Octavia has flown Skoda’s flag in the medium sector, which has provided the brand with both presence and great successes, suggests Iain Robertson, but the entirely new Scala model takes the fight directly to Skoda’s key rivals, like never before.
Skoda has never had a true midfielder hatchback in its line-up. The ever so popular Octavia, beloved by taxi firms, the police, emergency services and both private and business motorists, has provided a vital backbone to the brand. It is as large as any of its midfield rivals that include the Avensis, Jetta and 408 and, while they have endured the pain of faltering sales, Skoda has managed to ride out the registrations storm without injury. Thought of as a cut-price Audi, the car has always made sense.
Due to its ‘odd’ dimensions, it has been thought of by critics as being little more than a marginally roomier and more accommodating alternative to those aforementioned rivals, although comparison road tests tend to group it with the smaller Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, which has been a little unfair and confusing in some respects. Having owned a run of Octavias, I personally hold them in high regard. However, as the market has been undergoing tremendous changes of late, not helped by the rash of new SUVs hitting the scene, Skoda was feeling out-of-step with its competitors and, while the new Scala does not replace the Octavia immediately, it is clear that Skoda is rethinking its position.
Of course, the Scala is Golf-based but I would defy you to compare them head-on, as the Scala is lighter of touch, less conservative than ever and a breath of fresh air in the important compact hatchback market sector. It is also roomier than its progenitor. Confronted by the latest Focus, Corolla and Mazda3, all of which have been recently updated and dramatically improved, Skoda employs its ‘simply clever’ attributes to make its ‘same-sized’ model THE car of choice in a crowded car parc.
We have already been teased with the lightly disguised pre-launch models and then Skoda teased us again with its striking new interior design language but here it is, in all its final production glory, the most up-to-date and trend-setting Skoda ever. The engine mix starts with either 92, or 112bhp versions of the 1.0-litre ‘turbo-triple’, a 147bhp 1.5-litre turbo-petrol (with cylinder shut-off technology) and a 1.6-litre, 112bhp turbo-diesel. Later in 2019, a rather special 87bhp, 1.0-litre compressed natural gas engine will also be available, which will be of significant interest to the company car sector. Only the base model receives a 5-speed manual gearbox, the rest driving through either a 6-speed manual, or 7-speed DSG alternative.
As to those ‘simply clever’ attributes, try the following for size: an integrated funnel in the washer-bottle (to make filling better than spilling), the usual ice-scraper/tyre-depth device in the fuel flap, a folding front passenger seat backrest (to accommodate longer loads), folding tray tables on the front seatbacks (a real ‘first’ for a non-MPV/SUV-class of car), an umbrella-holder complete with umbrella in the driver’s door, hi-vis vest storage in each door panel, a rubbish bin set into the driver’s door pocket (that can be relocated to the other pockets), a net underneath the rear parcel shelf for carrying personal belongings out-of-sight, which can also be easily-stored upright behind the rear seats, an electric tailgate with tip-to-close function, boot nets and bag hooks. If you tow, a factory-fitted electrically-retractable tow-bar is available. There are actually a lot more practical functions that will appeal to all potential company car operators but I just do not have sufficient space to detail them.
Scala’s connectivity is at levels never available before in any Skoda. There is even an upgradable online app shop that can be accessed via the on-board touch-screen. If you ever wondered about fuel prices, while driving, they are now available through a live link, when using the sat-nav system. The 3D navigation system will also provide live updates of traffic conditions and provide trustworthy diversion choices before you even think you might need them. It does appear as though Skoda has thought of every imaginable motoring annoyance and found an appropriate detail fitment to counter it. I do applaud the company’s resolve.
The eye-catching headlights are full-LED and feature auto-dim function, as well as cornering illumination (the rears are also all-LED). Meanwhile, Scala’s indicators are of a dynamic type, flashing individual LEDs from the inner to outer edges during direction changes, just like up-market Audis. The new Skoda is also packed with useful driver assistance and safety aids as standard. While a four-position driving mode, which comes as part of the VW Group MQB chassis architecture, alters suspension, engine and gearbox dynamics, an optional sport suspension pack lowers the car by a further 20mm and enhances its already crisp and responsive driving characteristics.
The Scala’s handling is exemplary, with light, responsive steering, matched by assured braking and a comfortable default ride quality. While the progressively less resilient chassis settings can verge on ‘too firm’, I would venture to suggest that it is the most dynamically perfect Skoda ever. There is no denying its handsome good looks, it is exceptionally well-built and unerringly comfortable in a genuinely high-quality sense. The new Skoda Scala sets fresh standards by which its rivals will be judged in the future. If that is the key to the brand’s future sales successes, which I am sure will be welcomed and talked about by Scala customers, it would not surprise me, if the Scala becomes not just a brand best-seller but a market leader in its own right.
Skoda is yet to announce its list prices but you can rest assured that they will be competitive, even though VW Group has been hiking them upwards at every available opportunity. Rest assured, in a market sector that is waking-up to greater customer demands, the new Scala sets the benchmark.