This is a hot hatch from the wrong end of the power spectrum. In an age when most C-segment performance variants have anything between 250- and 300hp, and we've even got hyper-hatches with 350-, 381- and 400hp, then the facelifted Skoda Octavia RS 230's eponymous output looks like it is sorely lacking. However, overlook the Czech flyer at your peril, because it's one of the sweetest hot hatches on the market today - and it comes with all the traditional Octavia strengths intact.
In the metal
We've said enough about the headlight treatment of the facelifted Skoda Octavia MkIII now in our reviews of the updated regular range, the Scout off-roading model and this car's estate sibling, the RS Combi 184 TDI. So you'll know our thoughts on that matter, without us having to repeat them again and again, ad infinitum. The rest of the Octavia looks as great as it always did and the RS has the added visual attitude of big front air intakes, large and pretty 18-inch alloys (19s optionally available), twin trapezoidal tailpipes and a discreet boot spoiler on the hatchback model as driven here. We like it... from most viewing angles (you said you'd leave the headlights out of this - Ed).
Inside, you'll find the natty new steering wheel and some tasty, sculpted RS-branded sports seats, plus all the extra toys that make the 2017MY Octavia such an appealing proposition. But the RS petrol has also had a minor shot in the arm. Prior to the update, the normal TSI RS had 220hp from its 2.0-litre, four-pot turbo engine, while there was a special RS 230 model that benefitted from an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, some chassis and suspension tweaks and an additional 10hp - hence the '230' moniker.
It's going to get confusing from now on, you see, because the car test driven here is also the RS 230 and it also has 230hp, trimming two-tenths of a second from the old 220's 6.9-second 0-100km/h time. But it doesn't have the fancy differential at the front, nor does it wear the bigger wheels or special branding of a more powerful variant - that will be left to the impending RS 245, which will be the 'old' RS 230's analogue. See? Told you it was a bit convoluted.
One thing that won't be confusing for you when you drive the 2017MY Octavia RS 230 is just how blindingly brilliant it is. And you might even be wondering if that numeral in the name badge ought to read something more like '270' or '280', because this Skoda feels far more muscular and rapid than even the diff-equipped preceding 230 or the company's quoted claims for its performance prepare you for. There's a wonderful zing and clean, crisp roar to the 'EA888' 2.0-litre engine as it piles on the revs heading to its redline and the car feels enormously strong through the first four gears of the (admittedly slightly clunky) six-speed manual transmission. Pace is not something the RS 230 lacks.
Nor is chassis sharpness. Grief, this is a superbly balanced hot hatch, one that belies its 'big family car' origins with turn-in and grip that's every bit as good as some of the leading lights in the segment, and that includes vehicles with considerably more on-paper power than the Skoda. In one particularly challenging corner, a well-timed lift of the throttle even saw the RS adopting a mildly oversteering stance, so there's masses of throttle adjustability in the mix that will truly reward the keen driver. The steering is wonderful, better in this petrol car than its diesel sibling thanks to 25kg less weight at the nose, while body control is first rate and the brakes are beyond reproach.
And yet it still functions as an honest-to-goodness Octavia, blessing its occupants with a ride that's tellingly firm but never uncomfortable (confession: we couldn't discern much of a difference between the Skoda's 'Comfort' and 'Sport' modes in the Dynamic Chassis Control adjustable damping, but as we liked both of them equally we'll kind of gloss over this minor hiccup), restricting wind noise and tyre roar to mere background susurration, providing light and clear controls to make placing the Skoda accurately on the road a doddle. You know when people say something is a great all-rounder, by which they mean it's good at many things but exceptional at none? That's not the Octavia RS. The Octavia RS is clearly master of all its trades.
You can pick the diesel and you can option up the DSG transmission and you can have the wagon (we love estates normally...) if you absolutely must, but, for the purest Octavia RS experience going, simple is best. Manual, hatchback, petrol. Job, emphatically, done.
What you get for your money
A Volkswagen Golf GTI in a sharp Czech suit, the Skoda is cheaper, more fulsomely equipped, somehow cooler and also bigger in every conceivable dimension, and better-looking (well, apart from its face... oh, sorry, we're not mentioning that, are we?) to boot. Because that's essentially what the Octavia RS is; the car that surely undermines the Golf in every respect. If you're all about pub-boasting performance data and searing straight-line performance, something like a Honda Civic Type R or SEAT Leon Cupra 300 is going to be your weapon of choice. But if you're after a really well-rounded, understated and utterly charming motor that also drives in a sparkling fashion when you're in the mood for it, nothing beats a petrol Octavia RS. Not even a Golf GTI. So the fact all of this is available for considerably less than 40 grand has to be the icing on a particularly succulent cake.
There are faster hot hatches than the Skoda Octavia RS 230 and there are ones that arguably have a better chassis than this. And, naturally, there are ones with supposedly much more desirable brand badges on their hides. But there are very few that are anything like as supremely polished and utterly likeable as the Octavia across all automotive disciplines. If only Skoda hadn't gone and uglified the front of it during the facelift (you're fired - Ed), we'd be doling out full marks here - we absolutely adore this new 230. And we cannot wait to try the RS 245 that's on the way, either.