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Car reviews - Skoda - Octavia - Scout 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Strong and economical diesel, good road manners, comes with a good amount of standard gear
Room for improvement
No automatic, no petrol engine, price is a bit steep, bland styling

Skoda logo18 Sep 2008

ECONOMIC belt-tightening makes traditional SUVs seem like quite an extravagance.

More practical car-based crossovers with frugal engines suddenly appear more appealing than before, even though they lack the rugged urban commando look of the higher riding custom-built SUV.

The Scout has a lot of things going for it including an efficient diesel engine, relatively good handling and a nice amount of interior space. Counting against it is its relatively high price, its plain design and the fact that it doesn’t come with an automatic.

Don’t underestimate the impact of this last fact. The Euros might not mind shifting themselves, but like Americans, in most cases the majority of Australians want an automatic.

But the Scout is a nice car to drive. In traditional diesel fashion, you tend to drift along using the torque of the diesel. This isn’t a fast car, but ride the narrow torque band (this diesel is at its best from about 2000rpm to 3400rpm) and you’ll get along fairly swiftly.

Only occasionally does the engine feel sluggish. There is some minor turbo lag initially and if you get stuck in a higher gear the engine is as flat as week-old Coke.

It isn’t the quietest diesel around, but it’s not too bad. The noise suppression works fairly well and you don’t feel like you are driving a tractor.

The manual gearbox is nice and shifts well, but given the nature of the engine, you have to use it a lot.

Efficiency is a strong point, however. The launch took in several hundred kilometers from Albury to Mt Buller and back to Melbourne, so there was a fair amount of highway travel, but an average of six litres per 100km is still very impressive - even if diesel costs at least 10 per cent more than petrol.

Perhaps more appealing to some customers is that a tank lasts so much longer, so you don’t have to stop and refill as often.

Still, the fact the Scout is diesel only is likely to put off some customers as not everyone is prepared to make the jump to the oily-fuel just yet. The experience of greasy and dirty diesel pumps as well as the fact it just isn’t available at some service stations still counts against diesel.

Skoda has done a good job with the set-up of the Scout, which drives similarly to an Octavia wagon. Yes, there is a bit more bodyroll, but it’s not too bad.

Compared to something like a XC70, which is a crossover version of Volvo V70, the Scout feels like a sportscar, but that is perhaps because the XC70 wallows so much.

It tracks well through the bends and the steering feels well weighted. The Skoda’s ride seems quite comfortable on the types of roads selected for the launch.

It is comfortably soft, but still retains a good level of body control. The Scout also handled a mild fire trail on the launch and easily made its way through some sticky mud, but we wouldn’t want to take it too far off road with only 180mm of ground clearance and tarmac-friendly tyres.

You don’t feel like you are sitting up very high in the Scout, which is either good or bad depending on personal preference. Many of us like it this way, but car company marketing feedback often suggests that many people, especially women, enjoy a higher ‘command position’ view.

Interior space is a positive. There is plenty of head and legroom in the back and the boot is a good size as well. Driving long distances in this car is a pleasure. There isn’t much road noise and the engine doesn’t work very hard when cruising in sixth gear.

The interior styling isn’t at all adventurous, but everything is in the right place and the quality is good - although the passenger grab handle that dominates the dashboard looks silly.

From outside, the Scout can best be described as either reserved or bland, as well already appearing to be a bit dated.

Skoda has put a lot of standard features in the car, including some that stand out such as heated seats - which is a nice touch in winter - and dual-zone climate-control. The comprehensive range of safety gear is also welcome.

Skoda told us the price of the Scout after we had driven it and it was a bit surprising. My drive partner and I had guessed it would be a good package at $35,000 and justifiable at $37,000. To be honest, $39,990 for a manual seems a bit steep.

That’s $3500 more than the entry-level Subaru Outback, which is a respected car from a brand that has been here for a long time.

Most Australians don’t know what Skoda is, so getting them to cough up this premium over an Outback is a big ask. For $39,990, you could also get a diesel Tiguan with $4000 to spare.

If you wanted something a bit bigger and more SUV-like, you could have a mid-spec Ford Territory or Holden Captiva, a Mazda CX-7 or Toyota Kluger for similar money.

But for those who want a car-based crossover with a European badge, a diesel engine and manual gearbox for $40,000, the Scout is a very good option. It's just that we doubt there are many of those people around.

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