First drive: The Skoda Octavia Sportline offers vRS looks without the running costs
What is it?
This is the new trend in the automotive industry – sporty trims on otherwise mundane cars. It’s a great way to cash in on the sporty appeal of go-faster models that don’t have the associated high running costs.
We’ve seen it from Hyundai with N Line models and Ford with the ST-Line, and Skoda has been putting Sportline trims on its other models for a while now. So, while this may look a bit like an Octavia vRS on the outside, it’s a bit like putting a fancy frock over your work overalls.
That’s not to be overly harsh – a fancy frock is a fancy frock, after all. Consumers love a sporty-looking car and saving at the pumps, so the recipe is an appealing one. The trim might be new to the Octavia but it has proved successful already on the Karoq, Kodiaq and Superb.
The Sportline slots in at the top of the ‘normal’ Octavia range, below the vRS, and has been designed to look a lot like the vRS at a glance. It also gets more on-board technology and an upgraded interior, as well as a choice between two efficient engines.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Sportline is available with a choice of a 1.5-litre petrol or 2.0-litre diesel, both making 148bhp. Our test car came with the highly coveted petrol, which is well-regarded throughout the VW Group’s range of cars.
It’s available with a six-speed manual or seven-speed auto and we tested the former. It promises a diesel-rivalling 46.3 to 40.4mpg, meaning you won’t be spending a fortune at the pumps.
Those figures are achievable, too, because the engine’s power is delivered in lazy surges that reward a more relaxed driving style. There’s enough gusto to pull off a well-planned overtake, but vRS looks certainly don’t equate to vRS performance.
What’s it like to drive?
The Octavia’s cleverest trick is that it’s wholly unremarkable to drive in almost every way. You jump in the driver’s seat and everything falls to hand easily, the control weights, such as the steering and pedals, are perfectly judged, and it’s small enough to be easy to place on the road.
The engine’s performance isn’t exciting, but there’s enough to keep you interested on a back road. That’s good news, because the Octavia handles well as it is, with the sportier suspension only improving things. We must emphasise, though, that this model definitely leans towards the dull Octavia side of the scale, rather than the more exciting vRS – it’s more chicken korma than jalfrezi.
In everyday driving there might be a touch less comfort from the stiffer springs, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice.
How does it look?
The key selling point of the Sportline trim is that it brings a touch of sportiness to the mundanity of the Octavia, and it genuinely succeeds. There’s a gloss black front spoiler, grille, door mirrors and rear diffuser, while hatchback models get a gloss black rear spoiler. The 18-inch alloy wheels enhance the sporty stance without ruining the ride. It looks great.
To the uninitiated, this could genuinely be the hot vRS. While that might irritate owners of the go-faster model, those who don’t want that extra performance but like the styling might just have found the perfect compromise.
What’s it like inside?
Perhaps the only area that the Sportline fails to add drama is in the cabin, because it looks very much like your common or garden variety Octavia inside. That’s to say, quite dark and dull.
This is a Skoda, so don’t expect premium materials, but what you do get is excellent build quality and a feeling that it’ll last forever. The sport seats don’t feel much more cosseting than the standard-fit items but they’re comfortable enough, while the three-spoke leather steering wheel is a nice upgrade.
Meanwhile, the infotainment system is as easy to use as we’ve come to expect, and the touchscreen responsive to inputs. It’s also not overly-reliant on the screen, meaning plenty of physical buttons that make changing settings nice and easy.
What’s the spec like?
What with this being one of the range-topping trim levels, there’s a decent amount of kit included. Sportline-specific equipment includes satellite navigation with an eight-inch touchscreen display, sport seats and upholstery, and a black headlining. On the outside there’s the aforementioned body kit and larger wheels.
These items are extra on top of what you’d get in an SE trim, such as cruise control, driving modes, parking sensors and fog lights. All models get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED rear lights and automatic post-collision braking as standard.
The Skoda Octavia is one of the most underrated models on the market, offering lots of space, a great driving experience and fantastic value for money – but it’s not normally the most exciting car out there. With this new Sportline trim you get all the same goodness with a little extra pizazz.
Don’t buy one think it’s a vRS-lite – the engines aren’t powerful enough for that – but for those who want go-faster looks without having to pay a packet at the pumps, the Sportline treads an appealing line. That said, the SE and SE L trims are similarly equipped, so if you don’t need the looks, they offer better value.