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2 Apr, 2019 7:00pm John McIlroy
We test out the new Skoda Scala to see whether or not Skoda has cracked the perfect hatchback recipe
The Skoda Scala is the model designed for people who want a Skoda as their family car, but who find the Octavia just that little bit too big. Because while the proven hatchback gets constant praise for its best-in-class practicality, it is also that bit larger than the likes of the VW Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra – and harder to park and place as a result.
The Scala, then, is a straight-down-the-line rival for those aforementioned vehicles. It’s 4,263mm long, so around 10cm longer than a Golf, but the wheelbases of the two cars are much more closely matched.
Under the skin, however, Skoda has been quite clever with its new model – because it is based not on the same MQB A1 platform that underpins the Octavia, Golf, SEAT Leon and Audi A3, but rather the cheaper A0 version that you’ll find on a SEAT Ibiza or VW Polo. It’s been stretched to its extreme in the Scala’s case, but it does retain a few cheaper elements – such as a torsion beam rear suspension configuration, with not even the option of a multi-link set-up on more powerful variants, as there is on the Golf and Focus.
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The Scala will be offered with a choice of petrol engines – a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo, with 113bhp and 200Nm of torque, and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo that has 148bhp and 250Nm. There is also a diesel – a 1.6-litre with 113bhp, emitting just 108g/km of CO2.
Skoda does plan to offer an even more modest entry point further down the line, but the 94bhp version of the 1.0-litre won’t come until after the rest of the range lands in dealerships this summer. When it does arrive, it’ll be the only engine in the line-up with a five-speed manual gearbox; all the rest get either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The trim levels will look familiar to anyone who’s recently perused a Skoda brochure. The range starts with S, which gets 16-inch alloys, LED headlights, air-con, front and rear electric windows and a 6.5-inch infotainment display. SE adds cruise control and rear parking sensors, and increases the infotainment screen size to eight inches, as well as offering Android and Apple smartphone connectivity for navigation.
The range-topper is the SE L, which includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED rear lights, dynamic (animated) indicators, rear privacy glass, a digital instrument cluster and climate control. It also features Skoda’s biggest infotainment system, the 9.2-inch Amundsen system.
On the face of it, Skoda is being punchy on pricing. The entry-level Scala 1.0 S will cost you £16,595; that’s around two grand less than Ford’s 99bhp Focus Style. But of course, resale values and the resulting monthly payment plans will be more important to most retail buyers than the headline figure. And it’s worth noting that S won’t be available at the car’s launch – so the starting entry point for the Scala range will be a 1.0 SE, at £18,585.
Still, that version is tipped to be the best-seller anyway, and it doesn’t take long on the road to see why it’ll have wide-ranging appeal. Its three-cylinder motor has just about enough shove low down to get the Scala up to speed, and as long as you keep it spinning above 1,400rpm, you shouldn’t be too troubled by turbo lag. Acceleration is steady rather than strong, but there’s enough shove there to make things feel comfortable enough when getting up to speed on a motorway on-ramp, for example.
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The six-speed gearbox is slick enough, with a reasonably short throw, and while the steering is typically VW Group in its reluctance to communicate what the front wheels are doing, it is generally accurate and consistently weighted.
If you think this makes Skoda’s latest offering sound a bit anodyne, you’d be right; the Scala is not going to win any prizes for driver involvement. If you want fun, you’ll still be better served by a Ford Focus or even a Golf – but for those after more simple pleasures, Skoda’s engineers have done a commendable job of turning the smaller MQB platform into a bigger car.
On our test car’s 17-inch rims, the Scala rode impressively over most surfaces, troubled only by a little low-speed patter and sharper imperfections, such as poorly aligned bridge expansion joints, which can thunk through to the cabin.
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It’s pretty refined, too. Should you feel the need to push the 1.0 petrol to the upper half of its rev range, you’ll be treated to the usual three-cylinder burble. But shift up at a sensible point and the Scala feels every bit as composed as the current Octavia, and a noticeable step on from its closer relatives, the Ibiza and Polo. It’s not really any more uncouth than three-cylinder rivals of this size, for sure.
We also tried the more potent four-cylinder petrol engine with the DSG gearbox, but while it does deliver a more grown-up experience, and the motor feels happier about life in a car of the Scala’s size, the software in the dual-clutch gearbox doesn’t feel quite as slick as it would in a Golf. Unless you need two pedals, we suspect the manual will be a better option.
The diesel installation feels like it suffers most from the Scala’s humble origins. For while the petrol units are generally smooth, the 1.6 TDI’s harsher tone cuts through the car’s sound deadening a little too easily. It’s far from unbearable, but you’ll be in no doubt on which pump to pull up alongside at the filling station. The CO2 emissions look a little rich on the diesel too, sitting well north of 100g/km when some Focus variants dip beneath that figure.
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Of course, a Skoda has to deliver on practicality, and there’s no doubt that the Scala’s boot does just that. With the rear seats in place the capacity is 467 litres – 120 more than you get in a Focus – and if you lower the 60:40-split second row this expands to 1,410 litres. That’s 140 litres more than a Golf’s maximum load bay.
If anything, the cabin is even more impressive. There’s bags of leg, knee and headroom for four six-footers, and quality is a major step up from Skoda’s previous ‘middle offering’, the unloved Rapid. There are a few harsher plastics on the lower areas of the dashboard – not all of them quite low enough to be out of sight, sadly. But that aside, Skoda has been clever and put padded materials in the areas you’re likely to touch regularly, such as in the door linings around the armrests.
The Scala also gets the latest version of Skoda’s infotainment system. The interface is as slick as ever, and quick to respond to inputs – and it’s good to see that shortcut buttons at either side of the screen have been retained, along with physical controls for the heating and ventilation. The Scala makes the jump, incidentally, to USB-C ports for phone charging – although there’s also the option of a wireless induction mat.
Nor does the car miss out on typical Skoda clever touches. The ice scraper with integrated tread depth gauge is present, along with the car park ticket holder at the edge of the windscreen. This is all joined by an umbrella in the driver’s door (SE upwards) and an integrated funnel on the windscreen washer fluid pipe. Small tricks, true, but the kind of touches that customers from rival brands still find a pleasant surprise.
4.5 Skoda has yet to provide representative monthly finance rates on the Scala but if they’re anywhere near as keen as the list price, it should be another family-car success story for the Czech brand. It’s not quite as plush as a Golf, nor as much fun to drive as a Focus – but as comfortable, rational, practical family transport, it makes a deeply compelling case for itself.
- Model: Skoda Scala SE 1.0 TSI 115PS
- Price: £18,585
- Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo petrol
- Power/torque: 114bhp/200Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
- Top Speed: 125mph
- Economy/CO2: 56.6mpg/113g/km
- On sale: Summer