How does the new SKODA Scala 1.0 TSI 115PS SE stack up in the competitive hatchback segment?
22 October 2019
This is a car that has kind of slipped under the radar quietly and not yet exploded or even shuffled into people’s consciousness since its launch earlier this year, if road sightings are anything to go by. After a week testing one, though, SKODA’s new Scala has elbowed itself into our top three evaluated cars of 2019 and represents a fabulous option for someone tired of eating Matsusaka wagyu in slightly pretentious surroundings and gets a warm, fuzzy feeling from biting into an unexpectedly mouth-watering bog-standard steak in home-like comfort.
For the uninitiated, what is the Scala?
The SKODA Scala has the plucky aim of scalping retail sales and lease deals from mid-size barnacles like the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf, which the Czech is actually longer than despite being built on a smaller version of the VW’s MBQ platform. It’s also up against alternatives like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, plus other budget-conscious offerings like the Hyundai i30, Kia Ceed and its sibling the SEAT Leon, slotting into the SKODA model range between the Fabia and Octavia in replacement of the Rapid that didn’t fulfil its name in the way the Superb certainly does.
Its overall silhouette is ‘ready salted’ rather than ‘scorching chilli’ flavour but isn’t devoid of character and progress, with a clenched-teeth grille and arrowhead lights at the front, adroitly-balanced proportions along the sides, and an especially noteworthy rear incorporating edgy and distinctive taillights that have a whiff of Audi A5 about them, plus unashamedly large SKODA lettering across its butt instead of the brand’s logo, which is a really nice touch.
Although some of the optional exterior upgrades are worth avoiding unless someone feels that life’s not worth living without them, our test car’s LED rear lights with animated indicators that sweep outwards like on Audis and plenty of other makes are an attractive highlight with added safety benefits, and the ‘Tailgate design pack’ that sees blackened glass run all the way down to the boot catch still leaves us drooling and splashes the Scala with some sophistication.
It won’t stand out in a crowded car park or on the road but somehow manages to blend crisp and cute, and we love the way it’s brought a proper hatch back to SKODA’s lineup, the Octavia having long been labelled that way despite looking more like a saloon.
The new SKODA Scala’s interior
Inside the all-new Scala, space and solidity meet comfort, practicality and a hefty slice of modern tech’, the latter somewhat depending on whether S, SE or SE L is picked. In today’s world of wireless everything, it did feel a trifle odd having to press a button and turn the key to access and ignite our test car, but keyless entry and start is on the options list, and SKODA’s newcomer was subsequently a doddle to get to grips with.
The front seats are comfortable for journeys short and long but lack side support in standard form and some may find them slightly narrow, compounded by the car’s relatively slim belt size that could in some cases see shoulder-rubbing quite literally become a thing. There’s plenty of space in the rear for adults of all sizes but the central lump in the floor does mean that it’s better suited to two rather than three back there.
Material quality inside the new Scala hatchback falls short of the relatively premium vibe aboard the Czech brand’s other models, with some disappointingly scratchy plastics within easy reach, but there are equally some nice touches in there like the perforated softer surfaces near the door handles, and the aluminium-look dashboard fascia – which are just some of the huggable things that compensate.
Standard equipment, for starters, is as generous as typical portions served in American diners, with even entry-level S trim getting basic LED headlights and daytime running lights, tinted windows, leather-trimmed primary controls, a cooled glovebox to prevent your choccies melting on a hot day, DAB, two USB-C ports and plenty of ‘assist’ features – but oddly, no alarm, which left us open-mouthed. The Scala we spent a week with was an SE model, translating into rear parking sensors, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, cruise control, and eight speakers rather than four. Only Scala customers who upgrade to the 9.2-inch Amundsen + Virtual Cockpit infotainment system double act will be treated to SKODA’s new digital assistant called Laura, but having an Alexa-like system in the car isn’t everyone’s cup of tea anyway.
SKODA’s fabled Simply Clever practicality highlights sprinkled around the Scala’s cabin are worthy of a smile, from the windscreen’s car park ticket holder and the ice-scraper located under the fuel filler cap, to SE guise’s storage compartments under the front chairs, and the umbrella stashed inside the edge of the door.
Infotainment in the Scala SE sees the default 6.5” colour touchscreen upgraded to a thoroughly contemporary and classy-looking 8” affair made of glass, which may lack some of the online features of SE L trim’s 9.2” screen such as traffic and weather, but is one of the best efforts in the hatchback segment thanks to its crisp visuals and relative ease of operation, with handy shortcuts and comfortable physical positioning at eye level. Infotainment systems with rotary or even button-operated control interfaces near the gearstick are safer and often easier to use on the move, though, like in the new Mazda 3. Music fans won’t be blown away by the Scala’s 8-speaker audio system, but it does a reasonable job, and the simplicity of the car’s manual air conditioning dials is refreshing in today’s world of multiple zones and digital screens that can be fiddly, with frown-evoking safety connotations. It’s the brand’s first car to be permanently online and connected to the internet, courtesy of an eSIM card and LTE.
What size boot does the SKODA Scala have?
Parents will love the new SKODA Scala hatchback because its back doors open widely enough to take some of the sting out of juggling car seats, kids and other paraphernalia, and they also mean that elderly or less agile rear passengers will find it more comfortable to access the back seats.
