What Car? says...
You rarely get something for nothing, so as cars become bigger and more sophisticated, they’re also becoming more expensive. Well, most of them are – the Skoda Scala is one of the potential exceptions to this rule.
The Scala is a family car that's a little longer than the VW Golf and is available with some of the VW Group’s latest tech. Yet Skoda has priced it in such a way that entry and mid-grade trim levels undercut not only the equivalent Golf, but also other popular rivals, including the Ford Focus, Kia Ceed and Vauxhall Astra.
If you’re a little confused about where this leaves the Skoda Octavia that’s perfectly understandable. After all, the Scala and the Octavia both offer a generous amount of interior space compared with most of their rivals.
The truth is, though, not every household needs something as big as the Octavia. So Skoda intends the Scala to complement, rather than undermine, its bigger and slightly pricier brother.
The Scala certainly looks quite different. By ditching the Octavia’s saloon-like profile for a proper hatchback silhouette, it has a style all of its own.
What’s more, Skoda hasn’t skimped on choice: the Scala is available with a wide choice of petrol engines along with a range of familiar trim levels, starting at entry-level SE and building up to the flagship Monte Carlo model.
Over the next few pages of this review, we’ll look at everything you need to know, from what the Skoda Scala is like to drive to how practical it is. We'll also reveal whether you should choose one over its rivals as your next new car.
When you've decided which car to buy, you can potentially save thousands without the hassle of haggling by using our free What Car? New Car Deals service. It has plenty of excellent new family car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Skoda Scala engine range starts with a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that comes in two states of tune: 94bhp (TSI 95) and 109bhp (TSI 110). The TSI 95 is fine, but in a car this size, it can feel a little flat. We recommend the TSI 110 because it has enough low-end shove to easily keep up with the flow of traffic (0-62mph takes 10.1sec) and it provides the Scala with greater overtaking power than a 1.0-litre Kia Ceed.
If you have a bit more money to spend and are likely to regularly carry a carload of people and luggage, we'd completely understand if you stepped up to the 148bhp 1.5 TSI 150 petrol. It’s added zip will be just the ticket – its 0-62mph of just 8.2sec is usefully swift.
The optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox zips up and down gears quickly and doesn't really dull the Scala’s performance.
Suspension and ride comfort
The Scala is one of the better-riding cars in the family car class. It's far better at isolating you from razor-edged bumps and potholes than the Ceed, Mazda 3 and Ford Focus, but you have to put up with its soft and slightly wafty nature over gentler undulations.
For the best results, stick to the versions with the smallest (16in) alloy wheels, which just happen to be standard on our favourite SE trim.
For absolutely the best ride in this class, you'll need a VW Golf with optional adaptive DCC suspension. That combo is way more expensive than a Scala on 16in wheels, though.
The Scala delivers more grip, come rain or shine, than the Mazda 3, and that grip is better balanced front to rear than it is in the Ceed.
There's a fair amount of body lean, so while the Scala handles tidily, it never flits through bends as keenly as the Focus and Seat Leon – the benchmarks for enthusiastic drivers.
Still, there's a sense of precision to the Scala's steering and it builds weight progressively, giving you the confidence you need when guiding it along tight and twisty country lanes. Again, it just lacks the Focus's delicate and intricate sense of connection to the road.
Noise and vibration
Under hard acceleration, the three-cylinder 1.0 TSI engines transmit gentle vibrations through the pedals and steering wheel. They're less thrummy when pulling away than the equivalent in the Ceed, though, and settle down once you’re up to cruising speeds. The four-cylinder 1.5 TSI 150 petrol is smoother and quieter.
The Scala is easy to drive calmly in traffic with a manual gearbox, thanks to the predictable accelerator, brake and clutch actions. The automatic gearbox can be a little jerky when you're parking.
You'll hear more suspension noise than you would in the quietest family cars, while higher levels of wind and road noise put the Scala even further behind the best. If you fancy greater peace and quiet on the daily commute, try a Focus, Mazda 3 or Golf instead.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Skoda Scala gives you a wide range of steering-wheel adjustments and you get driver's seat height adjustment as standard. Adjustable lumbar support is standard with our recommended SE trim. Some of our testers found the seat a little narrow and lacking in side support, but seat comfort is subjective, so be sure to try it out for yourself before you buy.
