The Scala is Skoda’s biggest play in the small-car segment yet. But how does it stack up against one of Australia’s most popular models?
It’s been a few decades now since Skoda was the punchline to a limitless range of automotive jokes, and it’s long been a serious player in Europe and the UK.
Building success in Australia has been more gradual since the Czech brand returned here in 2007, though sales are respectable and there’s certainly plenty of respect for its products from those in the know.
The Octavia medium car remains its most well-known model locally – and was the most popular Skoda in 2020 – though now the company is targeting improved fortunes in the small-car class with its new Scala.
Simply beating its slow-selling predecessor won’t be considered sufficient. In 2019, for every Rapid Spaceback that Skoda Australia sold, parent company Volkswagen shifted 34 Golfs.
The Skoda Scala is based on a stretched version of the platform beneath the VW Polo light car, but at just under 4.4m it is longer than a Golf. And it’s also priced more like the Golf (from $26,990), whereas the Rapid was more closely aligned with the Polo. There’s just one engine split between the entry-level model and the snazzier Monte Carlo.
With a new-generation Golf due later this year, and the latest Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla designed with less focus on interior space, we’ve opted to pair the practicality-focused Scala with another big-selling hatchback, the Hyundai i30.
The third-generation i30 has also had a fairly extensive update for 2021.
Pricing and equipment
Skoda lists both RRP and national drive-away pricing for the Scala. Using the latter that is most important for buyers, the Scala starts at $26,990 for a manual or $28,990 for the auto. It’s a big jump up from the $18,190 starting point for the similarly sized Rapid, though the Scala comes with a more powerful engine and significantly more equipment.
It continues a trend for carmakers to seek better profit margins for smaller cars, though Skoda still covers the sub-$20,000 category with the Fabia city car.
At $33,990 drive-away, the Monte Carlo carries a $5000 premium over the base auto with notable additions including adaptive dampers, panoramic sunroof and sportier trim.
While stocks last, a $35,990 Limited Edition Scala is also available with some extra spec.
Hyundai’s MY21 i30 range begins at $23,420 RRP, an increase of nearly $3000 to accompany extra safety features.
Lining up directly against the Scala Monte Carlo is the i30 Elite hatch auto, which has an RRP of $30,220 but a (Sydney) drive-away price of $33,933 – just $57 less than its rival.
As with its Kamiq baby SUV twin, the Scala has been given plenty of standard features even in base form – making it sufficiently tempting for those who don’t feel they need the Monte’s sportier-looking interior or a sportier suspension (15mm lower and with two selectable settings).
Compare the Monte Carlo against the i30’s Elite trim grade and the Skoda’s adaptive damping is also in its favour, along with many other features – including electric panoramic sunroof, auto tailgate, privacy glass, anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, boot nets, and a fully digital instrument cluster.
An i30 prospect would need to step up to the N-Line Premium that’s closer to $40,000 drive-away to gain a panoramic roof, boot net and auto-dimming rear-view mirror, while only the i30 N hot hatch comes with variable dampers.
It’s not all one-way traffic for the Skoda, however. The Elite is the first i30 in the range to adopt Hyundai’s new 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen; a 25 per cent larger display than the standard screen in the Scala.
Hyundai also equips the Elite’s infotainment set-up with an Infinity audio system and factory navigation, while leather-appointed upholstery could be considered a materials step up over the Monte Carlo’s fabric seats.
Skoda also asks Scala buyers to pay extra for blind spot and rear traffic monitoring, whereas these are standard on the i30 Elite.
The Hyundai also offers high-beam assist and door-opening warning. In the Skoda’s corner are multi-collision auto-braking and rear manoeuvre braking that can help drivers avoid hitting the car behind when parking.
Blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts are part of a $4300 Travel Pack for the Scala that also adds semi-automatic parking, paddle-shift levers, heated seats front and rear, and an expanded infotainment system with larger 9.25-inch display, navigation, voice control, wireless Apple CarPlay and a more premium, Skoda-branded audio. Skoda says the value of the pack is worth $7550.
Both models share adaptive multi-speed cruise control, driver-attention monitor, one-touch electric windows, LED headlights/DRLs/tail-lights, keyless entry/start, rear parking sensors and dual-zone climate control.
|2021 Hyundai i30 Elite hatch||2021 Skoda Scala Monte Carlo|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder||1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||120kW @ 6200rpm, 203Nm @ 4700rpm||110kW @ 6000rpm, 250Nm @ 1500–3500rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed torque converter automatic||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.4L/100km||5.5L/100km|
|Boot volume||395L (1301L rear seats folded)||467L (1410L rear seats folded)|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2017)||5 stars (tested 2019)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km||5 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mazda 3, Skoda Scala, Toyota Corolla, VW Golf||Hyundai i30, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, VW Golf|
|Price as tested||$30,220 RRP ($33,933 drive-away)||$37,890 (drive-away)|
Infotainment and technology
Hyundai’s mid-spec i30 has a strong infotainment line-up with its large central touchscreen Infinity audio system and wireless smartphone charging all big-ticket items over base models. It also has digital radio and factory navigation that are missing from the Scala (but available as part of the Travel Pack).
