Yes Yes Yes oh YES: loaded with gadgets, clever cabin, brilliant economy
Oh dear me no: odd name, chunky exterior
There are more Skodas around that you might think. It is one of those odd brands once locked behind the formidable Iron Curtain. VW has owned a small slice since 1990, buying a much bigger slice of 70% in 1995. VW set about sharing is platforms and POOF instant hit. Were it not for VW, there is little doubt that few outside the depressed former Iron Curtain countries would ever drive a Skoda, or indeed see one.
I know I say this all the time, but what an absolute cracker. For a piddling $45,340 drive away ($43,990 sedan drive away) you get a perky full-sized wagon with bags of gear and oodles of space. Our RS had a brilliant 135kw diesel with a stonking 380Nm of torque. A diesel engine was once the death knell to anyone other than those of more bucolic pursuits. When the punters realised oil burners could travel much farther on the same tank, Australians had a major change of heart. It was as if we had personally discovered this think called a diesel engine. Many still scoff but make many more trips to the man at the fuel shop.
The Skoda is conservative on the outside with just enough jewelry to give the onlooker a sense of occasion. It’s chunky which may or may not appeal to some, but I think looks rather butch. Ignore the name for a moment and you could well imagine any European badge bunged on the front, even a German one. Although the grill looks rather like the foil on a shaver, it’s nothing you couldn’t live with.
I’ve already mentioned the Iron Curtain so no doubt you’ve conjured images of peasant’s horse drawn carts full of rotting vegetables and scrawny squawking chooks. Once upon a time that image was probably fairly accurate but these days nothing could be further from the truth. The car with the funny name has all the latest whiz-bangery you’ll find and any other classy continental vehicle.
The RS has:
fatigue detection (for tired drivers), collision avoidance, auto wipers, auto headlights with auto high beam, self-parking, radar guided cruise control, smart entry/start, Satnav, DVD player, SD card slots, voice control, premium audio, and internal flash memory to store your favourite music. Among even more tech gear, there is the smart cabin design with loads of storage that even has room for a built-in rubbish bin. They’ve even thought of a double sided matt of rubber and carpet in the cargo area. The non-slip easy clean rubber is for mess, and smart-looking carpet that will dress the space nicely at all other times. Of course there is lots more but we would be here all night so let’s move on.
The centre stack LCD screen has a proximity sensor. In some functions the menu bars only appear when your hand is near the screen but allows more real estate otherwise. If you’re using the Satnav for example, the menu bar only shows when you want it to. If you want to enter an address or change the options all you do is move your finger towards it and the menu pops up. It then auto-hides when your hand moves away again. While you’re trying to find your way around town, the screen is showing as much map as it can, not useless bits of info on a bar that doesn’t need to be there.
The cabin feels spacious and airy. There is little frippery with the kind of interior design that makes you comfy without feeling spartan. Anyone familiar with Volkswagens will recognize the switch gear which has the same quality feel and look as and other VeeDub. The knobs have resistance when they turn and don’t feel like they’ll fall apart after a minute’s use. There are thoughtful hooks on the B pillars to hang your coat on, or indeed anything else you might like out of the way.
The surface treatments are well finished. Apart from looking good there are no nasty edges and the materials look like they come from a car which costs far more. The sports seats are a mix of leather, fabric and vinyl and look amazing. As well as looking good they are con comfortable with huge side bolsters to grip your love handles so you don’t slide unattractively during brisk cornering. As tight as they hug I feel a little more support wouldn’t have gone amiss. I detected a distinct bum-shift in the brisker corners.
It’s the drive where things go from good to fabulous. Because the test car had smart start, a button had been fitted where the ignition key would otherwise be. It’s an odd place to have it but it only takes a few presses to get used to. A short press and release fires up the engine. The diesel is quiet and almost completely undetectable from inside unless you stick the boot in. There is a chamber to artificially produce an artificial engine note and send it into the cabin. That isn’t all that unusual these days. Skoda has the RS sounding more like a “flat four boxer” hot hatch than a sad lonely farm implement. This is designed to give the driver a sense of excitement that otherwise might be absent. It is incredibly clever. I would normally say that this kind of unnecessary fuss isn’t worth the effort but I was won over by the end of the drive.
