During my last seven months of running vRS Skoda Octavias (first a hatch, and now an estate, below), I’ve become used to answering the question of ‘is it any good?’ in a very particular way. It usually starts off with a round of praise that goes like: ‘oh, well it’s incredibly practical, very comfortable, handles jolly well and is good value,’ leading to the bit where I frustratingly admit that ‘it’s just missing a little something.’
Excitement, spice, bite; whatever you want to call it, this hot Skoda is missing it. It’s not like it ruins the whole car, it’s just that you’re left wanting for a bit more edge (there’s a bonus adjective for you). But not so long ago, a new version has entered the fray: the Octavia vRS 230. So, is this the vRS that’s going to deliver the spice/bite/edge/fizz I’ve been craving?
Well, there is some extra equipment thrown in as standard, including heated, electrically adjustable seats, bigger wheels and electric folding mirrors, but that’s not really going to help in the driving excitement stakes that much. Neither is the extra 10bhp which gives this car its name (power is now at 230PS, or 227bhp); sure, it feels a tad more eager compared to ‘our’ vRS, but much of that will be down to the 230 test car having the lighter hatchback body. In a more direct comparison, you’d struggle to notice the difference.
The final item on the 230 menu, however, looks like it might just do the trick: VW Group’s Vorderachsquersperre (or VAQ, if you find that a bit of a mouthful) front differential lock. It’s the same thing you’ll find in a Seat Leon ST Cupra or a VW Golf GTI with the Performance Pack installed, and it has a justified reputation for completely changing your perception of what’s possible in a front-wheel drive car.
It’s best thought of as one half of a Haldex four-wheel drive system, and is able to distribute power across the front axle as it sees fit. Anything up to 100 per cent can go to one wheel. Thanks to the Octavia’s more modest power output the VAQ isn’t quite as compelling as it is in the 276bhp Seat, but crikey, does it make a difference.
Its operation is at its most obvious when you’re really giving it stick in tighter corners - where you can feel the power shifting from wheel to wheel - but even when you’re not at maximum attack, the front end feels a whole lot sharper, and a whole lot grippier. Understeer hasn’t been entirely eradicated, but it’s something you’ll experience a whole lot less than in the regular vRS with its brake-based XDS system trying to calm the front wheels down. There are still spicier hot hatches out there, but the 230 is a seriously capable point-to-point car that’s more satisfying to drive than ever.
The only real fly in the ointment is the ride, which is a whole lot bumpier thanks to the standard-fit 19-inch wheels with 35 profile tyres. As we found with our perhaps ill-advised move from 18s to 19s on our longtermer, that extra inch makes a difference.
What the 230 could really do with is adaptive dampers; as it stands, the ride is a tad too firm, but the car is still a little squishy when you’re pressing on. Adaptive dampers would sort both of those issues at the same time, but sadly that’s one thing from the VAG box of tricks that Skoda isn’t allowed.
The big question is, should you buy one over a normal vRS? In a word, yes. Once you start crunching the numbers, the 230 looks less like a potential option, and more like a no-brainer. The manual hatchback we tried will set you back £25,540, which - like every other version of the 230 - is £2120 more expensive than a non-230.
A quick play around with a configurator shows that you make back the added upfront cost in the extra standard equipment, so in a way, the power boost and the VAQ diff are sort of free. And since this diff has such a transformative effect on the way the car drives, that sounds like a damn good deal. So, if it’s a petrol vRS you’re after, the 230 is without a doubt the one you want. And don’t worry…those ‘230’ stickers are optional.