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Australia’s affordable, rough-and-tumble family wagon market has for more than a decade belonged to the Subaru Outback, but the new Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 is making a serious play for its own chunk of the action.
The second-generation, Octavia wagon-based Scout has grown 10cm in both overall length and wheelbase to measure 4.69 metres from its distinctive grey plastic-clad nose to its tail, leaving it now just 13cm shy of the new-generation Outback.
However the Czech brand’s renowned packaging efficiency means that, though smaller outside, the Octavia Scout actually boasts 76 litres more cargo space than its Japanese rival, offering a whopping 588L of boot room – a figure that also humbles most full-size family SUVs.
Additionally, the Scout is now much more accessible than before. Previously priced at $39,990 before on-road costs, the new model now tempts tyre-kickers with a $32,990 entry point that undercuts the Outback by $2500.
For the first time, the Octavia Scout is also available with a turbocharged petrol engine, as well as a pair of low- and high-power diesel units, giving buyers more choice.
We started our drive at the Tasmanian launch of the Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 in the first of that trio, the 132TSI Premium (priced from $38,590), which pairs a familiar 132kW/280Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Initial impressions are that it’s a valuable addition to the line-up, and we’re not surprised Skoda expects the 132TSI to make up half of all Scout sales locally.
The engine delivers peak torque from a remarkably low 1350rpm, helping it pull confidently from down low. It’s progressive through its mid range too, as all 280 Newton-metres remain on tap to 4000rpm.
It’s a quiet and refined unit, if not particularly characterful, and it forms an impressive partnership with the dual-clutch gearbox, which makes swift, well timed changes and doesn’t seem as prone to low-speed lurching as some others of its breed.
Next up was the new entry variant, the 110TDI, which combines a 110kW/340Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine with a six-speed manual transmission.
Despite being the price leader, the presence of a clutch pedal means it’s likely to be the least popular variant on our shores. But those who aren’t troubled by the thought of putting their left limbs to use are in for a treat, because the 110TDI’s drivetrain is sweet.
The base diesel weighs only four kilograms more than the petrol variant (1561kg vs 1557kg) yet it produces an extra 60Nm, and while it’s not all available from as low in the rev range, its 1750-3000rpm peak torque band means it’s adequately responsive around town and meaty for overtaking on the open road.
The manual shift is clean and precise, and the clutch pedal is light and easy.
It’s the engine’s refinement that impresses most, however, with smooth, muted tones permeating the cabin, and almost none of the traditional trademark diesel clatter.
We didn’t get the opportunity to test the range-topping $41,390 135TDI Premium at the launch, though experience with the drivetrain in the regular Octavia wagon – where it’s deemed strong enough to be branded with the company’s RS performance badge – assures that it’s smooth and grunty with a fantastic mid range.
The engine delivers 135kW between 3500-4000rpm and 380Nm from 1750-3250rpm and, paired with the same six-speed dual-clutch, matches the petrol’s 7.8-second claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time.
Both diesels have an 1800kg braked towing capacity while the petrol can pull 1600kg. Unbraked, all three are rated at 750kg.
The diesel duo heads the efficiency stakes, with both rated at 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, while the petrol claims 7.1L/100km. On test the 110TDI showed an impressive 5.6L/100km on its trip computer while the 132TSI used just over 9L/100km across a mix of dirt, country roads and highways.
On all of those surfaces, the Skoda Octavia Scout offers ride comfort that most of the SUVs that will outsell it many times over could only dream of.
The suspension makes quick corrections over rutted country roads, meaning the Scout settles quickly rather than bumping and bouncing its passengers around. It’s also effortless on dirt, capable of maintaining highway speeds without shaking itself or those on board to pieces. The 50-aspect tyres, which are slightly higher profile than those wrapped around the regular Octavia wagon’s 17-inch wheels, no doubt contribute to the controlled feel.
There is noticeable road noise from the rubber, however, as well as some wind noise off the mirrors.
The Scout’s new-generation all-wheel-drive system – which is naturally front-biased, but can send up to 95 per cent of drive to the rear wheels if required – grips well on gravel, and the stability control seems well calibrated, allowing a little slip without clamping down overtly.
While the new Octavia Scout’s departure angle is greater than that of its predecessor (now 13.8 degrees), we still managed to bump its long rear overhang when climbing onto a grassy ridge. In this measure, it’s a long way off the 22.7 degrees offered by the Outback.
The Scout’s belly sits 171mm from the road, which is 42mm lower than the Subaru but 31mm higher than the standard Octavia wagon. The price of the go-further ability is more body roll around corners than the regular wagon, though the higher ride height also translates to a higher driving position, which is a priority for many SUV buyers.
The view from the driver’s seat is impressive in more ways than one. Front and rear visibility are good, both out the large windows and via the standard reverse-view camera, while the interior presentation leaps a long way forward from the bland and dowdy cabin of its predecessor.
There’s now little separating the design and material quality of Skoda products from sister company Volkswagen, which is a great compliment for the supposedly more budget-oriented Czech brand.
The Scout achieves the rare feat of making woodgrain look classy rather than dated, and it’s well supported by neat splashes of piano black trim and brushed metal highlights. The 110TDI’s 5.8-inch infotainment touchscreen and cloth seats do a fine job, though the 8.0-inch screen (with satellite navigation) and leather/alcantara upholstery in the Premium variants are luxurious beyond their circa-$40K price tags. (Read our pricing and specifications story for more details.)
Front seat comfort is good and there’s plenty of room for adults’ heads, knees and toes in the outboard rear seats, which are flat but have long bases that offer good under-thigh support.
Storage is plentiful throughout the cabin and at its best in the aforementioned massive boot, which is wide, deep, has a low loading lip, and features plenty of hooks and elastic straps to help keep cargo under control. There’s also a reversible mat covering the floor with carpet on one side and rubber on the other – the latter perfect for grubby weekends. Quick-release levers in the boot also make folding the rear seats forward to liberate 1718L of loading space a breeze.
Skoda’s capped-price servicing program avoids any nasty surprises at the Scout’s 12-month/15,000km service intervals – though it hardly makes for happy reading upfront. Servicing the 110TDI for four years or 60,000km will cost $2192, the 135TDI $2608, and the 132TSI $2870, which makes it more expensive than the majority of mid-sized SUVs that mostly fall beneath $2000 over the same period, but roughly on par with the similarly pricey Outback.
As with all new Skodas, the Scout is covered under warranty with roadside assistance for three years.
The Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4 is a seriously impressive family wagon, adding go-further styling and ability to the sold foundation laid by the regular Octavia wagon.
While it may not be as capable off-road as an Outback or boast the elevated seating position of an SUV, it’s bigger and classier inside than most, features three refined drivetrains, rides superbly, and is better equipped and better value than ever before.
Scout’s honour: this Skoda is the real deal.