh Skoda, you terrible tease. This whole ‘will we-won’t we’ charade behind the new Octavia RS just has to stop. I mean, if you aren’t going to bring the latest version of your sporty liftback to India, why is this the second time you’ve brought us overseas to drive it? Sure, I know the official statement is ‘a 50:50 chance’ and I understand that the stratospheric homologation costs for the new, high-strung 2.0-litre turbo-petrol motor, since it won’t be used in any other Skoda cars, would make a difficult business case of this low-volume performance car, but level with us; it’s coming, right? Right?
There are two reasons why I’m really keen for the RS to return to India in its latest avatar. For one, it’s earned itself somewhat of a cult following here. The first Octavia in 2002 – solid, European and relatively affordable – came in and shattered our perceptions of what an executive sedan could be. And then they brought in the RS version, which shattered them all over again. It introduced mainstream India to high-tech turbo-petrol engines, a trend that’s only now really gathering steam. Imagine someone feeling 148bhp whack them in the small of their back for the first time. Sure, we had ‘sport’ versions of a handful of cars then – the Honda City VTEC and Fiat Palio 1.6 to name two – but here was a car with sports suspension and a proper body kit thrown into the mix too. The second RS – the Laura – was a bit of a cheat job, even Skoda will admit. It had the body kit and the suspension, but the engine was the same 158bhp 1.8 TSI as the standard car; again to save the cost of importing the new, 197bhp 2.0 TSI motor. But still, enthusiasts just loved it.
As with all previous RS cars, the visual add-ons are subtle. Gotta love the black accents and that rear diffuser!
The other reason I think the new RS just has to come to India is because I’ve just spent the afternoon hammering it around the Slovakia Ring circuit just outside Bratislava. Shapur managed to get a feel of the car on the road earlier this year, but today, the focus was purely on performance. And while he drove the standard Octavia RS, I’ve been around in the new, more potent RS 230 – the fastest car Skoda has ever built. Okay, on paper, it just has 10bhp more than the regular car with the same 35.7kgm of torque, and even the visual differentiators are restricted to new alloy wheels and a few black accents. Two things help it feel a little more special than the already special RS. There’s the new exhaust, which uses almost straight pipes, and while this is no chest-thumping V8, it does have a nice underlying growl to it. The other thing is the new electronic torque-vectoring front differential that Skoda calls VAQ, and boy, does it make a huge difference.
As ever, there isn’t too much to set this apart from a regular Octavia on the inside, and some might find that a little disappointing. Sure, there are sporty seats, an all-black theme, a chunkier steering wheel and contrast stitching on the leather, but nothing more to shout out that you’re in an instrument of serious performance. I did find a lap timer hidden in the trip computer that I clicked on just as we exited the pit lane.
Flat-bottom wheel? Check. Red stitching? Check. Sporty black theme? Check. Otherwise, standard Octavia fare.
Foot flat down and, apart from a distant bassy rumble from the exhaust, acceleration is quite free of drama. But the speed is definitely there, evidenced in the needle that races around the speedo dial. The six-speed DSG gearbox is drama-free too, its shifts quick and smooth, and we’ll have to wait and see whether Skoda brings the more involving six-speed manual version to India (or the car itself, for that matter). Things start to liven up at C1 itself though, when I notice it feels really light on its feet and super keen to change direction. It doesn’t mind a bit of manhandling either. It feels very predictable and that’s great when you consider all that power is going through just the front wheels. In tighter corners, you can really feel the trick front diff. The torque vectoring system adds power to the outside wheel rather than braking the inside one in a bend, and that makes all the difference. It really feels like it’s pushing you to go faster.
The last take-away as we pulled into the pits after over an hour of hard driving on a day as hot as any Mumbai summer, was that none of the cars broke a sweat. We really did punish them a lot, and performance stayed consistent, lap after lap. With the company’s focus locked onto its existing models and the upcoming new Superb, a niche performance product like this clearly has to take a back seat in a market like ours. And you do really have to wonder if it makes sense for Skoda, as even if the RS is assembled alongside the regular Octavia, importing and homologating that engine will drive the price close to Rs 30 lakh! Still, a small subset of die-hard fans of the brand might just be happy to fork that out, and I, with them, have my fingers crossed for this one – with that differential and a manual please.