It’s not often that we get to drive a car that comes as a complete surprise. The car in question, is the Skoda Scala, a car that may well have passed you by. However, we’re here to tell you that it’s really very good, which will come as no great shock to What Car, who recently made it their Best Family Car 2020. Ostensibly, What Car have looked at the Scala from a retail perspective. But, as we discovered in 1.6 TDI diesel format, it’s cracker for fleet as well.
The Scala is offered with four trims, S, SE, SE L & Monte Carlo, with us testing an SE L model. There are also four engine choices. Three petrol’s, a 1.0 litre TSI 95bhp, a 1.0 litre TSI 115bhp, a 1.5 litre TSI 150bhp & a single 1.6 litre TDI diesel that we drove.
The Scala is basically the Skoda version of VW’s Golf & it competes against the likes of KIA’s Ceed, Ford’s Focus & SEAT’s Leon. Whilst it may not be as familiar as any of these, in many areas including practicality & price, it beats all of the above hands down.
The Scala comes with similar mechanicals to the Golf & the Skoda Octavia, because all three models are based on the VW Group’s MQB architecture. However, the Scala uses the smaller version of this platform, called MQB A0, which is more often used for superminis & mini-SUVs, such as the VW Polo, Audi A1, VW T-Cross & SEAT Arona. One area where this is a benefit, is in the Scala’s excellent road manners. It uses a torsion-beam suspension set-up on the rear axle, which we think offers a more engaging ride.
From the outside, the Scala doesn’t scale any heights. It’s built for space & not it’s looks. Perhaps the only sexy bit, is at the rear where the addition of a Tailgate Design Pack on our test car, gives the practical hatchback a sloping, tinted glass window that merges seamlessly into the rear light clusters.
Inside, it’s very much the familiar “Volkswagen Family” set-up, which means sober black’s, chrome’s & grey’s. The 9.2″ touchscreen & 10.25″ Virtual Cockpit, replacing traditional analogue dials on SE L models, lift the dashboard from the gloom. The Virtual Cockpit is actually very useful. It allows you to customise the instrument cluster with information from the SatNav, media & phone & also acts as a trip computer. We travelled a couple of hundred motorway miles in the Scala & once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s a tidy addition to the SE L range.
Interior quality is also above average. Whilst not as plush as the the Golf or the Focus, some materials used are a little cheap-looking & rough to the touch, the cabin is on a par with what you’ll find in the Kia Ceed, Renault Megane or Hyundai i30. This includes plenty of storage, large door pockets, a useful glove box, decent connectivity, two mini USB connections up front & two in the rear on SE L & above. The only negatives are the two cup holders between the front seats which are too small for anything other than a 330ml bottle & a less than generous armrest & piddly storage below.
An 8″ screen is fitted to every Scala model & with all now featuring Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, so you don’t really need SatNav, when you can connect to Google Maps via these. It’s worth noting though, that in our week in the Scala, we could not connect to AppleCar Play at all, giving up completely on day two & using Bluetooth & the on board SatNav instead. Who though mini-USB’s were a good idea ?
Although the touchscreen is bright & crystal clear we did have a couple of gripes with it. The screen Menu is located at the top left, which means it’s a bit of a stretch with your left arm across the car, to select it & access all of the touchscreen functions. For example, I like to turn off lane departure & to do this you need to select Menu, then Driver Assistance, then click the icon to turn it off. Even more difficult is adjusting the heating. Whilst temperature control knobs sit handily underneath the touchscreen, there’s no fan adjustment here. You have to select the short cut Menu button on the control panel, then turn the fan up using a sliding scale. We found this is distracting on the move, but to be a fair, it does get easier to work with, the longer you spend behind the wheel.
We aren’t complaining about the SE L spec though. It’s generous. Amundsen SatNav, 17″ Stratos alloys, cruise control, DAB, front & rear electric windows, eight speakers, LED headlights & daytime running lights, full LED rear lights, rear parking sensors & keyless sentry with start/stop are all included. Safety features includes nine airbags, Autonomous Emergency Braking & Lane Assist. Our test car also included a few useful extras. Adaptive cruise control £415, that sexy tailgate design pack £280 & an electrically operated boot £410, that we would certainly consider paying extra for.
The Scala’s boots space is excellent & pretty much class leading, with 467 litres available with rear seats in place, rising to 1,410 litres with them folded down. There’s a practical, adjustable-height boot floor & only a tiny lip from the boot entry to the boot floor, making it easy to get larger items in.
As far as the drive goes, we loved it ! Our test car featured the 7-speed DSG auto gear box & it makes for fun driving. An auto means easy driving in traffic always a bonus. Coupled with Skoda’s Drive Mode Select, an additional £130 on our test car, which allows you to change your driving style between Eco, Normal, Sport or Individual, the DSG is a great addition. Choosing Sport Mode unsurprisingly, offer’s the most fun & we found it useful when joining the motorway. Almost all of the other times, we drove in Eco Mode to conserve diesel, which we did, averaging 52.3mpg in our 7 day test. Claimed WLTP figure is 54.3 mpg so we were almost bang on for once ! Diesel emissions are 108g/km.
The ride on our 17″ alloys was a little hard, typical of the Volkswagen Group as a whole. The steering is direct & compliant & overall, it’s engaging car to drive. The cabin remains quiet even at motorway speeds & the seats are multi-adjustable & easy to get comfortable in.
The real joy of the Scala in SE L spec though, is the cost, just £23,885 OTR. This gets you a very good car at a very, very good price. Expect to pay £3000 to £4000 more for the equivalent Golf or Ford Focus.
For company car users, BIK rates will be of most interest & they are better on the petrol, with the 1.0 TSI & 1.5 TSI sitting at 27 %, for tax year 2020/21, whilst the diesel we tested is subject to a 30 % charge in 2020/21. The diesel will offer drivers around 10mpg more, than the 1.5 petrol, but only 5mpg more than the 1.0 litre petrol, a sobering thought for us diesel lovers.
In the end, what we have with the Skoda Scala, is a car we really enjoyed driving, in our case in diesel form, with a 7-speed DSG gear box & plenty of extras. Take the extras away & revert to a manual petrol with less goodies & it would still be a good car, but probably not as much fun.
Regardless of this, when you pitch the Scala’s pros vs it’s cons, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Was a comparison, we have just driven the baby Skoda SUV, the Kamiq, which is far more pleasing to the eye than the Scala. But, when compared to the Scala, it doesn’t drive or handle as well, nor is it anymore practical. Cross-over’s may be flavour of the decade, but don’t discount that useful, fun-to-drive hatchback.