Skoda Scala Review
As sensible a car as you could possibly find, and it’s all the better for it. Spacious, well equipped, easy to drive, economical and comfortable, and all for a price that’s beyond competitive.
- Acres of space
- Loads of equipment
- Realistic price
- Cheap materials
- Unexciting to drive
- USB-C plugs means you might need a new cable for your phone
On the Road
There are three engine options at launch. A 1.6-litre diesel with 115hp, a 1.0-litre turbo petrol also with 115hp, and a 1.5-litre petrol motor that produces a more entertaining 150hp. A cheaper 95hp option will arrive later in the year.
Few will go for the diesel but, with 250Nm of torque, it’s quite a zippy thing and better suited to motorway work than the other options. Most will choose the three-cylinder one-litre unit, and that’s a great choice. It’s lightweight, which reduces the whole car’s weight a little, which in turn allows for a little more zest to the performance.
The 0-62mph sprint takes just under ten seconds, which doesn’t sound too rapid, but it’s enough to get up to speed when joining the motorway. It’ll go on to 125mph, although that’s not something we tested. There’s still enough shove at 70-ish, but it feels better in town where the turbo kicks in at below 1,500rpm. That means leaving junctions and swapping lanes at traffic lights can be carried out with confidence.
Skoda has saved money by fitting simple torsion beam suspension to the rear, rather than fully-independent springs as you might find on more expensive Volkswagen group cars. The inference is that the Scala won’t handle as well as it’s pricier rivals, and that’s absolutely true.
However, that misses the point of the Scala. Skoda has engineered this to be entirely anodyne, remaining predictably safe and balanced. You could take this to the Nurburgring and come away completely unmoved. It’s never anything but competent, with even the most enthusiastic driving doing little more than unsettling the rear while the bodywork rolls a bit more than you might like.
The payback is a comfortable ride that masks road surface problems with aplomb. Smooth motorways fade away to nothing, while rutted country roads are dismissed with little more than a thump from each tyre. At low speeds on broken urban roads, it can get a little shaky but, on anything bar the worst surfaces, it’s generally smooth and compliant.
The SE L spec is fitted with 17" wheels, and impressive looking 18-inch wheels are available as an option and, after a short drive in a Scala fitted with them, they make quite a dent in comfort.
One of the downsides of a tiny three-cylinder engine is that you have to work them hard to go anywhere. That’s still true here, but there’s enough soundproofing that it rarely becomes a problem you’ll hear about in the cabin. Only once you’re in the higher echelons of the rev range does it sound strained but, as we’ve already seen, you’d be missing the point of the Scala if you’re driving it like a rally car.
The diesel engine is even better. Yes, there’s a rattle at idle, but once rolling it’s remarkably smooth and quiet. The relaxed nature of the power delivery encourages an even more laid back approach, which only serves to accentuate the refinement.
Most buyers will opt for the six-speed manual gearbox (although there’s a five-speed unit on lower power models) and that’s a nice enough option. It’s smooth, slightly vague and not particularly quick but is incredibly easy and light. The seven-speed automatic is as smooth as butter, but somewhat ponderous when swapping ratios.
Driving any of the models at low revs, cruising along gently, will leave you in a cabin that’s quiet, vibration free and pleasingly calm.
In the car
The interior of the Scala isn’t quite as minimalist as a Volvo, but what’s there has been considerately designed. There’s a horizontal trim panel that provides an illusion of extra width, while the infotainment screen sits high and proud, almost perfectly in line with the instrument binnacle.
On SE L models, that screen is a significant 9.2-inch model that controls virtually everything in the car and includes navigation. Drop down to the SE and it’s a still sizeable 8-inch model that introduces a physical knob for volume control. The entry-level S spec makes do with a 6.5-inch screen that doesn’t get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
The top spec model also replaces the traditional dials in front of the driver with a fully-digital display that’s been borrowed from Audi. The Virtual Cockpit allows the driver to choose from countless displays, including having navigation maps directly in front of them.
It’s all housed in that pleasingly styled cabin, but you can see where Skoda has saved some money, with material choices below the elbow level being some way shy of its richer rivals.
With a wheelbase some 10cm longer than a Golf's, you’d expect a little more room inside. Somehow, Skoda has managed to squeeze in lots more room, which means there’s enough space for four six-foot adults to sit in the car comfortably. The fifth might feel a bit disappointed to have an awkward hump in the rear bench and little room for their feet, but everyone else will feel like they’re in a car from a class above.
There are plenty of pockets and storage spaces around the car, too. There’s a decent glove box that keep drinks chilled, a space for a phone - with a wireless phone charger on the SE L model - and a couple of good sized cup holders too.
It’s every bit as accommodating at the back, with a boot that takes 467 litres of luggage with the seats up and parcel shelf in place - that’s 25% bigger than the boot on a Ford Focus. Fold things flat and stack it to the roof and the Scala can take 1,410-litres of bicycles, kindling, pushchairs, or whatever else it is you want to carry around with you. Optionally, the front passenger seat can fold flat, allowing you to slide in a surfboard or Billy bookcase, if that’s your thing.
The asking price of the Scala is bold, but not ludicrously cheap. The range starts from £18,585 for the 95hp 1.0-litre S, and rises to £23,315 for a diesel SE L model with an automatic gearbox. However, customers are more interested in monthly figures, and it’s too far from launch to know exactly what they’ll be, especially when that depends heavily on depreciation predictions. While you could save around £5,000 in cash against a similarly specced Golf, it’s likely that difference will narrow on monthly payments.
Official economy figures are also some way off, but downsized petrol engines often fall very short of the claims made. That said, during our time with the car our test model looked to be doing about 40mpg, over a variety of roads, although none were too demanding. CO2 emissions of around 110-120g/km will also keep tax bills relatively low.
The choice of cheaper plastics means perceived quality isn’t as strong as some rivals, with the likes of Kia and Hyundai fitting richer feeling materials in the cabin. However, the construction feels sturdy and evidence from current Skodas suggests there won’t be much falling apart over the years.
That’s backed up by results in last year’s Auto Express Driver Power survey, where Skoda came third overall. The JD Power UK Vehicle Dependability Survey found much the same, with Skoda coming fourth for reliability, behind only Hyundai, Suzuki and Kia.
Each car is backed by a two-year unlimited warranty, with the third year of cover being limited to a total of 60,000 miles.
The Volkswagen group platform that the Scala rides on can be fitted with countless bits of safety kit, and every Scala gets lane assist, automatic emergency braking at city speeds, up to nine airbags and hill hold. Higher models add automatic lights and wipers, but blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alerts and adaptive cruise control remain on the options list.
It’s too early for EuroNCAP to have crash tested the Scala, but its Rapid predecessor got the full five-stars in 2012. More recent models, such as the Karoq and Kodiaq also got five stars in the new, tougher tests, which bodes well for the Scala.
Only SE models and above get an alarm, but all models get an engine immobiliser as standard.