Thursday 24th September 2020
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Driven: Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI. Image by Skoda UK.

Driven: Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI
Can the Skoda Scala really convince buyers to avoid the Volkswagen Golf…?

 



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Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI 115 SE

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Good points: feels more upmarket and urbane than the Rapid it replaces

Not so good: it's gonna take more than this to tempt people out of the Golf

Key Facts

Model tested: Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI 115 SE
Price: Scala range from £16,940; 1.0 TSI 115 SE from £18,585, car as tested £20,340
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 113g/km (VED Band 111-130: £170 in year one, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 44.8-49.6mpg (WLTP figures)
Top speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
Power: 115hp at 5,000-5,500rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 2,000-3,500rpm
Boot space: 467-1,410 litres

Our view:

Skoda has, for many years now, made a trick out of straddling various automotive market segments. The brilliant Octavia is the prime exponent of this, being based on the same underpinnings as the Volkswagen Golf Mk7, SEAT Leon or Audi A3, and yet coming across as much bigger, grander (to a degree) car than any of them - more like a rival for a Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia than a mere C-segment runabout. Similarly, the superb Superb (see what we did, there? Bet no one's thought of that before) does much the same trick, only at a higher level. And it often makes you wonder why you'd need a Mercedes E-Class, so good is it.

One level where Skoda's magic formula seems to have failed the Czechs, though, is at the strangely muddied tier beneath the Octavia. With only the A- and B-segments left to fill, and having the ageing Citigo handling the former and the stolid Fabia taking care of the latter, then what the heck was the Rapid supposed to be? Not that we thought it was a bad car; in fact, it was pretty decent. Yet it seemed completely surplus to requirements. Both the Fabia Estate and Octavia Hatch looked to have the ground it was supposed to be occupying already covered.

Thus, here comes the Rapid's replacement, the Scala. This thing is still Golf-based and Golf-class-oriented, but it would appear it is going to be the car which stops Skoda's straddling shenanigans (what are you laughing for?) once and for all. The Scala is supposed to be more upmarket than the Rapid was, more of a plush rival for Skoda's very own parent company's Golf offering, which should (in turn) allow the incoming Mk4 Octavia to push even further upstream, and then presumably the next generation of Superb will go and do the same.

So, can the Scala convince as a pseudo-premium machine, done on a budget? Is this a step-change from the Rapid which went before it? Are we looking at something which will shake up the hierarchy within the confines of the wider Volkswagen Group? The answers to all of these questions is: no. No, no and, indeed, no.

Which, yet again, isn't to say the Scala is a terrible product. It's a long, long way from being that. In fact, we really like it and we do feel it's a better, more rounded and more understandable car than the old Rapid. But, if anything, this new Skoda's just a bit too pleasant, a bit too safe, to seriously challenge any conventions in this class. The outside is smart enough, with its tidy design lines and its crystalline headlights and its spaced 'S K O D A' badging on the bootlid, but it's not massively adventurous, by the same token. You'd lose it parked in a sea of identikit hatchbacks, such as the one which was purportedly owned by Bono in I Know What Alan Did Last Summer.

Similarly, the interior's very nice, albeit not as Tardis-like as some of those genre-straddling Skodas we've talked about already. It's big inside, yes, and the boot's a good size, but the Scala is not remarkably capacious, even by the standards of this compact class. And the actual dash is, well... it's, um... it's pretty plain, isn't it? There's nothing wrong with plain, of course; sometimes, a well-baked Victoria sandwich will knock the socks off a salted caramel slice sprinkled with pecan nuts and a butterscotch toffee drizzle, but a little touch of visual daring might not have gone amiss. In our SE, we were looking at the usual Skoda analogue dials and that LCD information display in the middle of them that has been in Volkswagens since about 2003 (or, at least, that's what it feels like), we were looking at ordinary rotary dials for the HVAC system (some will credit the Skoda for this, mind, given the intuitiveness of their operation) and we were looking at lots of black plastic. The eight-inch touchscreen of the Bolero infotainment, mounted top and centre of the dash, tries to bring the aesthetic razzmatazz, but ultimately this is a functional, gets-the-job-done cabin and nothing more.

A trait which then translates into how the Scala drives. Oh, the little 115hp triple is perfectly sweet, lacking in notable vibrations, just about punchy enough to manage the mere 1,135kg mass of the Skoda and possessed of that gargly voice which seems to be the USP of these three-cylinder downsizers. It's even reasonably frugal, too. We did 137 miles in the Scala, mainly on a motorway, which resulted in an overall 48.7mpg and a best of 49.3mpg on the A1. And this frugality and mechanical refinement couples to a ride quality which is excellent, plus suppression of wind noise and tyre chatter to make the Skoda supreme at simply covering big distances with the minimum of fuss.

But particularly memorable, this driving experience most surely is not. There's nothing about the Scala which encourages an inquisitive driver to try and reveal anything hidden about its deeper dynamic make-up, as the steering, throttle response, six-speed manual gearbox and the brakes are all pretty much seven-out-of-ten stuff. They're calibrated to make day-to-day driving easy. They are not calibrated to provide much in the way of excitement whatsoever, and the same goes for the dampers and springs, which allow for more body movement in the Skoda than we can remember from other MQB-based machines. Some of this handling imprecision will be the fact that the Scala, despite supposedly being more upmarket than its predecessor, has the same cost-effective torsion-beam rear suspension as the Rapid, even though it sits atop the MQB platform which usually employs a multilink back axle.

Of course, a regular, sub-£25k C-segment hatchback doesn't need to tear down the road thrilling its driver and so the Skoda shouldn't be heavily criticised for its sedate manners, not least because it is hardly alone in being a relatively uninvolving steer in this class; there are plenty of rivals with stodgy chassis. No, our problem with the Scala is once again where it fits into the grand scheme of things. It doesn't have enough of a definable USP to make it clearly stand out. Like most Skodas in the Volkswagen era, it's reasonably roomy and good value, as our mid-spec SE was fitted with various cost options such as metallic paint (£595), keyless entry and start/stop (£410), front and rear parking sensors (£400), and black dot decorative inserts (£265), without so much as busting the oh-so-modest £20,500 barrier. Impressive. But to call it alluring, or impossible to ignore, or massively likeable would probably be stretching things. It's there. It's proficient. It does things. It is an option.

So is this Skoda Scala-ing the highest heights? Singing all the right notes? Er... making people 'weigh up' their VW Group options in the C-segment class? Not quite, in our opinion. But there's no doubt the polished hatchback makes a solid alternative choice in a competitive market sector. It's just a shame it can't quite decisively shoulder its way to the front of the pack, in the manner that the Octavia and Superb do so well in their respective 'half'-classes.

Alternatives:

Ford Focus: good chassis and a wider choice of engines, although the Focus' cabin is nothing to write home about and it can be pricey in decent specs.

Honda Civic: great chassis and refinement, the result of a huge investment by Honda to improve the Civic Mk10. It is an expensive competitor in class, mind.

Volkswagen Golf: it's here. It has landed. And the Golf Mk8 shows up the Scala's cabin with the most cutting-edge tech going for its interior.


Matt Robinson - 24 Sep 2019









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2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.

2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.2019 Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI UK test. Image by Skoda UK.








 

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