When the odo’ clicked over 320,000km and the airbag light wouldn’t go out on the stopgap car that was my old Honda CR-V, I figured it was time to treat myself to something a little newer and a lot nicer.
The trouble is, I am extremely picky when it comes to cars, and my criteria went something like this: European, all-wheel drive, wagon, manual, economical and definitely not an SUV. The only answer I could come up with was the Skoda Octavia Scout.
Firstly, it ticked the European box. As a massive VW-phile, the car’s Volkswagen Golf underpinnings excite me more than they should. Secondly, its Haldex AWD and lifted ride height mean I can hammer it across a paddock or up a national park dirt road without issue. Thirdly, it’s a wagon, a deceptively big one at that. Recently it took four big blokes and their bags on a buck’s weekend with ease, while seats down it will swallow a couple of mountain bikes.
Then there’s the six-speed manual. As a bit of a keen driver, this was essential for me and proved to be the real decider with the Skoda. It seems nobody else bothers to sell this option in a wagon in Australia, at least not within my budget.
What else is there to like? Well, the economy is good, and a highway run sees 4.5L/100km, while stop-start or a spirited drive can see that number climb into the 6–9L/100km range. And while the 2.0-litre diesel is no GTI beater, it does provide a useful amount of torque (320Nm) for those country road overtaking moves, and stirring the gears helps keep it on its feet too.
Visually, I like the way the car stands out. There aren’t a lot on the road, and the extra plastic body cladding toughens up the Octavia a bit. It actually proves practical too when stones start to flick up around the wheels.
Inside the Octavia it is very much a VW parts bin, but that’s no bad thing. The stalks, displays, switches and steering wheel are nice to the touch and well damped. My car also happens to be the Scout Premium, meaning it gets heated part-Alcantara seats with the driver’s being electrically adjustable, a sunroof, sat-nav, rear parking sensors, auto headlights and wipers.
The materials feel premium too, with the dash top made of soft-touch plastic. Although, with Skoda being the budget end of the VW family, a few rattles and creaks have started to appear in the doors and dash trim by 60,000km.
Despite that, other niceties inside include ample cabin storage: big bottle holders in the front doors, two more by the handbrake, a deep armrest cubby with an AUX input, parking ticket holder, sunglasses holder. There are also tie-down anchor points in the boot, a rubber boot mat to minimise mess, rear seat air vents, dual-zone climate and cruise control.
Naturally, the circa-2012 touch screen is now a bit dated and slow to respond, but it does stream Bluetooth music and calls just fine, which is great for me.
As I mentioned earlier, the Scout is no performance hero like a GTI making do with just 103kW, but it does drive well if you keep it in the power band. Admittedly not that big a band given it’s a turbo diesel, as it’s pretty much out of puff by 4500rpm.
Crucially, being based on a car, it doesn’t feel like it wants to fall over every time I chuck it into a corner. Obviously the extra ride height of the Scout does induce a bit of lean, but it doesn’t give you sea sickness like my old CR-V did, and the payoff of the extra height is ride comfort as the car absorbs potholes and undulations well. Mid-corner bumps do upset it, though, with the car noticeably shimmying a little.
The steering could do with a bit less assistance as it feels slightly numb, but it weights up nicely as speed increases. The heavy diesel lump up front spoils the turn-in too, with the car tending to push out wide. However, a better set of tyres has fixed this somewhat, with the car now almost capable of a little lift-off oversteer! The ESP steps in quickly, though, and even when it is switched off for a bit of paddock bashing it is never truly off, and instead cutting power just when you get a slide on!
It can’t be all praise for the Scout, though. Despite my love for its manual ’box, the gear shift is far from perfect. I find it too springy due to the ‘push down and across’ nature of reverse, as this ruins the feel when you change cogs and I’ve crunched a change from time to time.
The car has also been affected by the Dieselgate recall. Personally, the whole emissions-cheating thing doesn’t bother me, but the inconvenience of taking the car in and waiting three hours for the fix to be done was a pain. Although, my local VW dealer made the experience pleasurable enough.
The seats could do with going a bit lower too. Even on their lowest setting, I feel more on top of the car than hunkered down in it, and they are not as supportive as they could be. A bit more bolster wouldn’t go amiss.
Lastly, the biggest problem I have had is a stability-control error that prevents the car from starting. A warning flashes up as soon as you turn the ignition on and the car will just turn over but not fire up. It is an intermittent fault that sometimes goes away for months.
It is easily fixed by removing the key and starting over, so I have learned to live with it, but is a total pain if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. VW/Skoda have investigated it and reset the fault code, but unfortunately it still rears its head now and again.
I have owned my Scout for a little over 18 months now and have no desire to replace it. It is all the car I could ever need. It stands out in a crowd of Corollas at my local supermarket carpark, puts a smile on my face during a country road blast, and makes me feel like I bought something premium when I get inside it every day.
It has also proven to be practical for my mixture of outdoor and farming lifestyles, with the boot taking dogs, bikes, hay bales, fence posts and chicken-feed bags with aplomb. The only thing I might do is look into a remap and exhaust to release a few more kilowatts.
My only wish is that Skoda would bring the latest Scout back to Australia and stop focusing on full-size SUVs like the Kodiaq. I appreciate the market pressures that dictate such decisions, but the world needs niche cars like lifted manual wagons for niche people like me who want to buy them.