Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - Scout 4x4
Crisp styling, amazing cargo space, frugal engines, surprisingly competent handling
Room for improvement
Some engine lag, unexpected cabin rattles, emergency spare wheel
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25 Mar 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
PERCEPTIONS, especially those of people barely known, play a crucial and often dominant role in why cars are purchased.
It’s called the driveway test. If you buy a new car and park it in the driveway, how will the neighbours react? Buy a notoriously cheap car and they think you’re a tightwad.
Buy a sportscar, you have a mid-life crisis a 4WD, you’ve retired and hitting the road an expensive sedan, you’ve won the lottery.
If it’s a Skoda from the Czech Republic, what is the perception?If it is neutral, it’s probably typical of the reaction to a car that isn’t well known and comes from a country that is even less so. But perceptions can change. And most of that change will come from Skoda’s mid-size Octavia model that is steaming up the sales charts.
Crisp styling, keen pricing, excellent safety equipment and a distinct sense of perceived quality are some of the reasons why the car is becoming hot property.
Enough to change anyone’s perception.
Now Skoda has added another variant. The Octavia Scout 4X4 is a name some may have heard about before.
This week marks the return of the badge and a new attack on an old rival, Subaru’s Outback.
Both the Subaru and the Skoda campaign in the large-size SUV sector and yet, by definition of their appearance, don’t fit the bulbous, tall-limbed template associated with rivals such as the Ford Territory, Holden Captiva 7 and Hyundai Santa Fe.
But they still look purposeful. The Skoda’s body-kit of black plastic sills and wheel arches, tall ride height and large wheels give the perception of being off-road savvy.
And perceptions, in this case, are justified. On the sweeping and often tightly-wound narrow bitumen threads that rope through Tasmania’s valleys and hills, the Octavia Scout tracks as accurately as its name implies.
The three models were opened into this backdrop. The entry-level 110TDI is the $32,990 successor to the 103TDI from the first-generation Scout, albeit with a $7000 price drop.
It comes only as a six-speed manual which fits the price and will appease pragmatic owners seeking a balance of durability and space, price and fuel efficiency.
While it is the baby of the range, it is a delightful road car with no sign of its apparent sub-Volkswagen positioning.
Even the engine, the venerable VW 2.0-litre turbo-diesel now in its latest third-generation iteration, finds a neat balance of willing performance, low noise and frugal fuel thirst.
A lot of its enjoyment – a factor applicable to the other two variants – is attributed to Volkswagen Group's common yet infinitely flexible platform known as MQB.
Kitted out first to the Audi A3 and then the Golf, MQB is now spreading its rigid engineering and low-cost production character through a lot of Volkswagen Group products.
In the Scout it delivers performance levels of passenger-car handling in a wagon that sits 31mm higher and is designed to wade creeks and traverse rocks rather than zig and zag with aplomb through mountain passes.
This surprising fun factor spreads to the $41,390 flagship 135TDI that uses a tweaked version of the 110TDI turbo-diesel for 135kW and 380Nm of torque.
Interestingly, it is quoted with having the same fuel consumption as the 110TDI at 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
Its performance is enough to really surprise other road users, especially with its rapid overtaking acceleration and effortless hill ascending skills.
Like the 110TDI, there’s a confident attitude to the way it steers through corners and keeps its body flat, barely hinting at understeer.
The all-wheel drive system is the latest from Haldex. Now in its fifth generation, it’s a lighter and smaller unit that senses traction losses and can supply up to 95 per cent of engine torque to the rear wheels.
It’s a system better appreciated in dirt, snow or severe road conditions and its contribution to on-road handling may be less obvious.
Away from the bitumen, the drive system constantly monitors the traction of the front wheels, moving torque back and forth to ensure the vehicle remains stable.
It allows the Scout to pass sandy trails and rocky outcrops – though the 171mm ground clearance may be a limiter – but may not be sufficient to confidently tackle soft beach sand.
The surprise of the Scout trio is the $38,590 132TSI, the first petrol-fuelled engine to wear the Scout badge.
It adds a touch of high performance, a sweet-revving engine note and – generally – strong response. It’s relationship with the dual-clutch automatic can occasionally produce some hesitation, particularly on acceleration.
The engine is related to that in the Golf GTI and Audi S3. Its only downfall is that spirited driving will expand the claimed 7.1L/100km fuel average. On my enthusiastic test, it ended the day at 9.8L/100km.
Does the Octavia Scout meet perceptions? As a comfortable, roomy and rapid wagon it’s a winner. It’s a bit smaller than the Subaru and is cheaper and on par when the bitumen disappears.
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