That pack brings a 9.2-inch rather than 8.0-inch infotainment display, adding gesture control along with the integrated navigation, while maintaining the slick and smartly presented interface of the standard screen.
Skoda opts for a menu with an array of colourful image tiles, while Hyundai uses cool little blue icons. Importantly, both interfaces are dead simple to use.
Hyundai’s new infotainment system includes the Sounds of Nature feature that is also found in the models from its luxury brand, Genesis. It gives occupants a range of ambient sounds, such as ‘Open air café’, ‘Lively forest’ and ‘Rainy day’.
Both the Elite’s Infinity audio and the Scala’s premium ‘Skoda’ system (part of the Travel Pack) should please most ears.
Although the Elite is the only i30 in the regular range to feature a digital driver display, it’s a hybrid cluster comprising a circular digital speedo and trip computer flanked by physical gauges for rev counter, engine oil temperature and fuel.
Opt for the i30 Elite sedan (nee Elantra), however, and you get a full-width, 10.25-inch TFT display.
The Scala’s instrument section is fully digital and with useful customisation.
If you want the most stylish and more contemporarily designed i30 interior, the radically different sedan variant is the pick. Beyond its more advanced digital driver display, the i30 sedan’s cabin looks more upmarket and has a more interesting mix of materials. There’s also a bit more colour variation to the excess of blacks and dark greys that prevail in the hatch’s interior.
Hard, grainy plastics are common throughout the cabin, though there is a soft upper dash and softer plastics for the upper and middle sections of the front doors.
Although the i30 sedan’s interior looks classier, there’s nothing ostensibly wrong with the hatch’s design. Ergonomics are a strong point, including the super-intuitive climate controls and steering wheel buttons that include radar-cruise and lane-keep functions.
Storage is covered off well with tri-section door pockets capable of holding a large drink bottle, small trays integrated into the doors, the wireless phone tray plus a longer slot for a second phone, a console bin with 12-volt socket, plus a twin-cupholder section that includes a removable divider if a larger storage area is preferred.
Across to the Skoda Scala Monte Carlo and there’s a cabin virtually identical to that of the Kamiq SUV.
Although exposure of some harder, scratchier plastics is more obvious in places than ideal, the overall impression is of a smartly presented cockpit. There’s a nice mix of textures on the Scala’s dash and doors, neat touches such as the floating-effect doorhandles, and soft upper dash and front upper door cards.
The Monte Carlo variant also brings plenty of red stitching, red trim lines on the dash, doors and vent surrounds, while its sporty seats feature bolstering with a combination of red and a carbon-fibre weave pattern.
The Scala’s console cubby is small, but storage is otherwise decent thanks to slim-but-long door pockets (which can also take a 1.5L bottle), a generously sized glovebox, cupholders, and a smartphone tray with wireless charging and two USB-C ports.
It’s no competition between the rear seats, though. Whereas head room and leg room are merely acceptable in the i30, the Scala provides overly generous space – including good head room even with the standard panoramic roof.
This is complemented by excellent bench comfort courtesy of scalloped outboard cushions and seatbacks, plus vents and another two USB-C ports.
A lack of armrest with cupholders is surprising, though, for a brand such as Skoda that is traditionally so practicality-focused.
The i30 Elite does, and some parents with smaller kids may consider this a more important factor than leg room.
Hatchback buyers with an eye on a practical boot are served well by both models here. The i30’s 395L luggage compartment is more family-friendly than the boot found in the company’s Kona SUV, for example.
It’s one of the biggest boots in the small-car class, yet even the i30 is trumped here by the 467L of the Scala. Dimensionally, the i30 offers a touch more width (104cm v 99cm), but the Scala’s boot floor is notably longer (84cm v 69cm).
Skoda also equips the boot with hooks and nets galore, as well as side storage with a buckle strap. Sadly, the removeable LED boot light/torch has disappeared for MY21 (as it has in the Kamiq), though an umbrella remains secreted in the side of the driver’s door.
Auto operation of the tailgate (which retains the distinctive blacked-out-upper-section design of the Rapid) is also standard on the Scala.
Marks off both for stepped floors when the 60-40 seatbacks are folded down (to 1410L for the Scala and to 1301L for the i30); the Hyundai gains a mark for a full-size spare (space-saver for the Scala).
The Scala Monte Carlo features the same 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder as in the base model (but where in the Kamiq Monte Carlo this engine is an upgrade over the entry model’s 1.0-litre turbo three). With 110kW and 250Nm, it's behind in power but ahead in torque compared with the 2.0-litre non-turbo four-cylinder in the i30 Elite (120kW/203Nm).
Crucially for drivability, the Scala not only produces higher maximum torque, but delivers it between 1500 and 3500rpm – a range where the engine regularly sits. In contrast, the i30’s peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4700rpm.
