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Skoda Scala review: Don't stair too hard
THE lazy way to think of a Skoda is to consider it some sort of poor man's Volkswagen, but the Scala shows how that idea is now about as sensible as a pair of paper underpants.
The new five-door, five-seat hatchback might be heavily based on VW underpinnings, but the design and technology that form its essential makeup reveal a little-acknowledged truth: within the Volkswagen corporate family, Skoda is not some bumpkin cousin from the Czech countryside, but a favoured son.
And why not? Bentley may be infinitely more glamorous, but every car it built lost 27,400 euros (S$41,880) last year on average, while Skoda booked a solid 1.4 billion euro operating profit in 2018.
In fact, Skoda's operating margins are slightly better than Audi's, and more than twice as good as those of Volkswagen's own car division.
It should hardly be surprising, then, that when you poke around the Scala you find that its engineers received the choice cuts from Volkswagen Group's R&D table, rather than the technological scraps.
No one knows (or is prepared to say) what version is coming to Singapore and with what features yet, but someone who goes crazy with the order form can have their Scala with a virtual cockpit display (that is, the crisp digital instruments that Audis have), up to nine airbags, and the 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system that looks so good and works so well in a number of VW models.
Every Scala has blind spot monitors that are among the industry's best (with a detection range of 70 metres), and every one comes with a collision avoidance system that hits the brakes for you if the car detects a hazard or pedestrian in your path.
As with other Skodas, you also get plenty of square footage for your money. The Scala shares its basic platform with the Polo (VW's smallest car here), but its skeleton has been stretched so much that it's ended up larger than the Golf.
Skoda insiders still consider the Golf a notch above the Scala (hierarchy still counts for something in families after all), but they view cars like the Honda Jazz or Hyundai i30 as its rivals.
Whatever it is, the Scala is conspicuously big-boned for its class. That merely means it might as well have been tailor-made for value-conscious Singaporeans; it's unusually generous with space in the back (especially when it comes to headroom), and the boot is enormous. You can heave 467 litres of stuff aboard (in comparison, a Hyundai i30 offers 395 litres), and if you fold the rear seats you can schlep 1,410 litres around.
Despite the workhorse dimensions, the Scala does manage to avoid looking remotely utilitarian. If anything, it has crisp lines and well-judged proportions, and there's even some design flair; the headlights allude to Bohemian crystal, for instance, and instead of a logo on the tailgate there are raised block letters that spell out "Skoda", like those you find on a Porsche.
Jab all around the cabin and you'll find that it's largely made up of impressively soft plastics, and the dashboard's design works well for a car at this price level, being unpretentious.
It's when it's on the go that the Scala reveals a lack of sparkle. The relatively long wheelbase means it turns languidly into corners, and it's set up to feel dependable and predictable, resulting in a car that seems to wonder what the hurry is when you try to drive it fast.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo (which is our bet for what will make it to Singapore) is pretty much the most characterful thing about driving the Scala, owing to its cheerfully thrummy voice and appetite for revs.
If you have the option for the Sports suspension package with its firmer springs and electronic dampers, however, avoid it. What makes a car like this pleasant to drive isn't unnecessary bumpiness, but comfort, light steering and logical controls.
Anyway it's worth remembering that the Scala is not meant to be fancy or complex. Rather, it's destined to replace the Rapid Spaceback, Skoda's cheapest car at S$92,900 with Certificate Of Entitlement (COE).
In case you were wondering, Skoda ditched the Rapid name for a reason. The Scala surpasses its predecessor so greatly that its makers felt it appropriate to name it after the Latin word for "stairs" or "ladder".
While the Scala is better than the Rapid by leaps and bounds, it would make little sense for Skoda to charge any more for it and risk pushing people into a Volkswagen. To sell well, it would have to cost well under S$100,000 at today's COE prices when it arrives either at the end of this year or the start of next.
Skoda may be proud of the heights its new car scales, but it's important for the brand to keep its feet on the ground.
Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI (as tested)
Engine 999cc, inline-3, turbo
Power 115hp at 5000-5500rpm
Torque 200Nm at 2000-3000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed manual
0-100km/h 9.8 seconds
Top Speed 201km/h
Agent Skoda Centre Singapore
Price To be confirmed
Available To be confirmed