Skoda treats its top-end performance model of the Octavia, the RS, to the same distinctive facelift treatment as the rest of the range. Aside from the potentially divisive looks of the nose, though, the rest of the Czech performance package remains superb - and you could argue that this automatic diesel estate version is all the car most people would ever need.
In the metal
A harsh mark for the Skoda's looks? Perhaps, but we've always liked the marque's crisp, understated styling, which majors on a lack of fussiness and plenty of neat straight lines. Most of this, unchanged as it is from the pre-facelift car, is preserved, but of course that's ignoring what Skoda has done to the Octavia's face. Love it or loathe it, at the very least the company should be commended for making a significant difference - but I must say that I am not a fan of the quadruple headlights. At all. It's a shame, because the Octavia was a good-looking machine and we worry that Skoda might enact this quad-lamped appearance on other models, like the Superb and Fabia, when the time comes to overhaul them. We'll wait, nervously, and see how things develop.
Still, there's a bold new grille and some crystalline details in the various light units that are both inspired by the Kodiak SUV's appearance, and overall the Combi estate - never likely to be a popular choice here in Ireland, for reasons we still can't quite understand - is just about likeable enough, if you're not looking at the front of it. But the interior is a big tick: same quality materials and thoughtful layout as before, only now with updated infotainment (the top-spec unit has a lovely, 9.2-inch glass touchscreen), a 'super-sports' multifunction steering wheel and much more equipment as standard. The Octavia remains as massive within as ever, with more than enough room for five six-foot adults to get comfy and a simply ginormous boot aft of the passenger compartment, which can hold 610 litres of clobber with a full complement of humans on board.
If you want a practical performance car, the Skoda Octavia RS Combi is the obvious choice - it's based on C-segment underpinnings, but it has enough space on board to trouble something like a Mercedes E-Class Estate, never mind an Opel Insignia Sports Tourer. So, to that end, and given we still love diesels in this country, you're going to want the 2.0 TDI engine. While you're at it, you might as well have the DSG gearbox as well, which brings in paddle shifts on the new steering wheel.
Thus equipped, the Octavia is a marvellous car that's quietly competent, if not quite as exciting to drive as its 230hp petrol sibling. There's absolutely nothing to complain about with the motive force of the 184hp/380Nm turbodiesel engine, which makes the Skoda feel decently rapid, and as diesels go it likes to rev. But it doesn't have the high-end firepower of the RS 230, the torque falling away markedly from 3,500rpm onwards, and - coupled to this DSG transmission - it can mean that overtakes become scrappy, two-stage affairs: you floor the throttle and pull out, only for the acceleration to suddenly feel 'thin' as the transmission kicks down to a lower gear and seeks out the redline - then, as the gearbox shifts up, you get the really meaningful increase in forward momentum and you surge past the car you were passing.
There's also an augmented engine and exhaust noise at the lower revs that might annoy some folk, although we'd say we aren't overly bothered by it. The ride quality is good to firm, if we might borrow a horse-racing term, and the steering could do with a gnat's more feel. But, as you can probably tell, we're somewhat clutching at straws here. If you want a hugely composed, comfortable, dynamically well-sorted, reasonably engaging machine, the Octavia RS should be top of your list.
It has great body control, lovely weighting and superb consistency to the steering (more than making up for the lack of feedback), strong brakes, really well-judged damping and a general air of togetherness that makes it a delight to row along at speed. And then it simply lopes along motorways with consummate ease, the damping - like so many sporty cars these days - properly settling into a comfortable gait once you've gone past 100km/h. So while you might get more thrills-per-kilometre from the petrol hatchback manual RS, for combatting the drudgery of day-to-day driving and then having some meaty performance in reserve when you need it, the RS TDI Combi ticks all the right boxes. Excellent.
What you get for your money
We still get a 10-strong Octavia RS line-up here in Ireland, with an emphasis on diesels, as there are six different models that drink from the black pump and just four petrol cars. This variety is made up of two engines, two body styles, two gearboxes and two forms of drive. You can have the RS 230 2.0-litre TSI as a hatchback or Combi, and either with or without the optional six-speed DSG transmission, giving four different selections for petrolheads.
Then it's much the same story with this 2.0-litre 184hp diesel motor, only you can also specify it with four-wheel drive (essentially, the running gear out of the top-of-the-range Octavia Scout) - if you go for all-corners traction, you are given no choice but to have the DSG gearbox, too, as there's no manual option. The premiums for all of these items are as follows: the 230 is €1,400 more expensive than the equivalent 184 TDI; a wagon is €1,000 more than a hatchback; the DSG, where available, adds €2,345 to the ticket; and 4x4 will set you back a whopping €3,200, which makes the Octavia Combi RS TDI 4x4 at €40,995 the costliest RS of the lot.
The standard equipment list is generous and you get additional safety equipment too, like Trailer Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Park Assist 3.0 with a rear-view camera and Blind Spot Detect. You also get a car that's sized like a D-segment machine, but priced to compete in the C-segment, which has always been the Octavia's USP. It is, though, more expensive in this RS Combi guise than an equivalent SEAT Leon ST FR, by almost €7,000, but the Spanish car needs plenty of cost options to make its kit count match that of the Skoda.
Aside from those weird headlights, the Skoda Octavia RS Combi remains one of our favourite cars in the class. It's an elegant, grown-up sort of estate that simply gets the job done in a fuss-free fashion, and yet it's not completely boring or without character as a result. The petrol RS is the one to choose if you value driving enjoyment above all else; however, this diesel automatic wagon is the winner for the realities of modern motoring - and you simply won't get this much space for less cash anywhere else. The Czech car therefore remains a fantastic proposition in the family hatchback/estate class.