- Still as versatile as ever
- Big increase in quality
- More dynamically capable than ever
- Price is getting up there
- Expensive Premium Pack should be standard
- Touchscreen takes time getting used to
Ever since the demise of the Subaru Liberty GT, buyers looking for a family car with spunk for a reasonable cost have long favoured the Skoda Octavia RS. Released in Australia in 2007, the second- and third-generation Octavia RS models have found a strong calling with performance-minded family folk thanks to their driving talent and excellent practicality credentials. A reasonable asking price of under $50,000 has helped, along with healthy equipment lists – tempting buyers to purchase the Czech mid-sizer. For the fourth-generation Octavia however, things are different. The Octavia RS is now comfortably more well-rounded than the car it replaces, but it’s also more expensive to buy. Is the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS Wagon worth the extra money? Let’s find out.
The RS heads the top of the new-generation Octavia range in Australia. While pricing for the entry-level 110TSI starts at $32,990 drive away, the RS wagon starts a whole $20,000 more expensive at $52,990. As before, it features a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, a mechanical LSD and a lot of driving fun but also a huge 640-litre boot – which is more than 200-litres larger than a Mazda CX-5 SUV, by the way.
Price & Specs: 8/10
Priced from $52,990 drive away, the RS sits at the top of the Octavia range locally. Standard kit includes 19-inch alloy wheels, all-LED lighting, front and rear fog lights, dual-zone climate control, a 10-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation, digital radio, a digital driver’s display, auto lights and wipers, keyless entry and start, wireless phone charging, heated and auto-folding mirrors, LED ambient lighting, an eight-speaker sound system, five USB-C ports, an electric tailgate and a number of sporty details including RS badging, sports bucket seats, a bodykit, a rear spoiler, a leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel and black trimmings.
The usual Skoda ‘simply clever’ features are there as well – the umbrella in the driver’s door, ice scraper in the fuel filler cap, various nets and hooks in the boot, a double-sided boot floor, an umbrella holder in the boot, tabs to fold the rear seats, ‘teeth’ in the cup holders to make opening bottles easy, a parking ticket holder on the A-pillar and even the ‘sleep pack’, which includes rear headrests with feature adjustable sides like aeroplane headrests and two blankets.
Standard safety kit includes 10 airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, Matrix high beam functionality for the headlights, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, traffic jam assist, emergency assist, lane assist with adaptive lane guidance, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, auto rear braking, tyre pressure monitoring, driver attention monitoring and a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors. That’s a long list, though features such as speed sign recognition and a 360-degree camera remain unavailable.
Options include a $6,500 Premium Pack, which includes suede and leather upholstery, 14-way electrically adjustable front seats with both memory functionality and massaging, heated front and rear seats, automatic parking, kick-to-open functionality for the tailgate, an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, adaptive dampers with drive mode selection, a heads-up display, sun-blinds for the rear windows and a 12-speaker Canton sound system. $6,500 is a lot of money on top of an already-$53,000 car, and we think that the majority of its features – if not all of them – should be included in the standard price.
The one standard colour option is ‘Steel Grey’ and optional premium colours are ‘Race Blue’, ‘Black Magic’, ‘Quartz Grey’, ‘Moon White’ and ‘Brilliant Silver’ for $770, while ‘Velvet Red’ is $1,100. A panoramic sunroof is also available for $1,900, and an electric-folding tow bar for $2,100.
Unfortunately, mid-size wagon offerings have drastically reduced in recent years and just one competitor exists for the Octavia RS wagon: the Mazda6 GT SP wagon, which is priced at $52,586 drive away. The Mazda includes leather upholstery, electric front seats, heated front and rear seats and an 11-speaker Bose sound system over the Skoda, though the Octavia RS features four extra airbags, Matrix headlights, an electric tailgate, an alarm, extra USB ports, LED ambient lighting and a larger infotainment screen.
Compared with the Mazda6, we think the Octavia RS offers good value for money as for only $500 more as you get more standard kit and more practicality.
Some of the Skoda faithful have complained at the price increase, but an equivalent RS wagon in 2016 was $45,890 plus on-road costs – and that’s without considering the new model’s extra standard kit such as extra safety equipment, a larger screen, a higher quality interior, more power, the LSD and a more solid feeling throughout.
Performance & Economy: 9/10
Under the bonnet of the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS wagon is the Volkswagen Group’s ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. In this tune, it produces 180kW of power and 370Nm of torque. It’s mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission as standard, and puts its power to the front wheels solely through a mechanical limited-slip differential. It’s slightly more powerful than the Mazda6 GT SP (180kW versus 170kW) but its 370Nm is 50Nm less.
It’s the same engine that featured in the last-generation Octavia RS and also the current Volkswagen Golf GTI and it’s a great unit. It’s quick (the 0-100km/h sprint time is a claimed 6.7 seconds, and a top speed of 250km/h), punchy and it sounds great as well.
Standard on the RS is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that also features in a plethora of other Volkswagen Group products. Unlike the Tiguan 162TSI R-Line we tested recently, the auto used in the Octavia RS was intuitive and featured less of the usual dual-clutch low-speed hesitancy. The Octavia uses a joystick controller that looks odd but feels quite precise in person – going from D to R, for example, is quick. The Mazda6’s six-speed torque converter auto is lazier but more predictable – the Skoda’s DSG is much better for sporty driving though.
Unlike the last model however, no six-speed manual is available in Australia. We think this is a big shame as while yes, most buyers would choose an auto, there are still many buyers who prefer a manual gearbox – even if they have to special order it.
