Skoda Scala Review
Skodas can often be slightly larger and roomier than the Volkswagens with which they share so much, but that has left gaps in the brand’s range. The gap between the Octavia, which is based on elongated Golf underpinnings, and the Polo-based Fabia was bigger than the latter’s cavernous boot, so Skoda plugged it with a family hatchback. The sharp, spacious and down-to-earth Scala was created by stretching the VW Polo’s architecture, but it has the VW Golf, Seat Leon and Kia Ceed in its sights.
Select's rating score* - 3.9 / 5
Majoring on practicality and comfort, the Scala is a brilliant value-orientated rival to the established family hatchbacks.
There isn’t much in the way of frills and frivolities, but it’s all the five-door car you really need. A big boot means you have no reason to choose an estate or SUV, and a reasonable amount of standard kit means you don’t really need a range-topping model.
Even basic cars get a touchscreen and alloy wheels, although the mid-range SE Technology and SE L models are the pick of the bunch, providing satellite navigation, parking sensors, and in the case of the SE L, automatic climate control.
Skoda has developed ingenious solutions such as the ice scraper stowed in the fuel filler cap and the umbrella hidden in the door to make this a really useful vehicle. But our favourite fixture is the little clip that holds your parking ticket in place.
No need to stick it to the windscreen and watch it fall off, then spend your Sunday scraping adhesive residue from the glass. Just slip it into the little acrylic clip by the windscreen pillar and get on with your day. A simple pleasure, perhaps, but we see it as proof that the best ideas aren’t always the most complicated.
The Scala is no sports car – even in its visually menacing Monte Carlo specification – and that’s reflected in the engine range. Unlike the Ford Focus and VW Golf, there’s no go-faster sporty model, so you’re left with a selection of 1.0- and 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engines.
The entry-level car comes with a 95hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and a five-speed manual gearbox – a combination that’s adequate rather than ample, getting the car from 0-62mph in 11 seconds. You can cut that to just over 10 seconds, however, if you go for the 110hp version of that engine, which comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. The optional seven-speed automatic version is marginally slower.
Maximum performance comes from the 1.5-litre petrol engine, which comes with 150hp. That, in combination with the standard six-speed manual transmission, is enough to get from 0-62mph in just over eight seconds, while the seven-speed automatic version is just a fraction slower. Both are more than sprightly enough, though.
Especially considering this family car is set up for comfort, rather than dynamics. Sure, the handling is fairly tidy for a car in this class, but it isn’t as fun as a Ford Focus or a Mazda3. Or even a Seat Leon. Instead, its selling point is a comfy, supple ride that irons out all but the most invasive lumps and bumps in the road.
That gives the car quite a relaxed, laid-back character that’s probably best suited to the 110hp 1.0-litre engine, which has a peppy, eager thrum that’s never quite matched by the readings indicated on the instrument dials. Fast it ain’t, but it isn’t dangerously slow – you’ll still have just about enough oomph.
If you’re seeking economy, you’ve come to the right place. All three Scala engines are surprisingly efficient, although the discontinuation of diesel power means there’s no breakaway MPG champ. Instead, you’re really faced with a choice of the two 1.0-litre engines, although there’s little to choose between the two. The 95hp motor manages between 47.1 and 53.3mpg on the official economy test, while the 110hp version returns between 44.1 and 53.3mpg with its six-speed manual transmission. Pay your money, take your choice.
That said, the automatic version of the 110hp engine is only slightly less economical than its manual counterpart, and the 1.5-litre petrol isn’t so far behind. In six-speed manual guise, that more potent engine will return between 42.8 and 51.4mpg on the WLTP economy test, and the automatic is only a few miles per gallon behind. All will return well over 40mpg.
With the basic 95hp S model emitting as little as 119g of carbon dioxide per kilometre travelled, that version of the Scala falls into the 26% company car tax bracket, meaning a 20% taxpayer would spend around £885 a year for the pleasure of running the vehicle. Hardly ruinous.
Of course, climbing the range will make that more expensive; higher-specification cars are more polluting and more expensive, both of which will impact the price you pay. However, with every variant emitting fewer than 150g of CO2 per kilometre, you won’t be paying vast sums in any case.
