Skoda's latest Octavia Scout estate is worth a look if you want a value-oriemtated go-almost-anywhere family estate. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Skoda Octavia Scout estate offers an all-wheel drive chassis, a raised ride height and a pair of punchy diesel engines at prices that stack up against some plush family hatchbacks. It's bigger inside than a rival Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and cheaper to run as well. Job very well done.
On the face of it, the concept of a Sport Utility Vehicle is a bit farcical. Which sport are you engaging in at the helm of, say, a Land Rover Discovery Sport? If the remit is to get you to the sport, then surely a bus or train would also warrant the sports tag. There really is nothing sporty about these vehicles. They're just reassuringly large. Those who feel they don't need to prop up a fragile ego with a car so big your neighbours could raise a right to light petition against it have often sought something subtler; the go-anywhere estate car. Audi popularised this genre with its allroad models, Volvo followed with its XC70 but Subaru had them both licked in selling us all-wheel drive estates with just enough off-road ability to get most of us to where we needed to go. Sporty? Not really, but handy nevertheless if you lived in the country or wanted something that could handle the worst of British winters. Skoda followed suit with its Octavia Scout models but they've never really gained much traction with the car buying public. Still, the Czech brand is persisting with this improved MK3 model.
The basics are pretty straightforward. For this sort of car, you really want an estate bodyshell, a bit of extra ride height, a brawny diesel engine and the obligatory all-wheel drive mechanicals. Skoda duly delivers, with the engine choice extending to either a 2.0 TDI 150PS with a six-speed manual gearbox or a 2.0 TDI 184PS featuring a six-speed DSG twin-clutcher as standard. The fifth-generation Haldex clutch transmission more accurately distributes torque between the front and rear axles. The ECU monitors your driving (steering angle, throttle position and how heavily you're braking) and delivers what it feels is the correct split of torque to each axles. As soon as a front wheel starts spinning, the clutch is engaged, sending torque to the rear tyres. An electronically locking differential on both axles helps too, drive being distributed evenly from side to side for optimum grip. Like the rest of its sibling vehicles in the Volkswagen empire, this Octavia rides on the modular MQB chassis, which means that it'll ride well, handle competently and won't cost the earth to develop. The MQB chassis is also key in understanding how Skoda has been able to offer this 'stretched' long wheelbase chassis at only a modest incremental cost. The old family of platforms would never have allowed this to be commercially viable. The modular nature of MQB means that making it longer, shorter or even wider is comparatively easy, giving Skoda real flexibility in product planning.
Design and Build
The Scout certainly looks the part, with a distinctive front end that features a silver skid plate and fog lights assembly. There's also a redesigned rear end, with black body cladding added to help keep scuffs off the paintwork while off-roading. The ride height has been jacked up by a further 33mm, and with a total ride height of 171mm, the Scout has even more ground clearance than many so-called SUVs such as the Audi Q3. Changes made to this revised model are focused at the front. The two adjacent headlights form a dual face with a crystalline look and feature full-LED technology. The brand logo has gained more presence, with the front of the car featuring what the Czech maker hopes is a more powerful and wider appearance. Rear seat space is generous and so is the amount of room in the back with the 610-litres of space you get in the boot when all the seats are in place. To put that in perspective, a Mondeo Estate offers a mere 537-litres and a Focus Estate yields a mere 476-litres. Direct rivals to this current model like the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack certainly can't match this Skoda. Now you get an idea of the sheer utility of this car. By folding the rear backrests down, the boot space increases to an impressive 1,740-litres.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £26,500, which nets you the 150PS version. You'll need to fork out around £29,500 for the 184PS model with the DSG gearbox, but that's still reasonable value for money. After all, you can spend well over £27,000 on a manual 1.6-litre diesel Honda Civic supermini. Ask yourself which is offering you more car and more capability for your money. The Scout's more direct rivals can't really touch this proposition, the base 150PS Passat Alltrack knocking on the door of £32,000. Even the entry-level Scout gets alloy wheels, an eight speaker stereo with a digital radio and Bluetooth compatibility, roof rails, leather trim for the reach and rake adjustable steering wheel, climate control and a touchscreen infotainment controller. Safety gear includes stability control, hill hold, automatic post collision braking, plus front, side, knee and curtain airbags. Ascend up the range and you can start fitting features like the DSG twin-clutch gearbox, Alcantara and leather trim, satellite navigation, cruise control, intelligent light assistant, bigger alloys and a remote rear seat fold down facility.
Cost of Ownership
If the Octavia Scout leverages a tangible price advantage over its key rivals, it hammers home that benefit when it comes to running costs. The 150PS engine returns 61.4mpg on the combined cycle, with emissions pegged at 130g/km of CO2. The 184PS auto variant manages 58.9mpg and 133g/km of CO2. That's a good efficiency balance and Skoda's engineers say they've achieved it by simply doing the basics right. That means advanced petrol and diesel engines, a low drag coefficient and reduced vehicle weight. Despite its increased size and better quality interior, this improved third generation Octavia weighs no more than around 1.4-tonnes.
The Skoda Octavia Scout is the sort of vehicle bought by people who will genuinely use its extended capabilities. It's a car that will get the job done in all weathers and which will shrug off some serious punishment in the process. It's never going to make the longlist of those looking to make a lifestyle statement or impress their friends at the golf club and that, in part, is what makes the Scout so appealing. It's authentic, and authenticity is something car manufacturers spend millions trying to claim. Both variants have something to be said for them. The entry-level car offers decent value, while the more powerful engine and silky-smooth DSG gearbox are items best not sampled if budgets are a bit tight. As a one car solution that does nearly everything, the Octavia Scout takes a heck of a lot of beating.