The interior is arguably even more impressive, with slick design and fairly generous helpings of standard kit. There are some cheap and hard plastics to be found lower down in the cabin, but most of what you see and feel looks good and is soft to the touch. Further praise goes to the intuitive and clearly laid out 9.2-inch infotainment system that ‘floats’ on top of the dash, and SE L models have a virtual cockpit TFT instrument cluster as standard.
While its neatly executed exterior and interior might come as a surprise, the 1.6-litre TDI lurking under the bonnet won’t. It’s a fairly long standing staple of the VW Group and is currently the only diesel engine available in the Scala, but, with 113bhp and 184lb ft, it delivers competitive numbers and promises up to 57.7mpg when mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.
The rest of the package is pure MQB AO, which means strut suspension at the front and a torsion beam rear axle. However, our car also came with the optional adaptive dampers, which could go some way to sorting the standard car’s somewhat jittery ride.
What's it like?
The recent decline in diesel sales has hit smaller cars in particular, so much so that it’s not often we drive non-petrol or hybrid models from this end of the market these days. As a result, the way the Scala diesel clatters from cold comes as a bit of a shock, and, while it quickly quietens down as the engine warms through, you never forget this is a compression-ignition motor. Under load there’s a gruff grumble from under the bonnet, plus there’s always a faint tingle through the steering and pedals - even at fairly relaxed motorway speeds.
On the plus side, it’s a keen performer. Maximum torque is fairly muscular 184lb ft delivered at just 1,500rpm, so you can make reasonably swift progress even when short-shifting through the slick, short-throw six-speed manual gearbox. Not that there’s much point revving the 1.6-litre TDI to its limit – it sounds strained and all the useful work is done by 3,500rpm. Taking things steady is better for fuel economy anyway, and we saw 70mpg on the trip computer on one gentle cross country run.
The rest of the Scala is the same as the petrol, which means it’s a competent yet slightly uninspiring machine. Quick, precise and naturally weighted steering makes it easy to place, and there’s decent grip and good body control even when pressed hard over fairly tortuous roads. Yet it lacks the sheen of sophistication of the larger MQB cars and its electronic systems don’t work with the same unobtrusive brilliance - you can feel the Scala’s torque vectoring furiously braking wheels to keep the nose locked on your chosen line.