Test Drives

Skoda Scala review — Stairway to heaven



We size up Skoda’s next entry-level model for Singapore — a car that has been sized up itself

SPLIT, CROATIA — If you think price automatically equals quality, maybe you’ve never enjoyed hawker food. Or, it seems likely, owned a Skoda.

The Czech division of Volkswagen Group’s giant and growing empire has made it something of a specialty to deliver more for less, whether in terms of square footage, performance or simple but clever ideas. And Skoda’s newest car, the Scala, embodies those values perfectly.

The Scala is a five door, five seat hatchback that replaces the Rapid Spaceback, slotting in under the Octavia within the Singapore line-up, and basically giving would-be buyers of a Hyundai i30 or Honda Jazz something else to think about.

Actually, make that plenty to think about; the Skoda Scala might be based on VW’s smallest architecture (the MQB-A0 platform that you also find underneath the Audi A1 or Volkswagen Polo) but it’s a big car for the class, in line with its maker’s habit of offering as much metal as possible for the money.

It’s 4,362mm long, with a wheelbase of 2,649mm. For comparison, a VW Golf (which sits on the MQB platform) is 4,258mm long, with 2,637mm between the axles.

The two platforms are related, so why not just build the Scala on an MQB foundation since it’s been stretched beyond the Golf’s size? That would have made it expensive, says Pavel Jina, a spokesperson for Skoda.

That tells you that the Scala doesn’t signal Skoda’s intention to move upmarket, even if it looks the part.

In fact, the car debuts Skoda’s new design language, so it’s worth paying attention — if you like what you see, chances are you’ll find much to admire about Skoda’s next generation of cars.

The Rapid Spaceback didn’t exactly look like a cheapo car, but the Scala wears its crisp taut lines are like a nicely pressed suit.

The lamps at both ends are nicely sculpted, and the headlights have shiny elements that remind you of the Czech Republic’s Bohemian crystal heritage.

Some versions (most likely those coming to Singapore) have an extended rear screen, too. It flows down between the taillamps, and provides a distinctive touch that’s slightly Volvo-like. The feature also highlights Skoda’s switch from a logo on the back to block lettering, another Volvo-like move.

Here’s what the two versions look like side-by-side:

Skoda seems mighty proud, too, of the small vertical slot in the corners of the bumper that bleeds air through and lets it flow past the front wheels. Apparently it cuts drag and raises efficiency, and it’s the kind of small detail that BMW engineers love to point out.

A crisp line running down the Scala’s side only emphasises its long proportions, but the Scala manages to avoid looking like some sort of stretched Polo. 18-inch wheels are available (we drove it on 17s), and they don’t look comically large on the car.

Of course, length isn’t everything (or so one hopes). But you don’t get to be the giant of the family without being well-nourished, and the Scala seems to have received a huge share of the goodies that VW Group can dole out to its sprawling family.

The launch range is pretty comprehensive, with three different chassis (a standard one, a lowered sporty version and a raised one for countries with rough roads) and five engines.

Precisely what is headed for Singapore is still up in the air; we don’t even know when the Skoda Scala is set for launch, but our best guess is end-2019 or, failing that, the start of 2020 (in time for the Singapore Motorshow). That’s speculative, it’s worth repeating. The official line is that discussions with Skoda are “ongoing”.

Whatever it is, we chose a 1.0 TSI with 115 horsepower to try, although aligned with a six-speed manual because the seven-speed DSG auto version only enters production later this year.

We also spent some time in a 150 hp 1.5 TSI with fancy cylinder deactivation tech, but it seems unlikely that you’ll see that version of the Scala in Singapore.

Whatever’s under the bonnet, the Scala gets the latest capacitive touchscreens that work so well in VW’s own cars, which for our market will be in 8.0-inch Bolero or 10.2-inch Columbus form.

The screens are mounted high on the dash for easy viewing, and there’s a small ledge to support your hand when you jab at the touchscreen. Some buttons hide a bit (the Drive Mode selector, for one) but the Scala is otherwise well thought out ergonomically, and is inescapably VW-like to operate.

You might have noticed the virtual cockpit instrumentation, an Audi feature with Skoda skin; it’s another welcome touch of class and could make it onto a high-spec version of the car in Singapore.

A wireless charging pad for smartphones and USB-C ports (along with older standard USB-A ones in the back) are two more features that are bang up-to-date in the Scala.

But for all the fanciness that pervades the new hatch, the fundamentals are still in place. Pavel Jina, the spokesperson, says you won’t find a car in the class with more rear headroom.

The Scala’s rear kneeroom area is also the biggest of all the MQB-A0 cars, he points out, but viewed on its own the Skoda does feel roomy back there, a bit like being in a low Sport Utility Vehicle instead of a sub-Golf hatch.

The boot is an enormous 467 litres in capacity (for comparison, a Hyundai i30 has 395 litres), and if you fold the rear seats you can take 1,410 litres with you. There’s also an optional front chair that tips forward, another idea borrowed from Volvo, that lets you carry items 2.5 metres long.

Every Scala comes with blind spot monitors and Front Assist with pedestrian detection, basically a collision avoidance system that hits the brakes if you fail to. Up to nine airbags can be optioned, so it’ll be interesting to see what the cars in Singapore eventually come with while keeping the price to roughly S$90,000 at today’s Certificate Of Entitlement prices, where we expect it to be.

While the Scala offers big-car features up the wazoo, it is still at heart the next baby of Singapore’s Skoda range, and the one way it feels it is in how it drives. The 1.0 TSI (familiar to us in the VW Polo) is a chirpy, burbling thing that revs eagerly and is nice to wring to high revs, but its powers of acceleration are no more than decent. It’s characterful enough to feel like it enjoys serving up overtaking moves or swift mergers with fast traffic, but its main trump card is frugality.

We drove the Scala with the Sports chassis, which sits on firmer, lower (by 15mm) springs and comes with dampers that have two stiffness settings. Again, the overriding impression is of a car very nicely sorted, with a coherence to the way the Scala reacts to bumps and navigates corners. If you overcook things a bit it just scrubs the extra speed off predictably, and it’s a foolproof car to drive, with a modicum of fun on offer in the way it’s always jolly to see how fast you can make a modestly engined hatch go.

As for the Sport suspension? Don’t bother. In the dampers’ stiffer setting the ride becomes bouncy, and anyway complexity isn’t what you buy a Scala for. Nor would you buy one to attack mountain roads, frankly. The controls are light and the steering wheel is wrapped in lovely perforated leather, so hustling a Scala along is a pleasant experience, but it’s just not set up to be an exciting car.

Yet, this is a car you can admire. The Skoda Scala is usually sophisticated for its class, and it offers size, practicality and a slew of worthwhile features for what ought to be an attractive price. That last factor has yet to be determined, of course, but it’s fundamental to what makes Skoda work in Singapore, and for most buyers is what would make owning a Scala as satisfying as tucking into a favourite hawker dish.

Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI (as tested)

Engine 999cc, inline-3, turbo
Power 115hp at 5000-5500rpm
Torque 200Nm at 2000-3000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed manual
0-100km/h 9.8 seconds
Top Speed 201km/h
Efficiency 5.0L/100km
VES Band / CO2 TBC / 113g/km (estimated)
Agent Skoda Centre Singapore
Price S$90,000 with COE (estimated)
Availability To be announced

 

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.