The new Skoda Scala does what this brand does best: borrows a familiar Volkswagen formula before maximising the value, practicality and comfort of the package.
After a protracted wait spurred by a stop-start gremlin on the initial batch of deliveries, the 2021 Skoda Scala hatchback is finally on steady sale to Australian buyers. Gremlins exorcised, the brand says.
And that’s a good thing, because the Scala is Skoda’s most important non-SUV play in years. A little longer than a Volkswagen Golf, the Scala is a thoroughly Skoda product inside, with a quality cabin offering acres of space relative to competitors like the Mazda 3 or the positively pokey Toyota Corolla.
Bigger than the Golf the Scala may be, underneath, the new badge has more in common with the entry-level Volkswagen Polo (and Audi A1) that share the VW Group’s more affordable MQB-A0 platform – along with Skoda’s own Kamiq small SUV.
Importantly for many buyers, though, the only engine on offer is a 110kW/250Nm four-cylinder, not the 85kW/200Nm three-cylinder more commonly found in vehicles that utilise this platform.
That gives the Scala Golf-like urgency and engine refinement, even if the polish of the suspension isn’t quite enough to knock VW’s more famous nameplate off its perch.
Three variations of Scala are offered in Australia, kicking off with the base Ambition, which is offered with a six-speed manual ($26,990 driveaway) or seven-speed DSG automatic ($28,990 driveaway).
From there, it’s a step to the sports-suspended Monte Carlo ($33,990 driveaway), or the loaded Launch Edition on test ($35,990 driveaway). Both up-spec Scala models are DSG automatic-only.
However, even the cheapest Scala rides on attractive and decently-sized wheels, and can be optioned with high-end interior tech, additional comfort and safety features, and a panoramic sunroof.
So, if you like to shift your own gears, you can still add in desirable equipment from the options menu.
Or, you could go straight for the Launch Edition, which has every available Scala feature as standard, apart from a panoramic sunroof ($1,300) as fitted to our car.
On the whole, the Skoda Scala drives very well.
This small car fits the Volkswagen Group brief of blending a best-in-class engine with a snappy, effective dual-clutch automatic gearbox and handling that is biased towards driver engagement without sacrificing comfort.
That said, it’s not a Volkswagen Golf – a car that, in runout Mk 7 form at least, continues to offer higher levels of refinement and polish.
The Scala isn’t far off, and it does offer more features for your coin – so it doesn’t need to be quite as impressive as a Golf on the road.
One virtue those two badges share, though, is a great engine. The Scala has a slightly different engine to a Golf, with 1.5 litres of displacement (rather than 1.4). This isn’t the Group’s Euro-spec ‘Evo’ engine – it’s just a slightly larger version of the enduring 1.4-litre.
That’s no issue in reality. The keen-revving 1.5-litre is just as sweet as the 1.4, offering the same 110kW of power at 6,000rpm and 250Nm of torque in a generous plateau flowing between 1,500 and 3,500rpm.
No wonder the Scala feels more effortless to drive around the ‘burbs than a Mazda 3. That car also offers 250Nm of torque – well, 252Nm – but the engine has to be singing at 4,000rpm before you hit peak muscularity.
By contrast, the Skoda Scala feels totally poised and ready to go at any engine speed. The 8.3 second 0-100km/h time isn’t hot hatch quick, but in most driving situations, this car certainly feels rapid enough.
The six-speed manual available on the entry-level Ambition is actually a little bit (0.1sec) quicker to triple figures. The manual’s noticeably more frugal, too: 4.9L/100km plays 5.5L/100km. Both require premium octane petrol.
Given this car has a 50-litre tank, the stick shift version will do 1,000km between stops at the filling station – if you can match Skoda’s claim. In the auto, we got fairly close, recording a figure of 7L/100km in everyday combined driving – mostly in town, but a bit of highway.
Old complaints about shonky dual-clutch automatic transmissions are dispensed with after driving the Scala for a few hundred kilometres.
The DSG here is dry clutch – one of the Group’s more affordable lower-torque designs – but changes are snappy, the shift logic is intuitive, and unless you reverse up steep hills with regularity, most of the time it will fool you into thinking it’s a torque converter auto.
Where the Scala affords more thrills than the similarly-sized Kamiq and Karoq small SUVs with which it shares showroom space is in the handling department.
Reasonably wide and low, the Scala has a clearly superior centre of gravity to its crossover siblings, meaning it turns into corners with considerably more verve – and it rides better, too.
That’s a function of the fact that conventional hatchbacks don’t need their springs stiffened up to cancel out the exaggerated roll characteristics of SUVs, which are much taller objects.
While the Scala does exhibit some body roll, it’s minor – and the relatively soft suspension shared by the Ambition and Launch Edition grades works brilliantly with the grippy chassis that underpins this Skoda small car.
On a twisting back road, drivers can find a real rhythm with the Scala, which flows intuitively from point to point. The steering ratio could be quicker, but it’s not unreasonable for a car with no overt sporting pretensions.
Those looking for a more focussed ride should opt for the Scala Monte Carlo, which has its own sports suspension – we haven’t tested this yet.
Our sole dynamic complaint of note is that, like its Kamiq sibling and Polo cousin, the Scala uses the Volkswagen Group’s more basic torsion beam rear suspension – and it’s simply not as compliant at the rear end as family vehicles that use a more sophisticated independent rear suspension. Such cars include the Octavia RS, Kodiaq … and the Golf.
On the highway and on a country road it’s hard to notice, but running around town sees the Scala’s rear suspension disturbed more by rough potholes and expansion joints than it should. In particular, the rear suspension is quite a lot noisier than a Golf’s.
Test drive the Scala and you’ll immediately know if it’s liveable.