The Scala’s interior is more stylish than Skoda drivers have come to expect, but it still feels a little more budget than some of its competitors. A Mazda3, for example, is a far classier place to sit.
Nevertheless, there’s something pleasant about the sweeping swathe of decorative trim across the dashboard and the touchscreen that rises from the centre stack. Or at least there is if you go for one of the plusher models that don’t just encase the dashboard in drab black trim.
On a more positive note, however, this is a Skoda, at least you know it’s been built properly. All the switchgear feels solid and substantial, and although some of the plastics are a bit cheap, the Czech manufacturer has spent some money where it matters.
Most of the touch points – the steering wheel and gear lever, for example – feel every bit as premium as an Octavia or even a Seat Leon. Further back, though, the penny-pinching does make its presence felt slightly more.
For all that, though, the Scala feels comfortable and rugged. There’s plenty of space, the seats are perfectly plush and the driving position is decent, and everything feels as though it will stand the test of time.
Where children are involved, of course, there are no guarantees, but the switches don’t feel vulnerable to attack by three-year-olds and nothing feels as though it’s about to fall off of its own accord.
The standard Scala’s 6.5-inch touchscreen is nice to have in a base-model car – it’s certainly better than one of those 1990s-spec radios in an enormous blanking plate that shows you where the touchscreen should be – but it is a bit limited in its capabilities.
It does the job, but you really want one of the larger eight- or 9.2-inch screens that offer a few more functions. Both are fairly intuitive and easy to use, although some of the graphics feel a little old-school compared with some rivals’ more modern systems.
Nevertheless, they’re very good at what they do, and they give you access to the Smartlink system, which includes the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems via the two standard-fit USB-C ports.
And you can combine the larger screen with the Virtual Cockpit, a 10.25-inch screen that can be configured to show you different displays depending on your preferences. In truth, the screen that shows digital versions of real dial is probably the most useful, but it’s nice to have the option. And displaying the satellite navigation screen in front of the driver can be quite handy – particularly when you have a passenger who wants to fiddle with the touchscreen in the middle of an unfamiliar city centre.
As we’ve come to expect from Skoda, the Scala is among the most practical cars in its class. The 467-litre boot is noticeably larger than that of the Volkswagen Golf, and it’s almost 100 litres larger than you’ll find in a Ford Focus.
That said, it isn’t quite as large as a Peugeot 308’s boot, although the French five-door is only slightly more capacious.
The 308 doesn’t have quite as much room in the back, either, with the Scala providing plenty of head- and leg-room even for relatively tall adults. It isn’t Emirates business class back there, but it isn’t in the Ryanair £10 ticket category, either. And if you fold the rear seats down, you’ll free up 1,410 litres of space – almost 200 more than a Golf in the same configuration.
But there’s more to life than boot space, and the detritus that’s shed in the wake of family life needs somewhere to go. So the Scala has huge door pockets and storage bins that swallow up your sunglasses, phones, keys, wallets, Werther’s Originals – whatever it may be.
And you get other clever touches, too, including a handy ice scraper in the fuel filler cap (no more breaking your credit card on a frosty morning) and an umbrella to stop you getting caught out by a sudden rainstorm.
According to the Euro NCAP crash test, the Scala is as safe as houses. Not only did it achieve the five-star rating that’s become common among the latest family hatchbacks, but it also achieved a hugely impressive 97% rating for adult occupant protection.
And that was backed up by strong scores for child occupant protection and vulnerable road user protection. In short, the Scala breezed through the test, but it still comes with plenty of equipment to help prevent accidents happening in the first place.
Even the entry-level Scala comes with autonomous emergency braking that will slam on the anchors automatically if it detects an impending collision, and lane-keeping assistance is also a standard feature.
Adaptive cruise control is available to maintain a safe distance to the car in front and you can have blind-spot detection that alerts you if another vehicle has strayed into one of the blind spots over your shoulders.
The Scala does the mundane stuff well, too. The spare wheel is a standard feature – something that’s becoming a bit of a rarity – and you get Isofix child seat anchor points in the outer rear seats. You get plenty of airbags, too, and you can have more if you raid the options list.
Not only will Skoda sell you curtain airbags that cover the windows to protect occupants’ heads, but you can even have a special airbag to protect the driver’s knees and shins should the worst happen.