Skoda claims combined fuel economy at 6.8L/100km and we achieved 7.6L/100km, which isn’t bad for a car with such good performance. It features a 50-litre fuel tank and uses minimum 95RON premium unleaded fuel. By contrast, the Mazda6’s 2.5L turbo uses a claimed 7.6L/100km though in our testing, numbers below 12L/100km are considered a miracle as it’s a thirsty engine.
Ride & Handling: 9/10
There’s been a definite improvement in the Octavia RS’ dynamics compared with the previous generation car with a nimbler feel from behind the wheel and improved road feel. It’s subtle but definitely skewing more towards keener drivers. Featuring on the non-Premium Pack are fixed rate dampers, but choosing that package gives you adaptive dampers and previous experience with the Octavia RS says that there’s no point in choosing the pack for a better ride alone. The standard dampers ride well but the adaptive dampers give more variation and more choice with comfort, normal and sport modes that change the car’s character lot depending on what driving you’re doing.
While it’s not a lightweight slingshot like the Fiesta ST (for example), the cross-country ability of the Octavia RS is excellent with meaty and quick steering, excellent body control and awesome grip levels thanks to the electronically-control mechanical limited-slip differential. It’s certainly a more dynamic choice than the Mazda6 – itself not a shameful driving experience, that’s for sure.
Another big difference behind the wheel of the new Octavia RS compared with the last car is that it feels more refined, more solid and the feel between major controls more cohesive, something we also experienced with the base 110TSI Octavia we drove. Road noise levels are still not low, but a definite improvement over the last car. Visibility is still excellent with large windows as well, and as before, the Octavia RS is a great long distance cruiser.
While the Octavia RS is not the sharpest tool in the driver’s shed, it’s a marked improvement on the regular Octavia thanks to its independent rear suspension set up, and compared with the lessening humdrum segment, it’s a revelation. As with previous generation Octavia RS models, parents needing to trade in a sports car on a more practical option need not worry as it proves that family cars can be both practical and fun.
Interior & Practicality: 9/10
Inside the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS Wagon is unlike any Octavia before it – it’s modern and contemporary with a big jump in quality, though it’s not all positive news thanks to the combining of all the major controls into the 10.25-inch touchscreen – but more on that later.
The Octavia RS’ jump in quality is noticeable – especially when the latest-generation VW Golf has been noticeably downgraded in material quality. Front seat materials are mostly soft – especially the dashboard and door tops – while there’s even a big slab of stitched suede on the dashboard that really adds quality and a sporty feel. Even the harder materials lower down are textured nicely, and the new speaker grill shaping on the doors is much more interesting than the rather basic layout of the previous car. While the stubby gear level may look weird at first, it’s great in hand with a precise and expensive feel.
Centre of the Octavia’s cabin is a 10.25-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation and digital radio. It’s a quick screen and the screen quality is good as well, though as we discovered in our review of the Octavia 110TSI, it’s not the most intuitive system to use. Major functions such as the climate control, safety systems and driving modes are accessible by hard buttons below the screen, but functions such as changing from CarPlay to the climate control take one touch too many. Truthfully, you do get used to it, but initially it’s annoying to use.
Practicality is an Octavia strong suit and the latest generation car is no different – in fact, it’s even better than before thanks to the stubby gear lever that saves space. The large and flock-lined door bins carry over from the last car, but the centre bin is larger, the cupholders are bigger and more ergonomically placed (and they have a cover this time around), a big wireless phone charger sits below the touchscreen and there’s a secret compartment under the light controls.
The space inside the Octavia’s cabin is larger than before too thanks to a slight increase in overall length. Rear seat passengers would be more than happy with ample leg- and headroom, as well as two USB-C charging ports, the aforementioned sleep pack headrests, a centre armrest with cupholders and even map pockets just for smartphones on top of the usual map pockets. Choosing the Premium Pack adds a separate zone for the climate control and heated seats.
The boot of this generation Octavia is even larger than before at 640-litres – fold them down and you get a massive 1,700L, which is a huge 358-litres larger than the Mazda CX-5, though only 52L larger than the Mazda6 wagon. The boot’s features alone are great with various nets, hooks, lights, an umbrella holder, tabs to release the rear seats, a dual-sided boot floor cover and boxes on each side to hold important items. The only negative is the ridge between the floor and seat bases when they’re folded – why doesn’t Skoda Australia offer the dual-level boot floor like European-spec (and NZ) models?
Service & Running Costs: 8/10
Like other Skoda models, the Octavia RS is covered by a five-year/unlimited km warranty with 12 months of roadside assistance. Five years or 75,000km of servicing costs an expensive $2,392 ($478 per service). But buyers can choose a five-year service pack at time of purchase for just $1,400 ($280 per service), which makes service costs a lot less expensive and comes with five years of roadside assistance. An absolute no-brainer, in our opinion.
Servicing the Mazda6 GT SP wagon – which has the same warranty term but with five years of roadside assistance – over five years or 50,000km costs $2,039 ($408 per service), though servicing up to 70,000km costs $2,843 ($568 per service).
The 2021 Skoda Octavia RS Wagon DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.6/10
As before, the 2021 Skoda Octavia RS Wagon is one of the best family cars that money can buy. Forget any SUV, the versatility of the Octavia RS wagon is unparalleled as it’s practical, clever, great driving dynamics, a strong yet relatively efficient engine, a long list of standard kit and reasonable running costs, especially if a service pack is chosen at the time of purchase.
Of course, the new Octavia RS does have its negative points. It’s not cheap to buy – especially with the Premium Pack – but we think it represents good value for money. Its new centre screen – like other new generation Volkswagen Group products – is not as intuitive as previous generation Octavias with too much relegated to the screen itself. But really, that’s it. As we’d expect from a Skoda, the Octavia RS’ family credentials are stronger than ever – yet, crucially for some buyers, it’s more fun to drive, better quality and more luxurious as well.