Boot space gets top marks, too, as despite being built on a slightly smaller version of the VW Golf’s platform, the German only musters a pathetic 380 litres of luggage space, but the elongated Czech silences nearly all rivals with its 467 litres. Only the futuristic-looking Honda Civic hatch with 478 litres marginally pips the Skoda in outright volume, but its swooping rear limits the Japanese offering’s ultimate usability for bulkier items, which the more upright but nevertheless curvaceous Scala handles with ease. The linear shape of the boot combined with its impressive height help it make light work of swallowing eight large Labrador-sized supermarket bags for life by placing some on top of others, placing the bags with bottled water and tins underneath the ones full of eggs and bread, of course. Unless the adjustable boot floor is set to its highest level there is a bit of a loading lip to contend with, though, and the Scala’s 60:40 rear seats can’t be folded from the boot using levers like they can in some rivals’ models. These, along with the ugly presentation of the ISOFIX mountings, are merely small gripes over what is otherwise a comfortingly comfortable, spacious and practical interior.
Is the SKODA Scala safe?
Safety is another strong area for the new SKODA Scala hatchback, too, kicking things off with 5 stars from Euro NCAP, contributed to by a 97% score in the adult occupant protection category, 87% for children, 81% for the way it protects vulnerable road users, and a 76% score to reflect its abundant safety assist systems that include autonomous emergency braking (AEB) as standard for city and inter-urban driving and also for cyclists and pedestrians. Lane Assist is fitted to every trim of Scala, too, providing a welcome steer most of the time, but both it and AEB were experienced as having the habit of kicking in way too sensitively on occasion, the latter seemingly having little faith in the driver not hitting stationery cars quite a way away and wrestling the wheel quite strongly. Still, for all motorists and especially parents, it’s reassuring to know that the SKODA Scala is a safe choice in retail and car leasing markets.
How does the SKODA Scala 1.0 TSI 115PS perform?
What’s the Scala like to drive, though? SKODA’s men and women in white coats can mop their brows, that’s for sure, as the new hatchback proved wholly pleasant and unexpectedly quite good fun to drive – a perfect antidote for the UK’s pitted and clogged roads. Okay, it’s not a sports car and doesn’t handle like one, but then it doesn’t claim to be. The 6-speed manual gearbox is delightful, like stirring a bowl of Greek yoghurt and honey. It’s not sloppy, just lovely, with no notchy feel whatsoever, intuitive ratios met with an effortless action that makes it a joy to flick up and down the gears to get the most out of the 1.0 TSI petrol engine. The clutch and brakes are faultless, too, and although it’s not as impressive as a Ford Focus’, the Scala’s steering setup is perfectly adequate for most drivers, with enough directness and weight for an occasional toe-dip into sportiness.
Without the Drive Mode Select option ticked, the SKODA Scala’s standard suspension is admittedly on the bouncy side but this is partly what makes it such an affable and easy car to drive. Kids and indeed adults with a propensity towards car sickness may not relish the Scala’s softly-sprung setup and occasional leaning in corners, but it puts speed-bumps and potholes in their place and takes away any worry of grazing its chin or bruising its bottom when hustling over country lane peaks and troughs with abandonment. Word on the street is that the lowered suspension as part of optional Sports Chassis Control spoils the ride, but the test car’s upgraded 17” Stratos alloy wheels didn’t have any negative effect at all. Talking of wheels, the one solitary day during the Scala's stay with us that wasn't marred by unrelenting rain saw the poor thing pick up a puncture en route to its photoshoot, but the SKODA UK press office and AA did a stellar job getting it back on the road relatively quickly.
Good levels of rear vision over the shoulder and average-sized A-pillars make it an unstressed hatchback to manoeuvre, too, leaving the only real grumble being the issue of quietness, with tyre roar and wind noise around the wing mirrors audible on faster A-roads and motorways.
The 1.0 TSI petrol unit from Volkswagen’s tried and tested stable is a lovable ingredient in the Scala experience, too, especially in 115PS guise with 113g/km CO2 emissions. Without any passengers on board or meaty luggage in the boot, the car can at times feel perkier than its paper figures suggest, the 3-cylinder engine striking us as a smooth performer, although some may rue the absence of a more audible characteristic thrum. It’s a great match with the 6-speed manual gearbox and, after a week in which nearly 600 miles were racked up with around 50 still left according to the trip computer’s range, it’s clearly an impressively economical affair, too. The unassuming Scala actually weighed in having averaged over 52mpg, which even beats its on-paper WLTP figure of 49.6mpg, and this wasn’t through driving in a saintly fashion. In fact, driving with an ETA of yesterday seems to have no detrimental effect on MPG at all, which again enhances the Scala driving experience, with no need to go everywhere with a poker-faced expression of constraint to eke out respectable frugality. It questions why anyone would go for the presumably ridiculously parsimonious diesel, unless racking up 30,000+ miles per year is a requirement.
Leasing a SKODA Scala
Currently priced from just £16,595 in entry-level S trim, the new SKODA Scala hatchback packs a heck of a lot of likeability into its budget price-tag, but many optional extras aren’t cheap meaning the total build configurator price can quickly escalate. The SE L sits at the top of the tree at the moment, kicking off at £19,585, while our test car totted up to £21,360, its base OTR of £18,585 inflated by £415 for the larger alloys, £775 for a foldable tow bar, £400 for rear parking sensors, £595 for Race Blue metallic paint, £425 for the classy black boot design upgrade, and various other less expensive extras.
SKODA Scala car lease offers from CarLeasingPeople currently start at £170.39 per month including VAT, which is for the 95PS variant, while a Scala with the same engine and extras as the test car currently commences at £229 per month and tots up to around £285, which is still good value for money, all things considered.
Considerably better than the Rapid it replaces, the new SKODA Scala hatchback is a welcome rather than superfluous addition to the Czech brand’s range and makes its own clear case despite the strengths of its Fabia and Octavia siblings. It’s a shame the interior is a bit utilitarian in places and that the otherwise hushed atmosphere is broken during high-speed driving, but the Scala is otherwise largely faultless for the price and for what it purports to be. Well done, SKODA – that’s another cracker in your repertoire.