For the sporty drive I roped in one of the chaps. He is straight but we won’t hold that against him. In fact it was handy to get the family man point of view so we took turns driving to compare notes later. The city run already showed how light and flexible the engine and gearbox were. The diesel only has the 6 speed DSG option. You’ll have to get the 162kw turbo petrol if you want shift-em-yourself gears. I’ve warmed to the DSG over the years but we have had a tempestuous relationship at times. It changes gears faster than a human can and because the torque converter of a regular auto transmission is absent, the fuel economy is brilliant. On the highway Skoda says 4.6L/100k isn’t out of the ballpark. Even around town they say you’ll get an impressive 6.2 L/100k. On the 50L tank you’d make it from Sydney to either Melbourne or Brisvegas on a single tank. That makes a road trip for 4 an attractive alternative to battling crowds at airports, and eating rubbish airline food, and being shouted at by surly staff who look like unmade beds. Whilst perusing the specs I noted the drag coefficient of 0.315. In case you’re wondering, it means absolutely nothing to me but I couldn’t think of another way to work “drag” into the sentence without being obvious. But enough about my friends, back to the car.
I’m always banging on about how beautiful the Royal National Park is and how sensational the corners are. Who would think that a humble diesel wagon would make such good fist of it? A gentle squeeze of the throttle brings the burbling engine to life and the mountains of torque make hills a doddle. There is a sport setting for the DSG but putting it in manual gives the driver just complete control. Shifting is via the floor lever, or better still, the steering wheel paddles. Holding gears means there is tons in reserve so as you pull out of a corner you don’t have to worry about the silly thing changing up just when you want power. Modern automatic cars all will change up as quickly as possible to conserve fuel. While this robs small Arab nations of additional income, it also sucks the life out of the reserve of power. You need to keep the revs up because 135kw will only get you so far when you’re trying to overtake.
On the subject of cornering, the Skoda handles more like a small hatch than a full size wagon. It is very willing and almost begs to be taken by the scruff of the neck. Once familiar with the handling you feel like you can chuck it into corners with the vim of an 18 year old with his first license. It is joyous. We both commented that the RS just doesn’t look like it handles the way it does. Best of all there is oodles of space in the back for sporting gear, picnic hampers or shopping bags. If you’re so inclined, the hounds would be happy chappies with their little faces pressed against the back window poking fun at the kids in the following behind.
Skoda are selling you a flexible lifestyle. You can drive to work during the week, and go rock climbing or diving on the weekend. With the rubber mat you don’t have to worry about getting the cargo hold all nasty. If any unwanted countryside finds its way in you can give the mat a hose off without feeling like your hard earned dollars are going down the drain. Personally that all sounds way too tiring. You’d be much better off being driven to the pub by a tee-total.
This car drives way better than it has any right to. It feels unbelievably sporty without breaking your ribs on uneven roads. It’s firm without being harsh. I’m a luxury suspension fancier so if I can live with it anyone can. Equally impressive is the turning circle which feels small making carparks easy. Don’t forget if you find parking a chore, you can have the car do it for you. The rear camera means you can get into tiny spaces without taking and bark off if you decide to park manually.
For this price you could get a smaller Golf GTi or Ford Focus hot hatch, but would you want to? If you need extra room for carting things about then a wagon is perfect. You could also get a Commodore wagon which is food for thought. There is a shedload of gadgets and you couldn’t be safer than if you stayed in bed.
Would I buy one? Yes if I was ever in the market for a large car.
Prices: petrol $36,490-manual, $38,790-dsg, diesel $39,790-dsg