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The Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 is a rare gem that very few consider when purchasing a compact SUV.
Firstly, it's a Skoda and for many that doesn't mean much. The modern incarnation of the Volkswagen-owned brand has been in Australia for about three years now and has so far struggled to completely connect with its potential customers.
The entry brand into the Volkswagen Group competes directly with Korean and Japanese manufacturers, but as far as numbers go it could only achieve a 0.2 percent market share in 2010 (1,652 vehicles).
Nonetheless, with the mighty weight of Volkswagen behind it and a long-term commitment to make the brand work in Australia, 2011 is set to be a massive year for the Czechs.
First out this year is the Skoda Octavia Scout DSG. An automatic version of the 4x4 compact SUV that goes head-to-head with the Subaru Outback. Skoda tested the market with the introduction of the Octavia Scout manual back in 2009 and managed to sell around 100 units per year. To put that in perspective, Subaru sold 5766 Outbacks last year.
Speaking to the automotive media at the launch of the new variant, Matthew Wiesner, head of Škoda Australia, said 90 percent of potential buyers that were interested in a Scout didn't proceed as they were after an automatic variant. By that assumption the DSG variant should bring total sales up to around 1000 units per year.
Competing against the well established Subaru Outback was always going to be tough for the original Scout but with the Outback now being offered in diesel (albeit only in manual), the competition is tougher than ever.
With the launch of the new Skoda Octavia Scout DSG, the Czech company hopes to achieve significantly more sales, being the only diesel auto available in this sub-category of compact SUVs that are more sedan-like than SUV.
The Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 DSG is powered by a 2.0 turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine with 103kW and 320Nm of torque. It sips just 6.1L of diesel per 100km (compare that with the hyped up Toyota Camry hybrid which uses 6.0L/100km and you'll realise why diesel makes so much more sense).
On our trip from Gold Coast Airport to Ballina we covered more than 100km of twisty mountain passes and dirt roads. Any initial doubt about the Scout's ride and handling characteristics were quickly put to rest as the Skoda performed brilliantly around corners and on dirt roads.
It's one of the more comfortable cars we've ever driven on unsurfaced roads, taking the potholes and bumps with ease and little to no big jolts in the cabin. It's also one of the quietest cars you can find for under 50k. The diesel engine has the typical Volkswagen whine to it but is gutsy and efficient both around town and in the outback.
The six-speed DSG transmission works in harmony with the diesel powerplant but can at times struggle to find the right gear under sudden acceleration. That issue is solved via the Sport mode which is designed for when you must have maximum power and torque at all times (holding gears longer and changing at a higher rpm).
Unlike the permanent all-wheel drive nature of the Subaru Outback, the Skoda Octavia Scout uses a fourth-generation Haldex clutch that sits near the rear axle and distributes torque to the rear wheels when needed. It works by having a multi-segment clutch that houses discs in an 'oil bath'. Skoda says that as “the oil pressure in the box increases, the discs gradually close together, resulting in the transmission of torque to the rear wheels”.
If that doesn't make all that much sense to you, it's easier explained as a system that uses a whole bunch of sensors and computers that can distribute torque to front and rear 98 percent each way. So anywhere between 98:2 percent of torque can be split front:rear or vice versa. Pretty impressive and a noticeable advantage when it comes to ride & handling.
The system allows it to be extremely competent on unsurfaced roads. We threw the Scout into numerous tight bends at speed and the car's ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme) hardly ever had to intervene, so good is the torque distribution and the car's handling dynamics.
The interior is Volkswagen-inspired with lots of black used throughout. Overall, it's a dark ambient cabin with soft-touch plastics used around the dash and doors plus a four-spoke multifunction steering wheel. The front and rear seats are comfortable and adjustment is simple. It's hard to say if it's better than the Outback inside but it certainly looks more expensive and the lack of hard plastics is a bonus. The Scout also happens to come with a satellite navigation system (with a 30GB hard drive and eight speakers) standard, which is another win over rival Subaru which offers an arguably more advanced system as a pricey option. For some reason the Scout lacks Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming (features not forgotten by the Japanese).
Where the Scout wins over the Outback diesel is in fuel economy (6.1 vs 6.4L/100km), price ($1000 less for the base model and $500 less for the Premium) and some standard features. The Japanese boxer diesel has 7kW more power, 30Nm more torque and can tow 1700kg (compared with 1600kg for the Scout).
As expected from a European manufacturer, safety is top notch with six airbags and ESP including ABS, EBD, ASR and Hill Hold Control.
Both the Outback and Scout present excellent choices and value for money in their niche segment. The introduction of the Scout DSG is sure to enlarge the model's market share as it brings the option of an automatic diesel for the first time.
If you're in the market for a Subaru Outback, there has never really been much serious competition until now. There is no denying the Outback is a brilliant package, but the lack of an automatic diesel and Skoda's insistence on winning market share should be more than enough reason for any potential Outback buyer to give the brand from the Czech Republic a chance.
The Scout is offered in two variants, base and premium. Specification highlights on the base variant:
- All-wheel drive
- 17-inch ‘Proteus’ alloy wheels
- Cruise control
- Six airbags – dual front, front side and curtain
- Dual-zone climate control air-conditioning
- Electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors
- ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Program), ABS, EBD, ASR and hill hold control
- Front foglights
- ‘Columbus’ satellite navigation including 30GB hard drive and voice control (8 speakers)
- Underbody protection
- Rear parking sensors
- Body protective mouldings
- Leather pack (steering wheel, gearknob, and gaiter)
- Multi-function trip computer
- Heated front seats
- Light Assist (coming home/leaving home function)
- Rain-sensing windscreen wipers
- Hill Hold Control
- 17-inch ‘Proteus’ polished alloy wheels
- Privacy windows (from B-pillar)
- Electric glass sunroof
- Leather upholstery
- Electric driver’s seat memory
- Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 6-speed manual $39,490
- Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 6-speed DSG $41,790
- Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 Premium 6-speed manual $43,490
- Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 Premium 6-speed DSG $45,790