Guiding the Scout
Skoda chases Scout’s honour among softroaders, writes NEIL McDONALD
BY ANY economic measure, launching a new brand in Australia is a tough gig. There are 58 carmakers and 343 models vying for a piece of the sales pie in a one-million-unit market. By comparison the US, with a vastly bigger population, has 47 brands, 364 models and a market of 17 million vehicles a year.
Despite the odds, Czech newcomer Skoda is forging ahead, launching the quirky Roomster and Octavia wagon and sedan last October and following up with the Octavia Scout all-wheel-drive wagon last week.
The beefed-up and plastic-clad Scout is based on the all-wheel-drive Octavia wagon and aimed at the Subaru Outback and other big sellers in the compact off-roader segment.
Visually, it is 9mm longer than the Octavia wagon, 15mm wider and with a ground clearance of 180mm, 40mm more than the standard wagon.
The ace up the $39,990 Scout’s sleeve is the VW-sourced 2.0-litre turbodiesel. Unfortunately, it is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox only, which is likely to rule out a big chunk of buyers who want an automatic.
Skoda Australia chief Matthew Weisner says an automatic is unavailable at the moment, but they would definitely like it to happen.
The Scout is a one-model, onespec vehicle, despite some key rivals having more basically equipped entry off-roaders.
Apart from the visual tweaks, the vehicle’s suspension is upgraded with heavy- duty springs and dampers, and underbody protection for the engine and transmission.
Its equipment levels are on a par with the segment leaders, with 17-inch alloys, cruise control, climate control with heated front seats, rear park distance sensors, multi-function steering wheel, six-stacker CD stereo, auxiliary input socket, rain-sensing wipers and luggage nets.
A safety kit of six airbags, electro- nic stability control, seatbelt pretensioners, active front headrests and anti-skid brakes complete the deal. It also has a four-star crash rating.
The diesel gives the Scout a beneficial point of difference.
Subaru won’t have a turbodiesel Outback until late next year and of the more popular sellers, the Nissan X-Trail, Suzuki Grand Vitara and Kia Sportage are the only others to have a diesel. The Scout shares its diesel with other VW products but is not the same common-rail engine as the Tiguan. It develops 103kW at 4000 revs and 320Nm from 1750 revs, and comes with a diesel particulate filter to reduce harmful exhaust emissions.
ANYONE familiar with Volkswagen products will feel at home in the Skoda Scout.
Close your eyes and feel the softtouch materials around the cabin of the Scout and you can definitely sense the Teutonic influence of quality and durability.
It was also appropriate Skoda chose the Mt Buller ski resort to show off its newest model.
Australian ski resorts are dominated by the Scout’s main rival, the Subaru Outback.
How does the Scout go? Given its VW underpinnings, very well. The car shows a depth of engineering we have come to expect of VW and a build quality that should impress even the most picky buyer.
Visually, the Skoda ticks all the right soft-roader boxes.
The plastic cladding looks durable and purposeful and the extra ground clearance and underbody protection is welcome for occasional off-road forays. The lack of chrome work might put off some buyers, but in our eyes the car’s more utilitarian look works reasonably well.
The Scout has a good level of standard gear. It’s roomy, with a large, flat luggage area — 580 litres with the rear seats in place and 1620 litres when folded flat.
THE interior is impressively equipped, with heated front seats, climate control and splitfold rear seats. Rear-seat head and legroom is plentiful too.
On the road, it performs most tasks easily and without drama.
The ride can be a bit jiggly at low speeds and the jacked-up suspension does mean the Scout will roll more through corners than the standard Octavia wagon.
The steering is a tad lacking in oncentre feedback and the stalkmounted cruise control switch is fiddly to operate.
The 2.0-litre TDI isn’t as quiet as some of the newer common-rail engines, but once underway is muted and provides adequate, rather than dramatic, overtaking power.
In a range of spirited mountain and highway driving, we managed 7.6 litres/100km.
The six-speed manual is precise yet light, with an easy shift action.
The biggest issue with the Octavia, like all Skodas, is whether Aussies will warm to the Czech brand in the long term.
It’s a tough ask, particularly as the Scout has no retail price advantage against its key rivals.
Making waves: the Czech Skoda Octavia Scout wagon heads for the great outdoors.