The Skoda Octavia Scout is aimed at families who want occasional off-road ability and lots of practicality, but don't want to commit to the size and expense of a proper SUV.
To help it achieve those aims, every version of the Scout comes with four-wheel drive, protective underbody panels and an increased ride height (it is 33mm higher than the standard car) so it can cope better with rough or slippery terrain. There's also an electronic differential lock, which can brake one of the wheels if it starts to slip, sending power to the other side until the Scout can wriggle free.
Buyers can choose between 148bhp or 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel engines. The lower-powered version is available only with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the higher-powered model comes with a DSG dual-clutch automatic.
What’s the 2014 Skoda Octavia Scout like to drive?
The Scout's taller ride height, extra off-road kit and four-wheel-drive system don't drastically alter the way the Octavia drives, which is good because the standard 4x4 estate is a very fine thing.
It does, however, mean it's notably heavier than the standard Octavia, which has a knock-on effect on performance. It's most obvious in the less-powerful version, which is half a second slower covering the 0-62mph sprint than its 2WD equivalent.
Despite this drop in performance, both engines still feel strong, and are flexible enough in-gear to pull the Octavia Scout briskly along, even from low revs. The higher-powered Scout is actually pretty rapid, because it shares its engine with the potent vRS diesel hot hatch model; its automatic gearbox can be a bit too keen to select a lower ratio if you put your foor down, though.
The Scout also promises to be a capable tow car, although it's worth noting that the maximum towing weight of 2000kg applies only to the manual version; the auto can tow 1800kg.
Otherwise, the Scout feels pretty much the same as other Octavias, which means tidy handling and a decent ride, even if it gets a little unsettled on patchy surfaces. It's better to drive than most (higher-riding) SUVs, however, with less body lean in tight corners and more confidence-inspiring steering.
It'll even handle some moderate off-roading. We briefly tried the Scout on a small pre-arranged off-road course, which it completed with ease. It does without hill hold and hill descent controls, though, both of which help make the Skoda Yeti such a talented mud-plugger when the going gets tough.
Both diesel engines are a little intrusive when accelerating hard, but settle down nicely once you're up to cruising speed. At this point a fair bit of wind noise finds its way into the cabin, but the Scout is better than most SUVs in this regard. Road noise is kept well within acceptable limits, so you're unlikely to have to reach for the volume control on the motorway.
What is the 2014 Skoda Octavia Scout like inside?
There might be plenty of signs on the outside that this is the more adventurous 'off-road' version of the Octavia Estate, but there is little inside the cabin that does the same. Apart from a few small 'Scout' logos dotted around the place, it's no different to any other Octavia Estate; that means plenty of high-quality materials, a simple dashboard design and easy-to-use controls.
It has the same generous boot as the estate. There's 610 litres of space with the rear seats in place, and 1740 with them folded down, an operation that can be performed by pulling a pair of handily placed levers in the boot. Unfortunately the rear seats don't fold flat, so you'll need to pay extra for the variable-height boot floor to get a decently level load bay.
Still, the Scout has more luggage space than all-wheel-drive rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 and Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer, and more traditional estates such as the new Ford Mondeo, if not the latest Volkswagen Passat Estate.
Passenger space is equally generous, with a vast amount of head- and legroom for those in the front and rear seats. The only slight issue is that the chunky transmission tunnel makes footroom tight for anyone sitting in the middle rear seat.
There's just one trim level, which is pretty well equipped for the money. It comes with dual-zone climate control, touch-screen sat-nav, rear parking sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and a lane-departure warning system, while black plastic exterior cladding and different bumpers help the Scout to stand out from lesser models.
Should I buy one?
With prices starting at £25,315 for the 148bhp 2.0-litre manual model, and going up to £27,990 for the more powerful automatic version, the Scout isn't a cheap car. If you don't need the extra ground clearance and body protection, but still want the all-weather security of four-wheel drive, then we'd recommend saving £2450 by going for the standard 4x4 model.
If you regularly drive your car on unmade roads, however, the Scout is a fine choice. It's practical, good to drive and should be effortless to live with. It's also cheaper to buy than an equivalent Mazda CX-5 or Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer and emits less CO2, so it'll be cheaper to run as a company car.
What Car? says…
2.0 TDI 150 manual
2.0 TDI 184 DSG auto