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Popular Czech brand wades into the fiercely competitive hatchback homeland

Globally, Skoda has hit a chord with the buying public. Its products mean the same thing everywhere: they’re good value, they’re more spacious than you expect and they’re simply adorned inside. It is an image that has resonated in a crisis-ridden world.

That opening gambit for our road test of the now-retired Skoda Rapid applies as much today as it did back in 2012, although for its successor, the ambitious Czech brand would like to add something along the lines of ‘upmarket sophistication’.

Wide-spaced rear badging is nicked from the Porsche style book. It sits upon an expansive glass tailgate, which admittedly comes as an optional extra.

As much is evident from looking at the Scala, whose design borrows cues from the premium European manufacturers both inside and out, and whose two-box, C-segment dimensions place it right in the cross-hairs of the traditionally minded European buyer. With the Skoda Octavia accounting for the bulk of Skoda’s sales and its growing range of crossovers catching up, Skoda has never built a car that so directly rivals the likes of Ford’s Ford Focus, the Vauxhall Astra and even its Volkswagen Golf cousin. It is no wonder that a new factory in eastern Europe is planned with an annual capacity of 350,000 cars, although if the demand exists, that could double.

Of course, convincingly moving upmarket is never as simple as fitting an all-glass rear window and using Porsche-style badging. The Scala need not handle like the best car in this class, but it must ride with a degree of panache that the Rapid never managed. Likewise, nobody is expecting Mercedes levels of refinement, but in 2019 success in this class demands cosseting long-distance road manners and a certain level of technology within the cabin.

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If Skoda has achieved all of this while retaining its core attributes, that new factory may not need to double its capacity, but triple it.

Price £21,255 Power 148bhp Torque 184lb ft 0-60mph 7.9sec 30-70mph in fourth 9.3sec Fuel economy 41.5mpg CO2 emissions 113g/km 70-0mph 45.9m

The Scala range at a glance

Skoda is good at keeping things simple, so there are only three trim levels to choose from for the Scala: S, SE and SE-L. Prices start at £16,595, and increase all the way to £23,315.

The 1.0-litre three-cylinder motors will likely be the most popular among Scala customers, and it’s worth pointing out that the 1.5-litre engine fitted to our test car won’t be available to order until September this year.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Skoda Scala

Skoda Scala 2019 road test review - hero side

For all of Skoda’s insistence that the Scala represents a bold new chapter in the evolutionary story of its design language – one supposedly defined by a greater focus on emotional appeal than ever before – in reality it seems to be far more conservative in its execution.

More than anything, the Scala suggests itself as a car intended to appeal to a more clinical, logical side of mind – a trait that has come to define the vast majority of Skoda’s products over the past few years, and which has brought it a good deal of success at that.

I’m no fan of the trend of replacing traditional badges at the rear of the car with chromed lettering, as Skoda has done here. Even on the likes of the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera I think it looks a bit naff.

It is by no means an unattractive entrant into the hyper-competitive family hatch class, and its visual relationship to the purposefully styled and assertive Vision RS Concept revealed at last year’s Paris show is abundantly apparent. But next to the likes of the simultaneously classy and classless Volkswagen Golf and the more overtly dynamic-looking Ford Focus, there isn’t a great deal about the Scala’s appearance that suggests it’s much of a harbinger for a more daring, stylistically driven era in the marque’s history. That seems like a missed opportunity.

All that said, Skoda has been rather daring in its approach to the Scala’s packaging. At 4362mm overall, it’s only marginally shorter than a Focus and longer than a Golf, yet it sits on an extended version of the Volkswagen Group’s MQB-A0 supermini platform – as opposed to the regular MQB architecture that underpins its internal rival.

This means two things: that the Scala is the first Skoda to use this latest-generation family of platforms and, more important, that it also comes with a more rudimentary suspension set-up. Where the Golf (and higher-spec versions of the Focus) rely on MacPherson struts at the front and an independent multilink arrangement at the back, the Scala employs a simple torsion beam across its rear. Selective damping is available optionally, although our test car went without.

Meanwhile, the engine line-up is comprised of a range of three and four-cylinder petrol engines as well as a sole diesel four-pot – all of which are mounted transversely and drive the front wheels. Our test car made use of the range-topping 1.5 TSI petrol, which develops 148bhp and 184lb ft. It also came equipped with an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox in place of the standard six-speed manual.

Skoda Scala 2019 road test review - cabin

In a similar vein to its exterior, the supposedly new-age design of the Scala’s cabin doesn’t represent a big departure from what we’ve come to expect from Skoda.

Functionality and utilitarian appeal continue to be prioritised, however, and they are epitomised by familiar ‘Simply Clever’ features such as the umbrella holster in the door and the ticket holder on the driver’s side A-pillar. This focus on convenience has long been a big draw for the brand, and no doubt it will be for the Scala too.

Spacious cockpit hits all the right notes in terms of ergonomics but doesn’t feel quite as plush as Skoda would have set out to achieve with the new design.