In the range-topping SE L and Monte Carlo versions, the conventional analogue instruments are replaced by a digital screen. This can simply show a set of digitised dials, but it also displays a multitude of other information in a clear and concise fashion.
Skoda has sensibly decided to keep traditional buttons and knobs (which are illuminated at night, unlike those of a VW Golf) for the climate controls. That makes them a breeze to operate while you're on the go, and it's refreshing in a world where more and more rivals are loading such routine adjustments into their infotainment systems.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Thanks to the Scala's relatively slim windscreen pillars, forward visibility is impressive. The rear pillars are thicker, but there's still an acreage of glass that makes your over-the-shoulder vision way better than it is in many rivals, including the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and, most strikingly, the enclosed rear end of the Mazda 3.
Rear parking sensors are fitted as standard to SE, and if you want to add front parking sensors or a rear-view camera, you can do so for a relatively small extra cost.
Another big plus is that the headlights on all Scalas use LED for their dipped beams, and Full LED headlights, which include the main beams, are optional (or standard with Monte Carlo trim). LED headlights are far more illuminating at night than regular halogen bulbs.
Sat nav and infotainment
The Scala's infotainment is one of the better systems in the class – much better than the more expensive Golf's. However, we prefer the rotary infotainment controller in the Mazda 3, because it’s less distracting to use while driving than trying to hit icons on a touchscreen. The shortcut buttons around the Scala's screen are helpful for swapping menus, but they're touch-sensitive and not physical buttons.
Entry-level SE trim gives you a high-definition, glass-fronted 8.0in touchscreen with SmartLink, so you can use your smartphone's apps, including navigation aids such as Google Maps and Waze, from the screen itself. That makes the lack of built-in sat-nav less of a problem.
If you move up to SE Technology trim or above, you get a 9.2in screen with built-in sat-nav and Infotainment Online, which gives you access to online features such as traffic and weather reports. Whichever system is fitted, the software is quick and the menus are quite straightforward. All trims come with an eight-speaker stereo, but it sounds a little tinny and no premium upgrade is available.
While the pleasingly soft materials on the upper dashboard create a positive first impression, it soon becomes easy to see why the Scala costs less than the Skoda Octavia. The Scala uses far more hard plastic inside than its stablemate, and, while it's robust, it doesn't look or feel very swish.
To get a feel for where the Scala sits among its key price rivals on quality, it's outclassed by the Mazda 3's supremely classy interior, but it looks and feels a bit nicer inside than the Focus.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Even if you’re well over six feet tall, you won't feel your hair brushing the roof of the Skoda Scala, and the seats slide far enough back to accommodate anyone long in the leg.
The main difference between the Scala and many of its rivals – including the Kia Ceed, the Mazda 3 and its Skoda Octavia sibling – is that it's narrower in the front. That means you and your passenger might feel a bit more cosy.
Storage space for odds and ends is good. The front door pockets are generous, and there’s a decent-sized glovebox, a large drawer under the front seats, a small cubby in front of the gearlever – where you can stash your phone or keys – and a sunglasses holder above the rear-view mirror. Some may grumble, though, that a travel mug is too big for the centre console cup holder and will have to be relegated to the door bin, instead.
Rear space is one of the Scala's greatest attributes. Leg and head room are exceedingly generous for the class, beating even the spacious Ford Focus and up there with the best, such as the Octavia and Seat Leon. There’s plenty of foot space under the front seats, too, and the cushy headrests help your passengers to kick back happily and relax.
Although the interior is narrower than in some family cars, none of the Scala’s rivals is wide enough to fit three adults in the back without a modicum of shoulder rubbing. The central floor hump is tall but not very wide, so the middle passenger has room to rest a foot on each side. The central seat itself isn't too much of a perch and is reasonably comfortable.
There's space for oddments too, with two map pockets and two door bins.
