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Skoda’s diesel Octavia RS: there are just some cars that feel made for Ireland

When the bright green RS estate arrived for testing, it felt like Christmas and a birthday had come at once

Skoda Octavia RS
Skoda Octavia RS
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Year: 2024
Fuel: Diesel
Verdict: Perfectly pitched for Irish conditions, and you can use HVO as a diesel fig-leaf.

It was supposed to have been our last chance. Just before the end of 2023, Skoda Ireland put in a call to remind us that when the latest update to the hugely popular Octavia was scheduled to arrive, in mid-2024, there would be no more diesel-engined sporty RS version.

The diesel RS is the rural Irish equivalent of a red Ferrari in northern Italy, or a sliver Porsche in the hills surrounding Stuttgart. It is the sine qua non of performance, mixed in this case with relative affordability and practicality.

So yes, we would be hugely interested in taking a white fastback Octavia RS saloon for one last spin. And we did. And we were sad to see the back of it, even with the reassurance that the updated Octavia range will still contain a petrol-powered RS model. There is still just enough rural (west Cork, in my case) blood in our veins to make the diesel version more resonant.

Skoda Octavia RS

And that was it. Goodbye, so long, auf wiedersehen, farewell. Except, it wasn’t quite. Except, like Frank Sinatra, Status Quo and Spina Tap, the diesel Octavia RS managed to summon the energy for one last farewell tour. And this time it was going to be even better.

There are just some cars that feel made for Ireland. They don’t come up all that often, as most of the big car makers tune and tweak their cars for the biggest markets – Germany, the UK, China, the US. Hardly surprising, really. Who’s going to allocate expensive engineering and development time for the sake of a few hundred Irish sales each year?

Nonetheless, sometimes serendipity provides. Occasionally, a car designed and engineered for elsewhere seems to work perfectly here. The Skoda Octavia RS diesel is one of those cars, and it’s not just the way it feels on the road.

Mind you, that does seem to be pretty much ideal for Irish conditions, as it happens. Skoda has previously undertaken chassis development work in Ireland, but that was for the all-electric Enyaq. Perhaps by osmosis then, the Octavia RS seems to have picked up some of that knowledge and applied it brilliantly.

Skoda Octavia RS

The RS isn’t the punchiest car around – 200hp and 400Nm of torque are decent, but a 7.4 seconds 0-100km/h time is no one’s idea of high performance. That said, the solid hit of mid-range torque, on tap from as little as 1,750rpm, means that the Octavia RS can still feel indecently fleet when you chase it up through the gears. Fuel economy is still excellent, though – 5.0-litres per 100km when you are cruising; 6.0-litres per 100km at, ahem, other times.

It manages to feel far more deft than you’d be expecting, too. The Octavia RS is not a dainty car – 1,500kg is lighter than any EV equivalent, but it’s still on the chunky side – but it can be made to dance with the alacrity of a semi-pro Strictly entrant when the mood takes you. The steering has a meaty weight to it, and while you have to give the nose a second or two to allow for the weight of the diesel engine up front, once it does so the RS seems to pivot nicely around your hips. On a traditional stretch of broken, twisting, narrow, wet and slippery Irish back road, it felt utterly at home and outrageously enjoyable.

But this is Ireland, so there’s more to being well-suited here than just being fun to drive. Having two cars is an unknowable luxury for most, so the Octavia RS has to perform multiple duties. Which it does with aplomb and most especially the version we were driving. Yes, the white saloon version was nice enough, but when the bright green RS estate arrived for testing, it felt like Christmas and a birthday had come at once.

Skoda Octavia RS

You mean I can have the 200hp thump, the deft chassis, and still carry a wardrobe, or two, in the 640-litre boot if needed? Yes I can… combined with the spacious rear seats, and the kind of high-quality cabin that will convince even beady-eyed elderly relatives that you’ve just had a promotion at work. Seriously, if you can find a qualitative difference between the cabin of this Octavia RS and a similar Audi, BMW or Mercedes, then please write to us on a postcard.

It’s also a subtle-looking thing, or would have been without the mamba green paint, which personally I would not discard. The saloon gets a minimalist strip of carbon-fibre spoiler at the edge of the rear hatch; there are some subtle-looking 19-inch alloys; and a discreet RS badge in the corner of the grille. Only the cognoscenti will spot it (green paint aside). Everyone else will assume you’ve bought a sensible Skoda saloon, and in the land of begrudgery, that cannot be underestimated.

With diesel having little appeal these days, that’s perhaps not very surprising. The good news is that Skoda is currently working on an all-electric replacement for the Octavia, and given that there’s already an all-electric RS in the form of the Enyaq, maybe there’s hope for the future.

Or, for that matter, for the present. Skoda is currently partnering with fuel supplier Certa to encourage its diesel-driving customers to switch to HVO (hydro-treated vegetable oil) as a diesel substitute. While there is – occasionally frenzied –debate about the efficacy of HVO, and whether its claimed 90 per cent reduction in carbon emissions is worth the paper it’s printed on, if nothing else at least it’s slightly less noxious than burning fossil diesel, and as the supermarket people say, every little helps, right?

Away from such concerns, Skoda has just celebrated 30 years in Ireland, and it has expanded from just 73 buyers that first year, who could only choose from the Felicia hatchback, to more than 10,000 in 2023, with the 10,000th collecting their €50,000-odd Enyaq EV in October.

The Octavia has been a huge part of that success, and amid the apparently insatiable clamour for SUVs, it’s still in the top-10 best-sellers list – actually the second best-selling car in Ireland at the time of writing, and that’s without even the newest updated model arriving yet – and has helped Skoda to second place overall in the Irish sales charts. The Czechs may even now be eyeing up Toyota’s first position.

That is for the future, but perhaps future Skoda success has been ordained from on high. After all, when The Irish Times spoke to Skoda Ireland’s brand manager John Donegan, his most cherished memory of his time with the car maker was: “August 25th, 2018. Pope Francis disembarked an Alitalia flight at Dublin Airport and boarded a specially developed Skoda Rapid that transported him for the duration of his historic visit to Ireland.”

From holy orders to a car wholly suitable for Irish conditions. Happy (belated) birthday Skoda Ireland, and happy travels Octavia RS diesel. We’ll not see your like again.

Lowdown: Skoda Octavia RS TDI

Power: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel putting out 200hp and 400Nm of torque through a seven-speed automatic gearbox powering the front wheels.

0-100km/h: 7.5 seconds.

Emissions (motor tax): 129g/km (€200)

Fuel consumption: 4.9l/100km (WLTP).

Price: €47,845 as tested (Octavia starts at €30,245).

Our verdict: Perfectly pitched for Irish conditions, and you can use HVO as a diesel fig-leaf.

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