► Our first Skoda Scala review
► We drive a late prototype
► On UK sale spring 2019
Skoda Rapid. Now there’s a name that’s been through some tough times. Most recently it’s been applied to the fairly fetid forerunner to this – the new Skoda Scala – a model that’s sold in such dismal numbers here that it’s been rebranded for the western European market. Rapid remains a fixture in other areas, where the saloon-esque bodystyle is still popular, while we’re getting a new version of what used to be called the Spaceback, or hatch.
Still with us? Good, because we’ve been for a prototype drive in the Scala near the firm’s HQ in Prague, and already we can report big improvements. But should its rivals, including (but not in any way limited to) the newly reinvented Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30 siblings and Renault’s Megane, be sitting up and taking notice?
But first, let’s delve into the Skoda hierarchy, because there’s an obvious elephant in the room here. The Scala’s a low-cost, practical C-sector family hatch, and isn’t that precisely what the Octavia does, albeit with a bit more room and a wider variety of derivatives?
Why yes, but this is only part of the story, because Octavia’s about to be overhauled in 2019 too, and we’re expecting Skoda to take the quality, and price, up an (ahem) octave. It’s been a runaway success worldwide, so there’s room to push the envelope given the hundreds of thousands of already-happy Octavia buyers.
So there’s going to be a Scala-shaped hole in the Skoda line-up soon enough, but is it any good? Join us for the full lowdown…
Skoda Scala dimensions, prices and on-sale dates
It's important to understand where the Scala fits in. You get a lot of car for the money (obvs) and the size of the car looks like this:
Width: 1793mm (without door mirrors)
Not long to wait, either. Sales are due to start in April/May 2019 and we expect UK Skoda Scala prices to kick off at around £16,000.
What’s under the skin?
Built on the VW Group’s modular MQB A0 platform, which also underpins the Seat Ibiza and VW Polo, it’s front-drive and twist-beam rear axle only. We’ll get three engines in the UK – 1.0 and 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrols and a sole 1.6-litre diesel – along with manual or DSG ‘boxes.
A CNG (compressed natural gas) option will be made available in EU countries, but not for us Brits. We remain behind the times when it comes to sustainable methane and its obvious advantages as a future fuel, it seems...
Scala bingo: which one’s best?
Our brief initial run suggested the 1.5-litre TSI Evo motor, with its 148bhp, was the best of the bunch. But that’s not only because it’s the most powerful engine (promise) – it’s also a seriously smooth motor that delivers nearly linear punch, with all-but-imperceptible deactivation of the middle pair of its four cylinders and a peppy engine note to match. Manual gearbox though, please; the DSG auto is hesitant in Normal mode and the throttle too sharp in Sport. You can’t decouple the two.
We also found this engine made for the best handling balance. Skoda’s engineers tune their chassis based on their weight, once upper and lower benchmarks are set, and this makes for some minor but noticeable differences in steering and body roll. The 1.0-litre TSI and the 1.6 diesel felt a little too light on the helm to us, despite dialling in Sport mode for extra weighting.
And before you decry the torsion-bar rear axle – a subject seemingly a permanent fixture in the motoring press these days – Skoda’s got an ace up its sleeve here. Both ends of the beam are fitted with hydraulic mounts, which we’re told dramatically reduces high-frequency vibrations through the car. That’s the biggest single issue with this sort of configuration, and while we haven’t tried one without, the Scala’s noise, vibration and harshness levels impressed when sat on the standard suspension.
Stop: the new Skoda Scala has suspension options?
Don’t get too excited. This A0 version of the MQB platform won’t get a multilink rear axle, or indeed power above 148bhp, or for that matter all-wheel drive.
However, when Scala reaches the market it’s going to come with a Sport chassis set-up engaged using the drive mode button – probably not on all trims, and perhaps for extra cost – that sees a 15mm drop in ride height along with some two-stage dampers that use an internal electro-mechanical valve to throttle their hydraulic fluid’s movement. This has the effect of stiffening the suspension on demand for less body roll and keener turn-in – two things we can imagine precisely nil Skoda Rapid buyers ever wanted or indeed needed.
But in its firmer configuration it also decimates the ride quality – especially for back-seat passengers – and increases in-cabin noise, so we’re hoping for some fine-tuning before it’s signed off. Those brilliant seats are a saving grace, but can’t effectively mask the issue.
Thing is, this feels a little like needless complication, because in standard form the Scala is admirably composed. Its ride is excellent, and while it doesn’t corner like a vRS, it doesn’t look or go like one either. The whole Sport thing feels like a question no-one’s asking.
What about tech onboard?
We’ve had a sneak peek at the new interior, despite our cabin being covered in the prototypes we drove. It borrows heavily from the Vision RS Concept that we recently drove.
The Scala’s near the top of the Skoda class here. Spec the Amundsen infotainment and you’ll have a system with a permanent 4G internet connection built-in, which unlocks a host of useful features such as web-fed AI, HERE mapping, realtime navigation and traffic details and of course Bluetooth – but crucially this will soon be able to connect your Apple CarPlay (and later Android Auto) equipped Scala wirelessly. It’ll also beam software updates direct to the car.
An optional digital cockpit introduces a screen-based instrument panel to sit alongside the 9.2-inch touchscreen, which is flanked by a surround that’s designed to rest your hand on to easier terminate fingertips.
There’s been a lot of thought applied to the cabin of the Scala, and it’s one of the main areas of improvement over the Rapid, which had a design Skoda’s own designers dubbed ‘democratic’ during our launch event. Nicely put…
Is the Skoda Scala practical?
It’s a Skoda: of course it is. There’s a fantastic amount of room inside the car given its footprint. Four generously proportioned adults fit with ease, the fixed rear bench’s positioning offering exceptional legroom and headroom (as much knee space as a current Octavia, no less) only partly obstructed by the roofline on one side – though we were driving a car with a panoramic glass roof and this could have some effect on hat accommodation.
Up front there are some Skoda-specific seats that we found particularly comfortable during our test drive – they’re well-appointed in the bolstering department but also finished in a pleasing blend of cowhide and Alcantara in the car we’re driving here. They’ll be standard on higher trims, with electronic adjustment on the very plushest Scalas.
At the other end, the boot measures an impressive 467 litres (a lowly Focus manages 375), and features a false floor that makes for either a flat loading surface with storage underneath or the deepest possible area behind the 60:40-splitting rear seats. The cars we drove also had powered tailgates.
And above you’ve got an optional full-length glass roof to let extra light into the cabin. We wouldn’t spec a Scala without this, as it allows the lines to flow better front-to-back, and without it it’s a far less interesting design.
This early Skoda Scala review was only a short pre-production drive, but we reckon we’ve managed to glean enough to know that it’s a far stronger entrant into the mid-sized family hatch market than the Rapid ever was.
Sure, it’ll be more expensive when it arrives in showrooms (by how much, we’re not sure) but most cars are when festooned with more tech and safety gear. If the residual values are strong, that’ll wipe a lot of the premium off for those buying on finance anyway.
Which only leaves us to wish the Sport chassis was a more desirable upgrade. We’ve driven the Vision RS Concept, which has teased us with what we reckon is a fantastic-looking new-age vRS in a Scala bodyshell, but for now Skoda’s people tell CAR the concept will remain just that: an interesting engineering exercise. No sportier Scalas are in the pipeline.
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