Skoda Octavia RS 2014 Review
Derek Ogden road tests and reviews the 2014 Skoda Octavia RS wagon.
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The only thing Craig Lowndes and I have in common is that I'm driving a car with his name on it around the most daunting race track in Australia.
No, I haven't suddenly landed a seat on the V8 Supercar grid in this weekend's Bathurst 1000, I'm driving the first Holden road car to wear Lowndes' name. He put his name to 650 Ford Falcon utes in 2007.
Following in the tyre tracks of his fallen hero, the late great Peter Brock, Craig Lowndes now has his name on a special edition Holden Commodore. If this one sells well, more may follow.
To see what Job One is like, Holden invited a group of media for a test drive with a twist: we would get to blast around Australia's mecca of motorsport, during a gap in practice sessions for the V8 Supercars in race week.
This meant there was an added risk. Not only were there concrete barriers to be avoided, if something did go wrong it would happen in front of a crowd. And we all know how supportive and understanding race fans can be when confronted with a car wreck.
After initially planning to build just 161 cars (a tribute to the number of laps to complete the Bathurst 1000) demand was so strong Holden will now build 233 of these (all hand finished near the end of the production line at Elizabeth). That's one per dealer, and most cars are already spoken for. And I don't want to leave Holden with only 232 to sell.
So with the pressure that I can only imagine race drivers feel at the start of a hot lap, Holden racers Luke Youlden and Nathan Pretty lead us out in two groups of four cars, single file.
The plan: follow the lead driver's line, do as you're told over the radio, and yell out if you're feeling giddy or overwhelmed.
It's great in theory but if the car ahead of you and the car ahead of him gets the line slightly wrong, then you end up all over the place. Racing line? It was more like Chinese whispers.
It's a good thing, then, the Commodore feels so sure-footed. Changes to the electric power steering have given a more precise feel, while the brakes (now with extra stopping power thanks to Brembo calipers on the rear as well as the front) are a lot more resistant to fade.
I don't pretend to be able to give any worthwhile feedback to the engineers in pit lane, but it's safe to say the minor changes to the suspension (new bushes if you're curious) and the massive 20-inch wheels and tyres (staggered so the rears are wider than the fronts) make the Lowndes edition feel more planted than any Commodore to date.
The best additions, though, are the paddle shifters on the steering wheel so you can now get the best out of the automatic.
Tap 'up' or 'down' and it will select the next gear. But if you hold the 'down' paddle long enough, while braking heavily, it will snap into the lower gear as soon as the engine revs will allow it.
Never before have two tiny bits of plastic made such a massive improvement to a big brute of a car.
Driving up mountain straight, and then tapping back down the gears for the trip up, over and down the mountain, had me converted from a diehard manual fan to a believer in the new world order of automatics with paddle shifters.
There's no extra power in the 6.0-litre V8 from the Craig Lowndes edition Commodore (indeed, the automatic still has a 10kW power deficit compared with the manual: 260kW versus 270kW) but for now it's enough.
Although our speed was limited to about 140km/h on our high speed test drive, it was still daunting, especially when most corners are blind from The Cutting to The Dipper and all the way down to Forrest's Elbow.
What a place. What an epic experience. Forget bungee jumping, this will do me thanks very much.
Being able to enjoy a car like this, in its element, albeit over just four laps, gives you a new appreciation for why so many young race drivers -- and international stars -- make it their life's mission to compete at Bathurst.
The place is addictive, scary, and exhilarating all in one. It is without question one of the best tracks in the world.
So it is with great sadness to think that this won't happen again. It really is the end of an era. Driving an Australian-made car named after an Australian legend, on Australia's best race track.
We lost the Ford Falcon GT this week, as the last one rolled off the Broadmeadows assembly line and Ford starts its countdown to closure two years from now.
The following year, Holden will do the same. And then Toyota will close months later, and the lights will be out on Australian car manufacturing forever.
No wonder Holden says 37 per cent of all Commodores sold nowadays are V8s -- the highest in the 36-year history of the Commodore. Australians are snapping them up, buying one last one before it's too late.
What a shame more of us didn't buy a new locally-made car more often. I bought five over the past 10 years. I did my bit to try to save the local car industry. Did you do yours?
|Evoke||3.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$8,100 – 12,540||2014 Holden Commodore 2014 Evoke Pricing and Specs|
|Evoke (LPG)||3.6L, LPG, 6 SP AUTO||$8,900 – 13,420||2014 Holden Commodore 2014 Evoke (LPG) Pricing and Specs|
|International||3.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$9,900 – 14,960||2014 Holden Commodore 2014 International Pricing and Specs|
|International (LPG)||3.6L, LPG, 6 SP AUTO||$10,900 – 15,950||2014 Holden Commodore 2014 International (LPG) Pricing and Specs|