Skoda Scala 2021 review: Launch Edition
As seen on carsguide.com.au
Skoda Scala 2021 review: Launch Edition
People in Australia are very unkind about the Skoda brand for reasons that are mired in a history long since past. The brand has formidable backing in the VW Group, which means it has access to an astonishing range of goodies while being able to maintain a Euro-car identity with price-tags closer to Korea or Japan.
That's quite a trick to attempt let alone pull off. The Superb is the thinking person's big sedan or wagon and it's mystifying to me how people are still grouping the Czech brand in with a grab bag of jokes you probably couldn't apply to Lada anymore.
And so we come to the brand new Scala. Well, I say it's brand new, it's been out in Europe for a couple of years and is already six months overdue even by our lax standards. The Scala does battle with its Volkswagen stablemate, the Golf, while also tackling a still busy small hatch segment filled with a lot of affordable, classy and competent cars.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The Scala Launch Edition, as its name suggests, is an initial run of well-equipped cars at a sharp introductory price. At $35,990, it's not mucking about, especially considering the base 110 TSI is $28,990 with an automatic transmission.
On the Launch Edition, you get 18-inch Vega Aero alloys, leather and synthetic suede seats, power driver's seat, sat nav, auto LED headlights and wipers, wireless CarPlay (Android Auto is USB at the moment but a software update will fix that later in 2021), heated seats front and rear and auto-parking.
That's on top of a powered tailgate, reverse parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, wireless phone charger, keyless entry and start, leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, panoramic sunroof and a sports chassis picked up from the Monte Carlo and much of which is also on the base model.
Another addition to the Launch spec is the 9.2-inch touchscreen (up from 8.0-inches) with wireless CarPlay to go with the wireless charging and the eight-speaker stereo. It's a really good system, with a snappy interface, but it did keep forgetting to load CarPlay. It turned out it was silently disabling it and I had to go menu-diving to sort it out. It never really settled in, so one hopes that on the car's next visit for a service, a software flash would sort that out.
Is there anything interesting about its design?
The most intriguing thing about the Scala - as far as casual observers went - was the side profile. Is it a hatch? Is it a small wagon? Is it the long-awaited return of the classic Impreza Hatch? I think the answer to all of those questions is no. It's none of those things. It's not terribly confusing, though, when you consider the brand's history of doing things differently. Owners of the sedan look-a-like Octavia will know what I mean.
Front and rear, though, it's recognisably Skoda and that is a good thing. It fits in with the ever-expanding Skoda SUV family, all of which are handsome machines. I particularly like the LED lights in the Launch Edition and the striking shade of blue.
Inside is all grey VW Group, so it's not especially exciting. It is, however, beautifully built and very easy on the eye, particularly the way the split dash houses the touchscreen and a discreet cubby hole next to it. I quite liked the seats, which had a synthetic suede strip in them (you don't want real suede, trust me) and everything was typically close to hand and easy to use.
How practical is the space inside?
This kind of links up with the "what is it?" question. As is quite common across the Skoda range, the company crams a lot of space into any given footprint. In this case you start with a massive 467 litres of space. This figure wallops pretty much everything in its class, and in the adjacent class of SUV as well. Skoda also throws a range of nets and clever ideas, like a boot floor you can flip between carpet and rubber, depending on the filth you're loading into the boot. The only downside of this huge boot is that there's a bit of a loading lip, but I can live with mid-size sedan boot space in a smaller hatch for that. If you put the rear seats down, you'll have 1410 litres.
Rear-seat space is also excellent for the size, again walloping most of the obvious competition for knee and legroom while delivering decent headroom. We tricked our six-foot-three son into trying out the back seat with the promise of ramen. He was perfectly happy and noticed the inclusion of heated rear seats and air-conditioning vents. Three across is the usual squeeze but two adults should be quite happy back there.
Also included are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether restraints.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
Across the range you will find the very capable 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo. Driving the front wheels through a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic, you can access 110kW at 6000rpm and 250Nm between 1500 and 3500rpm. That torque figure is especially chunky for its size and the class.
How much fuel does it consume?
The twin-clutch Scala's official combined cycle figure of 5.5L/100km (curiously the manual came out better at 4.9L/100km) looks pretty good, but my week with the car, which was mostly suburban running, returned a Matt Campbell-matching 7.4L/100km (indicated) which is not bad going. I was also driving it enthusiastically because, well, you'll find out.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The forward AEB works from 4km/h to 250km/h (I did not test that higher figure, obviously) and the pedestrian and cyclist detection works from 10-50km/h.
The Launch Edition also sports blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, which includes a sort of rear AEB to stop you reversing into objects.
The Scala scored a five-star ANCAP rating based on the 2019 rules via its agreement with EuroNCAP.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
You can pay for your servicing as you go, averaging out at a high-ish $443 per 12 months/15,000km visit over the first six years/90,000km (whichever comes first). It's not an outrageous sum - and Korean turbo cars aren't far off that figure if you crunch the numbers - but it's worth knowing because Skoda offers a pre-payment for three years/45,000km ($800, $339 saving), or five years/75,000km ($1200, saves $1001) bringing the average down to an almost Toyota-like price. Bit of a slam dunk, really.
If you're from the future and reading this to suss out the Scala as as second-hand buy, you're in luck - if the car you're looking at doesn't already have a pre-paid service pack applied and has already had its first service, you can pay $1300 for four years, saving you almost a third off the pay-as-you-go prices.
What's it like to drive around town?
There is one, predictable thing about the way the Scala drives around town and that's related to the twin-clutch transmission. Being a 1.5-litre turbo, it does take a while for the compressor to get spinning. So stepping away from the lights does take a moment longer than it would in, say, a traditional automatic. It's one of those things an owner will certainly get used to but it does point to a conservative calibration for the transmission to avoid a lurching, screechy take-off.
Apart from that, the Scala is a terrific city car. The torquey 1.5 is more than up to the job of urban work, smoothly tackling overtaking and ducking and diving. The Launch Edition is fitted with fancy-titled Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, but they're actually quite good (despite Goodyear having been absent from F1 for over two decades). They're not too noisy, either, even on the nasty concrete slab sections of my regular drive route. They also worked very well in a sudden downpour.
In Normal mode, the ride and handling balance is just right, leaving out the boy-racer firm suspension but not allowing too much wallowing for the sake of ultimate comfort. That is hard to do on 18-inch wheels.
The key here is that, despite the Sport Chassis Control name, the adaptive damping is nicely sorted. If you do want boy-racer firm, switch to Sport and the balance is upset, along with a touchy throttle and a transmission map that holds the gears too long. The opposite is true of Eco, so it's best to leave the drive mode select switch alone, unless you're on the freeway (where using Eco mode will be virtually unnoticeable) or if you're chucking it down a twisty road (where Sport mode will shine).
We're used to waiting for good cars in Australia and the Scala was worth it. It has all the traditional Skoda values - being a bit bigger than its rivals, well-priced and specced for those in the know, and it's good fun to drive. It even has an umbrella in the driver's door, which is a fun but extremely useful touch pinched from Rolls-Royce (or was it the other way around?).
The Scala is a good city car and if you're after all of the good stuff without having to faff about with the various packs you can add to the 110 and the Monte Carlo specs, the Launch Edition is for you. So get cracking if you want one.
Good ride and handling
PAYG service costs
Iffy CarPlay integration
Hesitant gearbox uptake
Daily driver score