The difference is noticeable on the road. While the i30 Elite responds well on a light throttle, it needs more encouragement from the driver’s right foot for stronger acceleration.
The Scala’s turbo torque gives it a meatier mid-range, while the VW Group engine is smoother and with a nicer sound at higher revs.
Buy the Travel Pack and you also get paddle levers to take control of the seven-speed dual-clutch auto, though sportier drivers should note the 1.5-litre is no RS hot-hatch engine. (There’s still hope Skoda may build a Scala RS.)
The Skoda’s auto provides smoother and snappier downshifts than the i30’s regular torque-converter six-speed auto, though the Hyundai’s transmission provides greater smoothness and response when moving off from a stationary position.
Buyers keen on a more powerful regular i30 have the option of the N Line models – starting from $31,420 before on-road costs – that come with a combination of 150kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder and seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
(They miss out on some of the Elite’s safety features, though, while you need the N Line Premium to match the Elite’s infotainment highlights.)
The more powerful engine is also more efficient, with official combined fuel consumption of 7.1 litres per 100km compared with 7.4L/100km for the 2.0-litre. That makes for a particularly big gap to the Scala Monte Carlo, which is lab-rated at 5.5L/100km.
A circa-40km urban loop we conducted as part of our testing also revealed a relatively big gap, with the i30 Elite indicating a 7.5L/100km average compared with 6.0L/100km for the Scala.
An i30 Elite owner, however, has the option to use cheaper regular unleaded, whereas Skoda recommends 95RON as a minimum for the Scala.
On the road
Occupants who are more broadly hipped may find the Scala Monte Carlo’s front sports seats a bit too squeezy, but otherwise the chunky bolstering on both the cushion and seatback will be welcomed for its excellent support. And the cushioning isn’t overly firm, ensuring hours-long comfort.
The seating height can go quite low to ensure you have a sense of sitting in a hatchback rather than a compact SUV, though all-round vision remains helpful. The sporty, dimpled steering wheel feels tactile, and has a lightness and accuracy that makes the Scala easy to pilot.
There’s slightly heavier steering in the i30 at slower speeds, including parking, though significant arm effort isn’t required for manoeuvring. The i30 has more consistent brake pedal response, with the Scala feeling a touch sharp initially before feeling more progressive.
Both models ride well despite the absence of more sophisticated multi-link rear suspensions in favour of torsion beams, with the i30 Elite particularly excellent at absorbing all matter of bumps.
The Scala Monte Carlo – wearing 18-inch wheels to the i30’s 17s and featuring adaptive dampers – can become busy on the very poorest surfaces even in Normal damping mode, yet for the vast majority of the time it provides ample comfort around town.
Our experience of the Scala’s SUV twin, the Kamiq, suggests the base Scala with non-adaptive suspension and smaller wheels would offer the plushest ride. But the Monte Carlo isn’t a big trade-off for those seeking its sportier interior and extra equipment.
The Scala’s Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 tyres certainly add to refinement – quieter than the i30 Elite’s Hankook Ventus Prime 2s.
Also in the Skoda’s favour is a lane-keep-assist system that is less intrusive, whereas it’s tempting to turn off the Hyundai’s version as it has a tendency to tug at the steering wheel quite regularly and quite unexpectedly. It’s a default aid, but is easy to turn off by holding the relevant steering wheel button for a few seconds.
Five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranties are shared here, as is roadside assistance.
Skoda offers three different ways to service the Scala, and the costs vary significantly so are worth plenty of consideration.
The usual capped-price servicing approach is relatively expensive, with annual visits (or every 15,000km) charged between $307 and $705.
A monthly subscription plan costs $99 (or more if owners will exceed 15,000km annually), which is the most expensive option, though includes replacement items such as brake pads, brake discs, wiper blades and battery.
Or upfront service packs are $800 for three years or $1400 for five years.
Hyundai charges $299 per visit ($1495 over five years), though its mileage intervals are short at 10,000km. Quotes for a pre-paid service plan can also be requested.
The original i30 was a game-changer for the Hyundai brand, and since 2007 the model has gone from strength to strength. A 2021 update for the third-generation i30 brings worthy upgrades, too – notably on the infotainment front for the Elite variant we’re focused on here.
Combined with an excellent urban ride, the Elite makes a strong case for being considered the best all-rounder i30 in the range when also factoring in value. (N-Line models also miss out for now on the exterior redesign owing to product-sourcing issues.)
The Scala, however, follows the twin Kamiq SUV as another impressive compact Skoda.
In both the higher-spec Monte Carlo variant we have here and base form, the Scala offers plenty of kit for the money overall – compensating for the surprising absences of standard blind-spot detection and factory navigation.
And while the Skoda’s climate control set-up is a bit of an ergonomic own goal, the interior presentation is a step up visually over the Hyundai’s. It also brings superior packaging, with notably longer rear-seat accommodation and a longer boot despite just 22mm difference in vehicle lengths and virtually identical wheelbases.
With a turbocharged advantage under the bonnet, too, it all cements a win for the Scala against a tough and popular rival.