First Drive: The Skoda Scala is the mid-sized family hatchback the firm has been craving
Skoda is entering the competitive hatchback segment with this new Scala. Can it fend off key rivals? Ted Welford finds out.
What is it?
The Volkswagen Group is pretty good at churning out some of the best family hatchbacks in the business. Volkswagen has its Golf, Seat its Leon and Audi its A3. But where does Skoda fit into all of this?
Well, now we have this – the all-new Scala. Offering class-leading practicality, a well-built interior, loads of standard equipment and an affordable price tag, it could help to get Skoda back into the minds of family hatchback buyers.
Taking advantage of Volkswagen Group's MQB platform used across the range of brands, the Scala is essentially an all-new model, and a vast distance apart from the Rapid, even if Skoda is clear to say that it doesn't "replace" that model.
Aside from introducing a new style language, the Scala's key improvement is the cabin, where a touchscreen size of up to 9.2-inches is offered alongside a 10.25-inch digital virtual cockpit, which are both some of the largest screens in its class. The VW Group's latest MIB3 infotainment package is also offered, which boasts a host of new connectivity services, with scope for services such as door unlocking and parcel deliveries when using a Skoda app.
What's under the bonnet?
There are no surprises when it comes to powertrains, with the Scala being offered with three of the Volkswagen Group's staple engines.
The 1.0-litre petrol engine is expected to account for the vast majority of sales – particularly in 113bhp trim, which is the car we tested. The three-cylinder turbocharged unit is willing, and despite its modest power output, is still able to accelerate the Scala to 60mph in under 10 seconds, and keep going onto a top speed of 125mph.
The six-speed manual transmission is slick to shift, albeit the engine can feel a bit unrefined and noisy under harsher acceleration. It should also prove to be cheap to run, with Skoda claiming a fuel economy figure of 56.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 113g/km.
An 84bhp 1.0-litre unit and a 148bhp 1.5-litre engine round off the petrol line-up. A singular diesel unit is also offered, which delivers 113bhp and comes with the option of a manual or DSG automatic transmission.
What's it like to drive?
Expect the Scala to offer the same level of thrills as the Ford Focus and buyers will come away disappointed – however, it's ideal for those in the market for a comfortable cruiser.
The Scala is a refined car under steady acceleration – even at higher speeds – and delivers one of the most accommodating rides in its class. Larger alloy wheels don't affect the quality of the ride either, and generally it's a refreshing change for a family hatchback to be offered with such a supple and relaxing ride.
An optional 'Sport' mode – part of the dynamic chassis control package – which firms up the ride to deliver more thrills is also offered, although we don't see the need to ever use it.
The steering is remarkably light and feels ideal around town, if a bit lifeless on twisty back roads. Body roll could be better controlled, and the experience just doesn't feel quite as polished as rivals. But that's at the expense of offering a more comfortable ride, and one we think buyers should appreciate.
How does it look?
Skoda has gone down a slightly different path with the Scala's styling, and it's a direction that's worked. But sure, it's still immediately recognisable as a Skoda with its high bonnet line, flowing lines and hexagonal-shaped grille.
Based on the styling of the Vision RS Concept shown at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, the Scala offers a sportier look than the Rapid it replaces. The Scala also offers some 'firsts' for Skoda, as the hatchback is the Czech manufacturer's initial model to have the brand's letters spelt out at the rear as opposed to a traditional Skoda badge.
Our only real gripe about the way the Scala looks, as with many new models, is that the radar sensors for the suite of safety features is poorly integrated into the design behind the front grille. It looks untidy and almost like an afterthought, despite it being fundamental to the overall design.
What's it like inside?
The Scala undercuts the best-selling Golf in terms of price by quite some margin, but its interior doesn't feel that way. Skoda's rounded off the cabin with plenty of soft-touch plastics and it looks like a model that occupies a more premium sector than it does, albeit some of the switchgear feels more Primark than Prada.
All models also come with a touchscreen – a 6.5-inch unit on 'S' variants, with our top-spec SE L test car benefitting from the large 9.2-inch setup included as standard to the range-topping trim. It's a classy-looking and intuitive system that houses satellite navigation and a host of safety functions, although we had a minor battle with setting up the satellite navigation, and it doesn't feel quite as slick as past Volkswagen systems.
Offering the largest boot in its class (excluding more saloon-style bodies such as the Honda Civic), the Scala comes with 467 litres of load space, with an adjustable boot floor adding further scope. Rear seat space in the Scala is also very generous for a model of this size.
What's the spec like?
Value has always been a selling point of Skodas, and the same is true of the Scala. The range kicks off at £16,595, or roughly the same as a mid-spec supermini these days. And despite its cheap price, plenty of kit is still offered as standard.
Gone are the plastic wheel trims you would typically find on the entry-level 'S' version, and instead it comes with 16-inch alloys, as well as a 6.5-inch touchscreen, LED headlights and autonomous emergency braking.
Splashing out an extra £1,185 pays for the SE, which adds even more kit.
Rounding off the range is the SE L, which costs from £19,580. This brings treats such as keyless entry, climate control, a digital 'virtual' cockpit and a large 9.2-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and connected services.
The Scala is everything we've come to expect from a modern Skoda. It's good to look at, hugely practical, comfortable and yet the firm's long-lasting principal of value remains.
It might have the better-driving Ford Focus snapping at its ankles, and it may not be as polished as the more premium Volkswagen Golf, but with such an attractively low price, it's a hugely compelling model and deserves to be yet another sales hit for Skoda.