New Scout blends off-road capability with estate practicality and sensible running costs

What is it?

The Skoda Octavia Scout is an off-road variant of the popular practical estate from the Czech Republic.

As well as receiving the latest Skoda styling, the new Scout benefits from a host of technical upgrades that are aimed at giving it significant off-road capabilities.

Underpinning it, and contributing substantially to its improved go-anywhere prowess, is a fifth-generation 'Haldex' four-wheel-drive system.

This operates automatically, with an electronically controlled and hydraulically operated clutch pack in the middle of the car regulating the amount of torque to the front and rear axles.

If the wheels spin, torque is cut. If they can take more, it's ramped up. The Haldex system also assesses road speed and steering angle to maximise traction.

This system, compared to the one that preceded it, doesn't use a pressure accumulator to feed the control fluid to the clutch. Instead the required operating pressure is supplied directly to the clutches by an electronically regulated pump.

This means less complication, reputedly faster reaction speeds and a weight loss of 1.4kg. An electronic differential lock is fitted as standard, and operates on both axles, further bolstering traction off road.

Another significant change is to the ride height, with the Scout gaining 31mm of ground clearance compared to the standard Skoda Octavia. That results in a total clearance of 171mm underneath.

Other upgrades include some plastic exterior cladding to protect the car's bodywork, a 'rough-road package' that adds underbody shielding, Scout-specific front and rear bumpers and a two-mode ESC system that allows for more driver control.

It's also interesting to note that Skoda has looked elsewhere to further 'ruggedise' the Skoda Octavia. For example, 17-inch alloy wheels are fitted as standard – but they receive higher-profile tyres than those found on the conventional Skoda Octavia.

What's it like?

Quietly impressive. What's immediately noticeable is the improved degree of driver confidence the Scout offers, a result of knowing it can clear objects easily and that there are vast reserves of traction on hand.

The Skoda's 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel produces 181bhp and 280lb ft, which is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed dual clutch transmission and the aforementioned Haldex system.

Deploy the available punch fully from a standing start and the Scout's drivetrain works to rapidly make best use of what's on offer, resulting in swift, controlled and repeatable acceleration.

Skoda claims 0-62mph in 7.8sec and a top speed of 136mph, both of which feel easily attainable. The diesel engine is eager and pulls cleanly through the rev range, although it becomes quite vocal towards the top end of the scale.

The DSG transmission does a good job of delivering swift, smooth shifts. If the need arises, a manual mode can be accessed via the shifter.

Despite the increase in ride height the Skoda Octavia Scout drives in a well-judged and competent fashion too. You do notice a fraction more roll, and a tendency to edge towards understeer a little more than the standard car, but the overall experience is a pleasant and composed one. 

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Even during high-speed lane changes the Scout remains stable, no doubt partly thanks to the redesigned MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear axle.

The extra height hasn't compromised the Skoda's ride either; it deals with bumps in a swift and quiet fashion, with only large ruts and pot holes transmitting a minor thud into the cabin.

Only the steering lets the Scout's on-road manners down a little. It's linear and precise in its responses but, while ultimately not imperative for a car of its class and target market, a little more feedback would be useful.

Stopping power is plentiful and the pedal offers a smooth response, granting easy and accurate modulation of the brakes. A mechanical handbrake is standard, allowing for rapid and controlled application of the parking brake. This, like many of the Scout's features, serves to further improve its off-road manners.

Head well off the beaten track and Skoda's claims about the Scout's off-road ability become tangible. Steep rock-strewn slopes, sharp ledges, severe cambers and wet, muddy tracks are all traversed with ease and minimal wheelspin.

It remains comfortable inside when going literally across country too, which is no mean feat. It's equally impressive to see it dispatch challenges such as hill starts on steep gravel-covered slopes without fuss too, leading to a secure and dependable feel.

All-round visibility is good, again improving the car's ease of use, and parking and manoeuvring the Skoda isn't difficult. You may find that you have to raise your seat height in order to be able to better see the corners of the bonnet though, as it does drop swiftly away from the base of the windscreen.

Other plus points come in the form of a 2000kg braked towing weight rating, a claimed average economy of 55.4mpg, and a range well in excess of 600 miles. CO2 emissions of 134g/km mean annual road tax costs of £130, which seem reasonable given what's on offer.

Inside the Skoda Octavia Scout is much like its conventional estate and saloon twins. That's not doing it a disservice, mind. It is well finished, intuitively laid out, comfortable, quiet, and offers plenty of room.

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Four adults can be seated with ease and the capacious boot can be enlarged further by dropping the rear seats. It's gratifying to see a space-saver spare wheel fitted – a vital feature for a car that might encounter tyre damage too severe for a repair kit.

There are many storage spaces on offer throughout the car, and touches like a height and length-adjustable front armrest add to the neatly resolved and complete feel of the Skoda.

Equipment levels are good, including the likes of climate control and a range of advance options such as radar-guided cruise, and as standard the Skoda comes with useful features including an ice scraper mounted in the filler cap

Only a few slight curiosities detract from the Skoda's cabin – although we're splitting hairs here. There's no illumination for the vanity mirrors, for example, but a more prevalent fault is that you'll always feel a slight diesel-induced vibration through the steering column and pedals.

Some may also find that the front seats are mounted too close to the central tunnel, leading to you perpetually resting a knee on it and always feeling a little too distant from the door-mounted arm rests.

While not ultimately terminal flaws, you'd hope not to come across such issues in an otherwise highly polished product.

Should I buy one?

It must be said that, for the vast majority of buyers, a standard two-wheel-drive Skoda Octavia would be capable with dealing with the majority of road conditions.

Be it rutted tracks, crossing a field or ascending a slope, driven appropriately the front-drive variants should have few problems.

Even come the winter months, if you felt it necessary, a decent set of winter tyres would most likely offer up superior control and stability than a four-wheel-drive Skoda with standard tyres.

What the Skoda Octavia Scout does, however, with its off-road upgrades and superior traction, is to make driving the car in the same conditions far easier and more confidence inspiring.

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Opt for the Scout and you have to worry far less about grounding it out, thanks to its higher ride height, allowing for swifter and more comfortable progress.

You need not fear ripping brake and fuel lines asunder from it either, with plastic shields taking the brunt instead of the lines themselves.

Plus, with the Haldex four-wheel-drive system shifting power around as required, putting the diesel's output to its best use is a painless task.

It also represents good value for money, with alternatives such as the entry-level diesel BMW 3-series xDrive Touring, Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and Audi A4 allroad quattro costing thousands more.

Consequently if you're in the market for a practical and eminently capable estate with some off-road credentials, the Skoda's one that's definitely worth seeking out.

Buyers just looking for the benefit of the four-wheel-drive system, however, could save themselves a significant amount by opting for the less powerful Skoda Octavia 4x4.

Skoda Octavia Scout 2.0 TDI 184PS 4x4 DSG

Price £27,990; 0-62mph 7.8sec; Top speed 136mph; Economy 55.4mpg (combined); CO2 134g/km; Kerb weight 1559kg; Engine 4cyls, 1968cc, turbocharged diesel; Power 181bhp at 3500-4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750-3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic

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