The 8in touchscreen of our test car’s Bolero infotainment system is the standout attraction in what is an otherwise minimally populated cabin. It stands freely towards the front of a central recess in the dash fascia, within easy reach of the driver. The fascia itself is finished in textured silver panelling, which extends to the door panels and helps to inject a degree of colour into what is an otherwise decidedly monochrome driving environment.

Ambient lighting in various shades of colour are offered as optional extras and would be well worth having for the additional aesthetic lift they’d introduce. Elsewhere, simple dial controls for the manual air conditioning system sit towards the base of the centre stack, above a decently sized storage cubby that’s also home to two USB-C ports.

The touchscreen comes as standard on Scala SE models, and is used to operate a modest roster of standard features that includes DAB and Bluetooth connectivity. Satellite navigation is not part of the package, but the ability to connect your smartphone via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay means you can still access navigation apps such as Google Maps or Waze – provided you have a compatible USB-C cable to hand.

Annoyingly, for anyone who hasn’t yet upgraded to this latest form of cabling or isn’t in possession of a suitable adapter, the Scala does not feature any regular USB ports.

This minor complaint aside, the system itself is perfectly intuitive and responds to your inputs in a relatively slick fashion. Its graphics don’t exactly stand out as being market leading in terms of their sophistication, but the screen is certainly clear and easy to read.

That extended MQB-A0 platform pays dividends when it comes to interior space, too. Although the Scala’s 2.65m wheelbase is shorter than that of the Ford Focus, Skoda has nonetheless been able to liberate an impressive 770mm of rear leg room – a figure that trumps the Focus by 70mm while bettering the shorter Volkswagen Golf by some 80mm.

In a testament to Skoda’s nous for smart interior packaging, the Scala also offers superior boot space: with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats in place, this stands at 467 litres, extending to 1410 litres with the seats folded down. By comparison, the Golf and the Focus come up short, with respective seats-up storage capacities of 380 litres and 375 litres.


You’d expect few bargain-hunting Scala buyers to stump up for the car’s range-topping petrol-auto powertrain combination, but those who do won’t get less value for money.

It’ll be the 1.5 TSI’s role within the wider Scala engine line-up to be the refined, slick, unobtrusive and well-mannered option in the range. Less so in this car, perhaps, will it be required to set a particularly sporting mark for outright acceleration – although an authoritative turn of speed clearly won’t hurt.

The Scala’s steering is light and wants for feel but the car is easily placed and its grip levels are good. Its ride, however, feels choppy and falls short of the class standard

The range-topping Scala fulfils that remit pretty well, while even punching a little above its weight in terms of its fairly energetic pace – although it doesn’t entirely cover for the fact that it is, just like Skoda the Rapid before it, a full-sized family hatchback built on a stretched supermini platform.

In dry conditions the car had all the front-driven traction and smoothly metered automatic clutch actuation it needed to put all of its torque straight onto the asphalt from rest. It hit 60mph in just under eight seconds – which wouldn’t be too shabby a showing from a £21,000 hot hatchback in 2019, let alone for a practical family car of the same power and price.

The DSG gearbox delivers well-timed automatic shifts even at full power, but it can be a little bit slow and clunky when kicking down after big, sudden throttle applications. Likewise it seems a bit slow when you’re rowing up and down the ratios yourself in manual mode (for which there are no steering wheel paddles; instead, Skoda obliges you to use the gear lever knocked sideways into its sequential-style setting).

At a more typical everyday mooching pace there’s seldom any roughness or incivility about the workings of the transmission. It tends to take quite a high gear in town if you leave it in ‘D’, letting the engine’s turbocharged torque haul the car along easily enough – or it can be made a little bit more willing to hold a shorter ratio if you drive in ‘S’ mode, without ever risking any kind of ratio-shuffling hyperactivity. In both modes, drivability is very good.

Mechanical refinement is certainly competitive. Inside the car at 50mph our noise meter registered 64dB, which is only 2dB more than we found in our current class champion, the Ford Focus. With its engine under load the Scala presents a bit more resonance and vibration than we’ve found when testing this powertrain in cars based on the VW Group’s full-sized MQB platform, but the difference is small and will likely not bother the majority of drivers.

Skoda Scala 2019 road test review - on the road

The Scala’s supermini platform and its torsion beam rear suspension put it at a notional dynamic disadvantage, but it’s to the credit of Skoda’s chassis engineers that the car only really allows that to translate into any serious perceptible shortcoming in the way the car rides (which we’ll come to shortly).

The steering is surprisingly lightly weighted and short on feel – and since it offers no selectable drive modes as standard by which you might weight it up, it’ll be that way unless you’re willing to pay extra for lowered suspension and selective damping. Still, that’s the only bugbear a keener driver might have to complain about here. There’s enough precision and responsiveness about this car to give the Scala a relative selling point compared to the bigger, softer Skoda Octavia and to make it competitive with the hatchback class’s prevailing dynamic standard. As far as average family five-doors go, the Scala conducts itself respectably well.