Certainly, the damping is superior to the Kamiq, which is stiffer. Even though the Scala rides on big 18-inch wheels in 205/45 tyres across the range, it’s not an uncomfortable ride. And, unlike the Polo, the Scala wears superior disc brakes all around (not drums on the rear).
Those brakes bite well and lend a secure air to the Scala. Safety technology inclusions are also pretty good, if not class-leading.
Forward city-speed AEB is standard, as is reversing AEB – and this rearward braking technology in the Scala passed our live test. Lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, driver fatigue detection, and tyre pressure monitoring are all standard from the base model up.
The Launch Edition on test also came standard with blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. These can be added to the Ambition and Monte Carlo through optional packages.
Contrary to their affordable pricing, Skoda interiors these days are usually nicer places to spend time than their Volkswagen cousins – and that’s somewhat true of the Scala.
This hatch doesn’t quite have the hewn-from-granite feel of the Mk 7 Golf, but it’s certainly vastly superior to a Polo or even a posh Audi A1. For starters, the rock-hard upper dashboards and door trims of those cars are finished in yielding plush materials in the Scala.
Then there’s the lovely perforated flat-bottom leather steering wheel standard across the range. A great steering wheel means a lot: you’ll be touching it every time you drive the car.
A subtle air of quality pervades the Scala’s interior. The design certainly doesn’t shout – a Mazda 3 is more interesting to look at – but this well-made, conservatively styled cabin has pragmatic appeal. We just wish there were light tones on the menu. The only seat colours available are dark.
Most functions are where you’d expect to find them. But not all: while there are tactile knobs for temperature on the dual-zone climate control, for example, you won’t find a physical fan control. Oddly, you have to tap into the touchscreen if you want to blast or quiet the blower.
And, like Volkswagen, Skoda have now done away with physical volume and tuning knobs, at least for the larger of two available touchscreens. There are still tactile buttons for these functions on the steering wheel – but not for passenger access.
A digital cockpit is standard but base Ambition and mid-spec Monte Carlo cars come with an eight-inch touchscreen sans navigation, though they can be optioned up with the Launch Edition’s crisp, large 9.2-inch unit that packs navigation and wireless Apple CarPlay. Android users are stuck with cable-wired connectivity no matter which screen they buy.
You’ll want the bigger screen anyway, because the Virtual Cockpit ahead of the driver is redundant compared to simpler analogue dials if you can’t put a map there. And without factory navigation, you can’t.
There’s good punch from the Skoda premium stereo fitted to the Scala Launch Edition – and optionally available on the other variants – but unlike Skodas of old you won’t find DAB digital radio on any fitment list.
So you’ll need your own music and podcasts for the kind of long road trips that will show why the Scala’s firm seats are actually good. Unlike a Mazda 3’s soft pews, you don’t get out of the Skoda after a few hours feeling like you need a massage.
The electrically-adjustable driver’s seat of the Launch Edition (again, optional on the others) is what you want, though, with all-important under thigh adjustment. Unlike a Corolla or 3, there is height adjustment for the passenger, though, and the black leather/suedia mix upholstery on our tester was classy.
In an odd ergonomic misstep from Skoda, the centre armrest slides fore and aft but is not adjustable for height – and it droops too much to properly support the arm on a longer journey. A Golf – or a Skoda Karoq SUV – can cleverly lock the armrest height.
Moving to the rear seats reveals one of the Scala’s real trump cards: room back there is really generous, easily eclipsing the Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30, and the Volkswagen Golf. Only larger hatchbacks like the Kia Cerato offer this sort of legroom. Headroom beneath the optional panoramic sunroof is also adequate for six-footers.
The Launch Edition even includes heating for the outboard rear seats – a touch that was only seen on high-end luxury cars even a few years ago. There are also air vents and bottle holders for the second row, but there is no armrest and the materials on the doors switch to hard.
Impressively for a vehicle in this segment, a height-programmable power tailgate is standard – and this operates swiftly and silently, revealing a generous 467 litre boot. Skoda loves a net, and the Scala has multiple, meaning groceries, small bags and other odds and ends don’t slide around causing noise and damage.
Like all Skodas in Australia, the Scala is covered by a five year, unlimited kilometre new car warranty that commences from the date the car is first registered.
Servicing the Scala is done every year or 15,000 kilometres – whichever comes first. Servicing can be paid for normally – when the work is done – or you can pre-purchase service packs at a substantial discount when you buy the car.
A three year (45,000km) service pack costs $800, which represents a saving of $339, while a five year (75,000km) pack is priced at $1,400, saving $801.
Like the warranty, the inclusive service packs are transferable to new owners.
The Scala is only available with the 110TSI four-cylinder engine, and it requires premium octane petrol – minimum 95RON. Some rivals, like the Toyota Corolla, can accept cheaper E10 or 91 octane petrols.
Skoda claims that the Scala equipped with the DSG automatic gearbox consumes 5.5L/100km – our testing showed that the Scala’s real-life economy is about 7L/100km, which isn’t too shabby.
Notably, the manual saves about 10 per cent when compared to this figure.
The Skoda Scala may be new to the market, but this hatch shoots right to the pointy end of the small car segment in Australia. If you’re considering names like Golf, Corolla, i30 and 3, the Scala should be on your consideration list.
While it isn’t exactly cheap in top-shelf Launch Edition form, the Scala reveals its value in just how many features are included as standard.
In the lower grades, loads of great items can be added through convenient option packages, and you can even create yourself quite a niche vehicle in the form of an optioned-up Scala 110TSI Ambition manual.
Importantly, though, the 2021 Scala is a punchy, comfortable, good-looking hatch that makes an awesome small SUV alternative.
Key specs (as tested)
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