A dodgy alternator in the author’s Octavia provides the opportunity of an unexpectedly long exposure to Škoda’s Scala
I won’t say much more about how I came to be the temporary user of a metallic black Škoda Scala 1.5TSI DSG SE (I think – no badging), except to say that it’s now almost four weeks since I left our Octavia at the dealership in Letchworth to sort what initially seemed like a simple problem. However, taking a lead from my own New Year’s intention to look more on the bright side of situations, and, indeed, turn them into opportunities (I know…), I thought I’d share some impressions with the DTW followship.
Let’s start with how I feel about the looks. Externally … well, it does nothing for me. I would say it’s more a case of ‘avoid’, than ‘snog’, and, definitely not, ‘marry’. The overall profile and forms are a bit dumpy, yet there is the usual current-day overdose of feature-lines, creases and panel flares in an unsubtle attempt to szhuszh-up an otherwise dull design.
The main ‘over-bite’ feature-crease visually stumbles in the transition from the front wing to the front door, which spoils any effect the designer was trying to achieve, and I note the new Octavia suffers in the same way. The way the lower edge of the DLO curves upwards towards the D-pillar gives a rather weak impression, contributing to a somewhat flabby look about the hind quarters.
The head and tail lamps also are in line with Škoda’s latest, more expressive design language – i.e. enlarged, fussy and noticeable; ditto the rest of the front fascia. The headlamps fan out at angles to the horizontal from the outer edge of the grille, and the lenses carry details that are clearly meant to look like cut-glass, but at first blush looked like they have cracked.
The rear lights are a lot broader, flowing over onto the rear edge of the tailgate and, in the other direction, along the side of the car. Their form is very three dimensional, looking rather like sculpted eyebrow. I find the overall effect less pleasing than the simpler, more functional and integrated look carried by our Octavia, and even the Rapid which the Scala replaced in Škoda’s range.
Inside, it’s dull, monochrome and unimaginative. The infotainment screen sits at the edge of a hollowed-out section of the dashboard; very much the craze. It works as well as any other I have used, with physical knobs for on/off/volume on the left and twiddle and press to scroll and select from menus if you feel a bit squeamish about smearing the touchscreen all the time (like me).
The plastics are hard and a bit scratchy except for the top-most layer (apart from the binnacle itself – which is hard). Mercy-be, there are simple, physical twist controls for the HVAC (although they feel a bit clunky to use), which is better than the wretched soft-slider interfaces on the new-version of the Octavia (and Golf/ Leon).
The IP is also thankfully packed with nice analogue dials, with a small information screen in between. All good. Controls for wipers and lights are identical to those on our stricken Octavia, which I rate highly. The car also has a proper gear-lever to regulate the automatic (dual clutch) transmission, and the pedals are well weighted, albeit I found the brakes sensitive, with anything more than a mere tap capable of standing the car on its nose.
I’d say that space and comfort feature large on the Scala’s mood board. The front seats adjust in a number of directions, including seat height and lumber support. I found them high backed and comfortable, although I had to take a little while to adjust to the enhanced shoulder supports which are not there on our Octavia.
I am not very broad-shouldered and my guess is that they might niggle those thus blessed. The Scala feels notably taller but narrower than the Octavia, and interior space is excellent for a car this size, with the boot being of a very decent volume and shape – I reckon it comfortably beats a Focus, Mazda3 and Golf on these fronts.
The ride itself is quiet and well controlled 80%+ of the time. There is still that sense of stiction that comes with most Macpherson strut/ torsion beam set-ups, and the Scala never has the sense of flow and polish that a Focus or Fiesta achieve. Handling is acceptable and the steering feels direct if devoid of feel, or, at least, it does until the loathsome Lane Assist involves itself and literally tugs the wheel around in your hands, which I find most disconcerting. This is not a driver’s car, but it does play the easy, relaxed car role rather well, especially when one works out how to dump Lane Assist.
This is helped in part by the model in our temporary care being a DSG automatic. I’ve not had the use of an automatic in such a small and non-sporting car before (my only ever DSG experience was in an R32 Golf, lent to me by a work friend – which was awesome). I have been finding it a bit odd and out of place, but, once I got over that, it’s a rather pleasant and relaxing experience. Maybe that’s a measure of my advance into middle age?
The gearing and shift pattern isn’t actually that great. First seems skippy as the front wheels are all too easily overwhelmed by the engine when leaving a junction (the DSC seemingly having gone AWOL), and the car holds onto gears for too long when slowing down. However, the change itself is quick and smooth.
Star turn on this Scala is the engine. I believe it’s the 1.5l, turbocharged, in-line 4. It’s very quiet, smooth and more than powerful enough. The display in the centre of the IP tells you when the car is coasting and when the engine has switched into 2-cylinder mode; it does this because, otherwise, you would not have known.
It’s also very economical on a longer motorway run. The trip to Birmingham and back to return my son to university garnered an indicated 51.2 MPG, which I thought was excellent for a petrol engine pulling a Golf-class car (the Octavia Estate, a similarly powerful diesel, however, will add another 20 MPG to that figure on the same run – the C6 will manage 40-ish MPG).
The fact that one can access this engine in the Scala, together with the added space over the Golf/ Focus/ Leon mob are the main reasons for potentially recommending this car. That and the price – looking at the lists, the Scala in estimation retails for £21,695, whereas the nearest equivalent I can find in the Golf’s range is a Match costing £25,010. They are closer matched than I thought they would be on price. The Scala is just over 13% cheaper; is that enough to overwhelm the greater desirability of the idea in the minds of many of owning a new Golf? Not sure.
Thing is, I am not sure that most potential buyers of a Golf would think about buying a Scala in the first place. In my mind too, I’d say it’s in the same sort of ‘car-as-utility’ category as a FIAT Tipo, which only comes to the UK with a one litre, 99BHP triple attached to a manual gearbox, costing between £17,690 and £21,690 (the latter being the angry sounding ‘Cross’ version). I’d have the Scala over one of those.
My over-riding thought it how expensive compact cars have become very recently, and Škodas too. It’s a decent car and will serve the average family of four-point-something well, if rather doughtily. It does not get close to pressing the button labelled desirable, much as I enjoyed the relaxing drive and impressive engine.
And there you have it … I have no more words for the Scala. As fortnights at the opera go, this one did not get close to scaling any heights.