Diesel hot hatches offer a sublime blend of prudent running costs and silly horsepower. But are these performance diesels good enough to turn the head of a GTI enthusiast? We drive the Octavia RS, the VW Golf GTD and the Volvo’s R Design to find out
Skoda Octavia RS
At first glance it appears to be just a regular Octavia; some changes have been made to the bumper, there’s newly designed fog lights, distinctive air inlets and a new front grille but overall the effect is very understated. Once nestled into the supportive seats, the sporty feeling is evident thanks to the brushed aluminium trim, ambient door handle lighting, alloy pedals and low driving position.
Lurking beneath the bonnet is a 184bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine that hurtles the RS from 0-60 in just 8.1 seconds and reaches a top speed of 143 mph, it is also more efficient, using 19 per cent less fuel. A host of new efficiency systems including Start-Stop and Brake Energy Regeneration have enhanced its fuel sipping abilities. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a six-speed DSG dual clutch automatic optional. There is also a 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine option for the RS models.
It’s also significantly cheaper than a Golf GTI, a five door 2.0 TDi RS starts at £23,310 when compared to £26,780 for a five door GTi . And by running on diesel, the Octavia is predictably superior to that of any petrol hot hatch. Skoda claims a combined mpg of 61.4 and 119g/km.
Equipped with a chassis lowered by 12 millimetres the Octavia RS also gets a sports suspension as standard and a new XDS electronic differential integrated into the electronic stability control (ESC) which helps reduce under steer and improve traction through the corners. On the road the steering is direct, the gear change is slick and the handling super sharp. It also feels far faster than the official performance figures suggest. With diesel it’s all about mid range performance and the Octavia does not disappoint. The ride is reassuringly firm and while never unduly harsh on bad roads the bumps are noticeable.
The Skoda Octavia RS is available in Combi or estate version or five door hatch. The RS its one of the best all round cars available today, it is spacious, fast, comfortable and economical to run but purely as a hot hatch we would have preferred a bit more refinement and a bit more fun at lower speeds.
While the styling of the VW Golf GTD is a lesson in restrained minimalism subtle visual sporting cues are evident and include a black-matte honeycomb grille, smoked LED rear lights, chrome dual tailpipes, 17-inch alloy wheels, side skirts and large roof spoiler.
Inside the quality is unrivalled and it is beautifully built and spacious. Unique touches such as the tartan sports seats and a black roof lining, sports steering wheel, golf ball toped gearshift and stainless-steel pedals distinguish it sufficiently from the standard Golf. If the Octavia is all about understated performance the GTD is an exercise in pure refinement. Put your foot to the floor and the response is instant and the rumble from the diesel engine is barely audible once you’re up to speed.
Volkswagen had increased the torque by almost 10 per cent from the previous model to 380 Nm and on the road the car just oozes pure pulling power. Spend some time with the GTD and it begins to feels like a very different car than its sibling, it is so much more than an accountant’s GTi.
The steering is perfectly weighted and is razor sharp, sweep through bend and it is grippy and balanced in equal measure and delivers the sort of agility most driving enthusiasts crave.
As standard you get 17-inch alloy wheels, GTD decorative insets, twin tailpipes, a unique radiator grille, steering wheel, bumpers and a GTD emblem. Inside there’s Bluetooth, electric windows, air conditioning and cruise control.
Priced at £26,220 for the five door the GTD is super to drive, cheaper to run and tax and is far less thirsty but it’s not as engaging as the GTI.
Volvo’s 174bhp V40 D4 R-Design Lux
The V40 premium compact hatch marked a radical departure for Volvo and has the potential to change your view of Volvo forever. Stunning inside and out in regular trim specify it in R-Design trim and the sporty stance is enhanced by five-spoke diamond cut 17 inch alloys with matching silver wing mirrors twin, chrome exhaust pipes and LED running lights
Slipping into the cabin you are immediately reassured by the simple and stylish Swedish interior. This minimalist design is both practical and functional. The main controls of the futuristic-looking floating centre console are small and a little fiddly but the supremely comfortable sculptured leather sports seats more than compensate. Priced at £26,145 the R-Design adds a sports steering wheel, sports pedals and aluminium inlays. The seats feature a blend of black Nubuck textile and perforated leather, crowned by an embroidered R-Design logo with a blue “R”.
Our test car was powered by 177bhp D4 diesel which is the least powerful of three models tested but this potent 2.0-litre 5-cylinder turbo-diesel delivers the most torque with 400Nms on tap.
It goes from rest to 60 mph in just 9.6 seconds and returns a very frugal 65.7mpg. While it feels slower that both the RS and the GTD initially once up to speed the extra torque is evident and it is punchy and powerful. Like other models in the line-up the V40 D4 has a firm ride and handles beautifully, perfectly balanced with direct steering. Over rough surfaces although it is a little too firm for most tastes but it is a very rewarding car to drive. However in the company of the RS and GTD flaws become apparent; both offer far more confidence inspiring handling and a feedback that is lacking from the V40.
Only time spent on a race track could truly separate these three cars but on the day to day grind there is little between them. The RS is the most spacious the GTD the most frugal and the V40 easily the most stylish. On the road all three are cars great to drive and make far more sense in these lean times than the petrol option.
But while the GTI is thirstier and running cost are higher when that seductive low grumble emanates from the tailpipes, I smile and all thoughts of a diesel hot hatch disappear.
|Skoda Octavia RS Combi TDI||Volkswagen Golf GTD||Volvo V40 D4|
|Max speed||143 mph||143 mph||138 mph|
|0-60||8.2 seconds||7.5 seconds||8.6 seconds|
|Power||184hp at 3,500- to 4,000||184hp at 3,500- to 4,000||177hp at 3,500|
|Torque||380Nm at 1,750- to 3,000||380Nm at 1,750- to 3,250||400Nm at 1,750- to 2,750|
|Fuel||61.4mpg (4.6 l/100km)||67.3mpg (4.2 l/100km)||65.7mpg (4.3 l/100km)|
For more information on each car tested here
Volkswagen GTD – check out Volkswagen.co.uk or the VW Facebook page.
Skoda Octavia RS – check out Skoda.co.uk or the Skoda Facebook page
Volvo V40 – check out Volvo UK’s website or the Volvo UK Facebook page.
26th March, 2014