Seat folding and flexibility
SE trim and above have a height-adjustable passenger seat and lumbar adjustment, while an electrically adjustable driver’s seat is an option on SE L and Monte Carlo trims. There isn’t a fold-flat passenger seat like on the larger Skoda Superb Estate to accommodate really long items.
The Scala’s rear seatbacks fold in a conventional 60/40 split. Unlike in the Octavia, there are no release levers in the boot itself. That means you have to walk round, open the rear doors and press the buttons at the top of the rear seats, instead of being able to drop the seats while you're at the boot opening.
With the rear seats in their upright positions, the Scala can take more luggage in the boot than the Focus and Golf; it can manage up to seven carry-on suitcases below its parcel shelf, compared with six and five respectively for those two rivals.
That means the Scala's boot capacity will be plenty for most people, but it’s worth noting that the Octavia even more capacious if boot space is at the top of your list of requirements
The Scala’s boot is a nice, square shape and has plenty of bag hooks, while the load lip is manageably low if you put the optional (and highly recommended) adjustable boot floor in its higher setting. Doing that also smooths out the step left in the floor when you fold down the rear seats.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Skoda Scala represents one of the cheapest ways into a good family hatchback. If you stick with our recommended SE trim level, an equivalently equipped Ford Focus will cost you thousands more. However, there's a 'but'.
The model is predicted to depreciate at a faster rate than most of its rivals, including the Focus. That means it'll lose more of its value over three years if you're a cash buyer, although Skoda's generous PCP finance deals usually keep monthly payments very competitive.
Fuel economy is a Scala strength, though. You can expect to see more than 40mpg in the real world from the 1.0 TSI 110 (that's better than a 1.0 Kia Ceed). Even the 1.5 TSI 150 shouldn't break the bank. With its low P11D price and sensible CO2 emissions, the Scala is also a good choice if you're looking for reasonable company car tax payments.
Equipment, options and extras
Our recommended SE trim level gives you all the basics, including 16in alloy wheels and air conditioning, but you also get such niceties as a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, a front centre armrest, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
SE Technology is aimed at company car drivers, and it's worth considering for the infotainment upgrades we mentioned in the sat-nav and infotainment section. SE L adds micro-suede seat inserts, bigger (17in) wheels, LED rear lights, dynamic indicators, privacy glass, climate control, electrically folding door mirrors and keyless entry/start. Monte Carlo is a little strange in that it’s priced above SE L but misses out on climate control and keyless entry/start. It does, however, include a panoramic sunroof, sports seats, fancier full-LED headlights and extra styling details inside and out.
All versions come with Skoda's ‘Simply Clever’ features, which aim to make life easier. These include a parking ticket holder mounted on the windscreen pillar, an umbrella stowed away in a compartment in the front door, an ice scraper/tyre tread depth gauge inside the fuel filler cap and a cap for the screen-wash bottle that unfolds and turns into a funnel.
The Scala didn’t feature in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, but Skoda as a brand finished in a very respectable 13th out of 32 manufacturers. That result puts it above Ford, Seat and Volkswagen, as well as premium brands including Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Kia, Hyundai, Mini, Mazda and Toyota are the only rival brands that finished higher.
Mechanical faults are covered for three years, with unlimited mileage for the first two and up to 60,000 miles in the third. This is comparable with most rivals but is beaten soundly by the five-year warranties offered by Renault, Hyundai and Toyota, and the seven years Kia provides.
Safety and security
All Scala models come with twin front and side airbags and curtain airbags (front and rear). Active safety aids include lane-keeping assistance, a speed limiter and automatic emergency braking (AEB). You can add rear side airbags in conjunction with an optional driver's knee bag. Lane keep assistance is part of an optional Travel Assist package that also includes adaptive cruise control. Blind-spot monitoring to check if there’s a vehicle hidden from view isn’t available.
In safety tests, Euro NCAP gave the Scala five stars overall. However, its individual category scores aren't quite up there with the best family cars, such as the Mazda 3. The organisation found that the Scala represents a slightly higher risk of injury to adult and child occupants, as well as pedestrians, in an accident.
All versions of the Scala come with an anti-theft alarm.
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You could say that the Scala came along as a replacement for the Skoda Rapid Spaceback but it's noticeably longer and wider.