The Scala’s dimensions are on the limit of what the MQB-A0 platform can be adapted to. You get a sense of axles, bushings and chassis metalwork being asked to work that bit harder than perhaps they ought.

Body control is present but contained, and lateral grip levels are moderately good. The car feels narrower within typical British lane-markings than an Octavia, too, and so it’s easy to place in a corner, and although it rolls a little bit as the chassis loads up, it stays true to a line and grips fairly well.

You’d stop short of calling the car agile in a class that contains the Ford Focus among others, but it’s certainly willing enough. Although steering centre-feel could be better, motorway stability is more than adequate, making this an easy car to drive at sustained speed. It’s when the surface of the road deteriorates that the car’s suspension begins to come up short of fine dexterity, and at that point the consistency of the connection between tyre and Tarmac can quite quickly disappear, making the car seem a bit skittish – although generally always stable.

It proved a little beyond the abilities of the Scala’s chassis to deal with the biggest gradient changes and toughest surfaces of Millbrook’s Hill Route with either the composure of a Volkswagen Golf or the poised immediacy of a Ford Focus.

On smooth surfaces the Skoda handles fairly well, with greater directness and zest than an Octavia typically has, although not entirely without body roll. Grip is respectably high and remains well balanced between the car’s axles as you progress through a corner. Meantime, the car’s electronic stability and traction aids act quite subtly and progressively when they intervene, and so unless you’re very aggressive or ambitious with the car, you’re unlikely to notice their intervention.

Over broken surfaces and the Hill Route’s transmission bumps, however, the Scala’s suspension proves to be quite easily disturbed and, after bigger inputs, a little underdamped for rebound.


It’s here that the shortcomings associated with the Scala’s extended supermini platform and basic torsion beam suspension architecture begin to make themselves felt. While it rides in a largely composed and controlled enough fashion on smoothly surfaced motorways and A-roads, on faster country lanes this civility starts to fall short.

There’s a perceptible lack of finesse to the way the Scala deals with rippled, pockmarked Tarmac, on which the rear axle in particular not only becomes noticeably animated as it battles to absorb and control the resulting shocks and intrusions, but noisy too. While it would be heavy-handed to say this heightened secondary choppiness is a dealbreaker, it’s a plain example of an area where the Scala falls short next to the Golf and the Focus, with their more grown up platforms and multilink suspension systems.

It’s not all bad news, though. While the Scala might lack some of the composure of its VW Group siblings, it isn’t deficient in terms of seating comfort. The front pews offer modest bolstering both for thighs and torso and can be adjusted for height. The steering column can be adjusted for both rake and reach, while visibility out of the cabin itself is perfectly agreeable. Rear parking sensors come in handy when manoeuvring into tight urban car parks, too.

Skoda Scala 2019 road test review - hero front

True to Skoda’s core philosophy, the Scala undercuts most of its rivals on price. In fact, despite offering comparable levels of space and performance, it costs so much less to buy than a Volkswagen Golf that it could well have existed in a different class, and you’ll also part with substantially more for similarly equipped established rivals such as the Ford Focus.

Specification is generous. Even the entry-level Scala S, which starts at less than £17,000, comes equipped with DAB, cruise control, electric door mirrors and automatic headlights and windscreen wipers. Lane-keeping assist is also standard-fit, though you’ll need to option blind-spot monitoring, too.

Scala not expected to perform as well as either a Golf or Focus in terms of residuals after three years / 36,000 miles

This being one of the Volkswagen Group’s newer engines, the 1.5 TSI also scores well for fuel economy. We managed 52.9mpg at a cruise, equating a touring range of 456 miles – a fine complement to its strong performance.

Where the Scala proposition falls down slightly, and particularly for those looking for cheap personal contract purchase deals, is the relatively pronounced depreciation it is forecast to suffer. After three years and 36,000 miles, our test car is set to hold 38% of its value while the comparable Golf and Focus models each manage more than 40%.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Skoda Scala

Skoda Scala 2019 road test review - static

Given how Skoda bills the Scala’s new-generation design language and its distinguishing ‘emotional appeal’, you might conclude it was intended to make a statement. But you wouldn’t want to predict how widely that statement will be perceived, or exactly where it will take its maker.

This is a dynamically respectable car which, with Skoda’s 1.5 TSI Evo four-pot, has an engine that can deliver strong performance, good refinement and decent economy. It might be smaller than an Skoda Octavia but it remains more practical than most hatchbacks. It might not have the quiet, rubber-footed ride of its most comfortable rivals, but it handles tidily and is easy to drive. And the interior might suffer a sense of by-the-numbers anonymity, but it’s not short of equipment or tactile substance.

Different from the bigger Octavia, but perhaps not by enough

Considering the Scala’s price, and how much less rounded Skoda the Rapid was (the last Skoda to use a supermini platform adapted for a larger market segment), we must recognise progress where we find it. For driver involvement, dynamic character or truly imaginative design, however, we will continue to look to brands other than this.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Skoda Scala

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Skoda Scala First drives