Skoda's Scala claims to bring something a little different to the compact hatch class. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Skoda has yet to really crack the family hatchback market, which in some ways is strange given the considerable success that various generations of its Fabia supermini have enjoyed. Last time the Czech brand attacked this segment, it was so desperate to succeed that it brought us not one family hatch design but two, the very Skoda-like Rapid and the more conventional Rapid Spaceback. Now too, the supermini emphasis is divided - between this car and the slightly smaller Fabia small hatch.
The Scala name comes from the Latin meaning 'stairs' or 'ladder', reflecting the fact that this model will be 'a leap forward in design and technology' according at least to Skoda. Of course, from an engineering point of view, it shares just about everything with Volkswagen Group contemporaries, in this case primarily VW's Golf and SEAT's Leon. But as usual, Skoda offers it all at slightly lower prices and with a range of 'Simply Clever' design features intended to make everyday life with this car just that little bit easier.
So what's this Scala like on the road? Well other smaller cars that use its MQB-A0 chassis like the sixth generation Volkswagen Polo have impressed us with the way that relatively crude torsion bar damping can be tuned to provide a really supple quality of ride. This Skoda delivers that too. You can't have everything of course. Sharper potholes catch it out, but over commoner tarmac tears and highway undulations, it flows beautifully. With at least some of the kind of 'big car' feel that Skoda promises. Of course, it loses out to such as the Golf or the Focus in this class in terms of handling feedback. Throw this Skoda into a bend with any sort of vigour and though grip levels are admirable and the relative lack of body roll even quite surprising, there's little sense of enjoyment in the process through the light steering. Does that matter? Only you can decide.
You'll want to know about engines. The Scala comes with three petrol units with a cylinder capacity of either 1.0 or 1.5 litres. Most will choose the 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit, available with either 95PS or 110PS. The former unit comes only with a 5-speed manual stick shift, but if you choose the 110PS variant, you'll be offered the choice of either 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG auto. The DSG 'box is also optional on the other engine in the range. The 1.5 TSI 150PS petrol unit's worth a look, equipped as it is with efficient Active Cylinder Technology that means it's almost as efficient as the 1.0-litre option.
Optional is an Adaptive Cruise Control system that can automatically keep the car a safe distance behind the vehicle in front on the motorway, being even able to slow you right down to a stop and start you off again if you come across a tailback.
Design and Build
The Scala is a crisp piece of design work with its clearly defined surfaces, flowing lines and sleek aerodynamics. The front is actually quite striking with an upright radiator grille, a large air inlet underneath and side Air Curtains. The side profile 'tornado line' makes the vehicle look longer and works well with the sweeping roof line. There are LED head and tail lights, wheels of between 16 to 18-inches in size and as an alternative to the standard tailgate, the car can be ordered with an extended rear window. Under the skin, the car sits on the VW Group's latest stiff, sophisticated MQB-A0 platform.
Inside up-front, the Scala gets the brand's latest generation infotainment system with a free-standing screen positioned high on the dashboard in clear view of the driver. Plus there's the option of a 10.25-inch 'Virtual Cockpit' digital instrument binnacle display. Classy touches include ambient lighting with a white or red light, plus the warm hues and contrasting coloured stitching on the seat covers provide a pleasant feeling of spaciousness. The long 2,649mm wheelbase allows for more rear seat leg room than you might expect to find in a car of this class. Out back, there's a large 467-litre boot, the largest in the class. This increases to 1,410-litres with the rear bench folded.
Market and Model
Prices start at just under £19,000 and the range consists of four familiar Skoda trim grades; 'S', 'SE', 'SEL' and 'Monte Carlo', with all four offering decent levels of standard specification. Despite its status as the entry-level model, the 'S' is fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, leather for the steering wheel, gear and handbrake lever and a height adjustable driver's seat. Customers opting for the 'S' model also get air-conditioning, a DAB digital radio, front and rear electric windows and a 'Swing' infotainment system with a 6.5-inch screen. In terms of safety equipment, the 'S' model features front head and side airbags, Front assist, Lane assist, a Speed limiter and Emergency call with proactive services.
The mid-range 'SE' model adds a host of additional features including cruise control, rear parking sensors, a 'Bolero' infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen, an integrated umbrella and a height adjustable passenger seat. If you're happy to spend just under £22,000 on your Scala, then your dealer will direct you to the plush 'SE L' model, which includes the brand's top 'Amundsen' infotainment system with a 9.2-inch glass touchscreen, plus there's a hi-tech digital cockpit, climate control air conditioning, keyless entry with start/stop and a colour multifunction trip computer. The exterior design features 17-inch alloy wheels, full LED rear lights, dynamic indicators and privacy glass on the rear windows. At the top of the range, the 'Monte Carlo' variant includes 18-inch black Vega alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof and an interior leather pack with red stitching.
Cost of Ownership
As you'd expect, all the Scala engines meet the latest Euro 6D emissions standard and all the petrol units are equipped with a particulate filter. All engines come with brake energy recovery and Stop/Start technology. The 1.5 TSI is also equipped with Active Cylinder Technology (ACT) that cuts the engine from four to two cylinders under light-to-medium throttle loads. Skoda won't be bringing to the UK the 1.0 G-TEC unit that's designed to run on CNG environmentally friendly natural gas.
In terms of WLTP efficiency stats? Well, expect the base 1.0 TSI 95PS petrol unit to return up to 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and up to 119g/km of CO2. The volume 110PS 1.0 TSI petrol unit manages to replicate those figures. For the 1.5 TSI, the figures are 51.4mpg and 124g/km.
Finally, while it's certainly true that other rivals better the three year 60,000 mile warranty that Skoda provides, you can extend your cover to four or five years by paying extra. Not that you really need to. The brand regularly tops independent consumer satisfaction surveys: according to real people, there are few more satisfying cars to own.
We always thought that the Rapid Spaceback was an under-rated car and there's every chance the Scala will be too. If you really don't want to pay an awful lot extra for the slush-moulded sophistication of a Golf but want all the same engineering and practicality, then you'll find it here. And in a form that doesn't carry any sort of budget brand stigma.
There are more exciting class choices to be sure. But, by and large, you don't buy a family hatchback for excitement. All the reasons you would want such a thing are covered off here with typical Skoda thoroughness. And with enough style and quality to make brand loyalists feel rather smug. This probably won't have been the car you started out wanting in this class, but there's just a chance that it may be the one you actually need.