Guid­ing the Scout

Skoda chases Scout’s hon­our among soft­road­ers, writes NEIL McDON­ALD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive Skoda Octavia Scout -

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

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