The Scala is offered with a fairly straightforward five-tier range that offers everything from simple, back-to-basics models to really quite generously equipped hatchbacks. The S model kicks things off, providing 16-inch alloy wheels, manual air conditioning and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system. If it sounds a little on the basic side, that’s because it is, but it isn’t like driving around in a hermit’s cavern. If you’re just nipping around town, it has everything you need.
If you’re going to spend more time behind the wheel, though, you might want to consider moving up the range. The SE ups the ante quite considerably, with a larger eight-inch touchscreen, rear parking sensors and cruise control, as well as front fog lights and a steering wheel adorned with audio controls.
That said, it’s the mid-range SE Technology that arguably represents the sweet spot in the Scala range. That car gets parking sensors front and rear, and you get a satellite navigation system housed in an even larger 9.2-inch touchscreen. All that’s really missing is an automatic climate control system, but that’s available as an optional extra.
Alternatively, you could just choose the SE L model, which comes with automatic climate control as standard. It gets bigger 17-inch alloy wheels, too, and sporty microsuede upholstery. You also get ‘dynamic’ LED indicators that ‘scroll’ across the light cluster when you’re turning, just to add a little bit of premium feel.
But if you prefer a slightly sportier ambience, you could always go for the Monte Carlo model. Named for the famous rally, the car comes with snazzy 18-inch alloy wheels, black exterior trim and Skoda’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster. It gets automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, too, as well as a panoramic glass roof and red trim around the seats.
While the Monte Carlo is tempting, it’s other versions that make the most sense and suit the car’s character better. If you really want some luxury, just nab a few choice options, such as a rear-view camera, Winter Pack with heated front seats and a heated windscreen, or the panoramic roof.
Also among our favourite options is the Family Package, which provides door edge protectors to stop you nicking the doors on walls, bollards or other vehicles, as well as a handy two-sided boot floor mat. It might not sound that exciting, but it’s a cheap option, and one that’s well worth having.
Happily, the Scala’s colour palette is more vibrant than those of some rivals, with a choice of two bright blues, a smart steely colour and a choice of bold reds, as well as the usual monotone mush of silvers, blacks, greys and whites.
But although you can spend a bit more money to get one of those colour schemes, the standard, no-cost Energy Blue is one of the nicest shades in the entire range.
As part of the Volkswagen stable, the Scala is destined to be compared with the VW Golf and Seat Leon, but they aren’t the car’s biggest rivals. Fishing in the slightly more, um, value-orientated end of the pond means the medium-sized Skoda is really competing with the likes of the Kia Ceed, Hyundai i30 and Fiat Tipo. All three have their charms, with the Kia feeling more premium than you might imagine and the Fiat offering a similar honesty to the Scala.
The Hyundai has a more modern external design and a more grown-up feel.
Nevertheless, it’s worth considering the other vehicles in this class. Not only is the Golf a classier, more luxurious rival, but its sibling, the Leon, offers a sportier edge. Then there’s the Ford Focus, which is slightly less conservative in terms of design, but more impressive to drive, or the Mazda3, which gives you premium quality and also majors on dynamics.
You could consider the stylish Renault Megane, too, or the ageing but still handsome Peugeot 308. Or you could look at the surprisingly comfortable Vauxhall Astra, the hybrid-powered Toyota Corolla and the aggressive-looking Honda Civic.
And thanks to the wonders of leasing, you might also consider some of the premium cars in this segment, including the recently revamped Audi A3 or the classy Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The new BMW 1 Series is the driver’s car in the class, while the Lexus CT is the hybrid option.
Again, they all have their plus points, but the A3 and A-Class get the nod in the style and tech stakes, and the latest 1 Series isn’t quite as sharp to drive as its rear-wheel-drive predecessor.
Obviously, the Scala isn’t going to set the world on fire, and other cars in this segment are more luxurious, better looking and more fun to drive.
But the Skoda hits back with almost staggering practicality, a comfortable ride and an efficient engine range. No, it isn’t as cool as a VW Golf or a Mazda3, and it isn’t as good to drive as a Ford Focus, but the Scala’s usability and no-nonsense nature should not be sniffed at.
It’s honest and useful and charming, and that makes it a really solid, if somewhat left-field, choice in the family hatch market.e.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Skoda Scala
**Correct as of 05/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1913.87 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.