ŠKODA scala 2019
launch-review

2019 Skoda Scala review

International first drive: Testing the Czech brand's new VW Golf rival

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Advanced technology and luxury continues its trickle downstream into small cars with the upcoming Skoda Scala.
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Skoda is poised to launch its most concerted effort yet in the congested small-car class.

The Scala hatch is a rival to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and Toyota Corolla but, as with Skodas before it, promises more space and equipment for the same or less money.

In addition to its unique styling inside and out, the Scala has the biggest boot among its peers (a massive 467 litres versus 380 for the Golf and 217 for the Corolla).

There are, of course, Skoda’s usual practical touches such as umbrellas hidden in the front doors, a plastic tab on the windscreen to keep parking tickets in place, and more storage cubbies than you can count.

In an era of sloping roof lines, tight back seat space, and small cargo holds (as per the new Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla) the Scala has managed to deliver a roomy, functional cabin in a hatch with handsome, sleek looks.

However, local buyers will need to be patient. The Scala is at least a year away, due in Australian showrooms in the first half of 2020.

With the launch so far away, the price is yet to be confirmed, but we expect it to start from somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 – in line with most recent small-car rivals including the Mazda3, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla.

To help broaden appeal, it’s likely there will be at least two model grades (up from the sole option currently) and a list of options including a panorama sunroof, a digital dash display, sports seats, flat-bottomed steering wheel, and specially designed “aero” wheels.

Given Skoda’s predilection for “launch” editions, such options might initially be bundled into a special pack – for a price of course.

Also available – and hopefully standard on Australian models – are nine airbags and advanced safety aids such as automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot warning that sees further than most (up to 70 metres behind the car in adjacent lanes).

Skoda Australia would be wise to load the Scala with the works. Its customer data shows local Skoda buyers do more research on their new car purchase than do buyers of most other brands.

They’re apparently sold once they line up the list of standard equipment versus most rivals. Unfortunately for Skoda, not enough potential buyers dig into the detail.

The car the Scala will replace – the slow-selling Rapid – sells at a rate of a little more than one a day in Australia.

Or put another way, for every one Rapid sold there are close to 50 Volkswagen Golfs and about 100 Toyota Corollas sold at the same time.

Needless to say there’s a lot riding on the new model.

Now that most leading brands have five-year warranty coverage, Skoda’s five-year offering is not as unique as it once was.

At least it has 12 month/15,000km service intervals. Some rivals require the car to be serviced every six months or 10,000km for routine maintenance.

Capped price servicing costs for the new model are yet to be locked in, but as a guide, the current Rapid’s routine visits cost between $293 and $554 depending on whether it’s a minor or major service.

Holden, Ford, Hyundai, Toyota and Kia have cheaper routine maintenance costs but the Skoda is not the dearest in the class. A Subaru Impreza is more costly to service, for example.

The other big cost of ownership – resale value – is difficult to calculate at the best of times. Wholesalers tend to offer low-ball prices when they’re dealing with a relatively unknown model.

The arrival of a new and unfamiliar name to the small-car class could impede whatever progress Skoda has made in trade-in values when it eventually comes time to sell the car.

In essence, the longer you intend to own a Skoda Scala the less you will be impacted by any initial sharp declines in resale value.

However, according to car valuers we spoke to, even though Skoda is improving its brand awareness on the used market, it’s safe to say a secondhand Corolla will be worth more in five years than a secondhand equivalent of pretty much anything else.

On the road

The Skoda Scala might be a rival to the likes of the Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Golf, but it is in fact based on the stretched underpinnings of the smaller Volkswagen Polo.

In geek speak it’s called MQB AO.

Translated, it means Skoda has managed to take this platform to new extremes and ended up with a hatchback that’s slightly bigger than the current Golf.

According to the figures in the brochure it’s longer, taller and has a bigger footprint than a Golf – and is only marginally narrower.

The large footprint is key to how secure the Scala feels on the road, with the tyres effectively pushed out to the corners of the car.

The steering is light and precise and overall refinement is impressive.

The car tested had an optional sports mode which made the steering heavier and the suspension less forgiving. We quickly reverted back to “normal” mode, which we expect would be the default setting for most owners.

The large glass area means it has better over-shoulder visibility than most rivals, with perhaps the exception of the VW Golf, Ford Focus and Hyundai i30.

Most of the interior materials were of a high quality but as is becoming the norm these days, the plastic trims below the “waistline” of the cabin (anything lower than your elbow) is hard to the touch and feels cheap.

At least the storage pockets are cavernous, and there’s now air-conditioning vents for back seat passengers.

The optional digital widescreen dash – with five display modes – gives the cabin an upmarket lift, as does the wide central touchscreen infotainment system.

Unfortunately the Scala joins the growing list of cars abandoning the convenience of a volume dial, which is faster and easier to operate on a bumpy road than a touchscreen or steering wheel tabs.

A new 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine matched to a seven-speed twin-clutch auto is likely to be the sole option on Australian models to help simplify the range.

With 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque it’s a decent jump from the current Rapid’s 1.4-litre turbo (92kW/200Nm), which was also paired to a seven-speed auto.

But there are now paddle shifters available on the steering wheel, for control freaks who want to decide what gear to be in.

Both the engine and transmission are smooth and refined operators and, combined, are a touch quicker than the Rapid (down to 8.2 seconds from 8.9 seconds for the 0 to 100kmh dash according to manufacturer claims).

Contrary to overseas media speculation, Skoda has all but ruled out a hot hatch RS version of this generation Scala. This is as hot as the Scala is going to get for the next five years at least.

The claimed fuel consumption average for the 1.5 turbo in Europe of 5.0L/100km is the same as the outgoing model’s 1.4 turbo but it’s worth noting the Scala is a bigger, heavier car than the Rapid – and the new testing regime is more strict than previous lab tests.

In other words it should be easier to get close to the fuel consumption rating average in the right conditions, but it does insist on at least 95 octane premium unleaded. Most rivals in the small-car class can still take regular unleaded.

Overseas Scala models have a mix of space saver spares and inflator kits in the boot; here’s hoping the space saver spare gets one more model cycle for Australia. We’re not ready for inflator kits in mainstream cars just yet. The distances between our regional centres are too vast and too remote.

VERDICT

The Skoda Scala is a small hatch that’s gone to finishing school. Here’s hoping Australian-delivered models come with the works.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling

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