In the midst of a massive Australian pandemic scare and rolling lockdowns, a very good small hatchback came onto the scene in Australia.
The Skoda Scala launched with a fantastic array of standard equipment, a great turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, and a super practical cabin. And let’s not forget the price. This thing was a bargain back then.
Then came (and went) the impressive Scala Monte Carlo, which was a corker of a car. A shame it isn’t around anymore.
Right now, there is still a very affordable Skoda Scala model, this one here – the 85TSI Ambition – which is a relative cheapie considering market movements.
But it has got a few cut-price considerations that you should keep in mind, and it’s not just that it has lost a cylinder along the way. Let’s go over it in detail.
On test we have the entry-level Scala Ambition with the 85kW 1.0 TSI three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, priced from $32,790 plus on-road costs or a pretty sharp $33,490 drive-away.
There’s a rundown on what each of the grades comes with below, but that sort of pricing pits the entry-level Scala against the likes of the Kia Cerato Sport+, which at $31,440 stacks up pretty well on standard spec, and I think it’s the closest rival in terms of practicality for a hatchback of this size.
Then there’s the Volkswagen Golf, which shares plenty but doesn’t come with a three-cylinder base engine, and as a result its 110TSI base model is $35,190 before on-roads.
2023 Skoda Scala pricing:
- Skoda Scala 85TSI Ambition: $32,790
- Skoda Scala 110TSI Signature: $40,990
- Skoda Scala 85TSI Ambition: $33,490 D/A
- Skoda Scala 110TSI Signature: $41,490 D/A
There are some elements of the Scala Ambition’s interior that feel really plush, while other elements aren’t quite as high end for 2023 and beyond – like the turn-key ignition.
The trim, fabric and materials are of a high perceived quality, with the base model’s cloth trim looking really handsome as it is highlighted by some copper (Cupra-inspired?) stitching.
Plus there are two digital screens to help the vibe feel a bit spesh, including an 8.0-inch touchscreen (with buttons and dials for controls, thankfully) as well as a colourful and configurable 10.25-inch digital driver info display, too.
It has a flat-bottomed steering wheel with some chrome dials and easy-to-learn buttons, which are better than some of the haptic/touchy-feely controls on the steering wheels of other VAG products.
On the topic of controls, there are manual dials for the air-con, which usually makes me think ‘ooh, pov’, but compared to the other option applied to newer Skoda models – fan speed and other A/C elements via the touchscreen or touch-capacitive controls – the basic approach is better, I reckon.
There’s a fan-speed controller, a temperature dial, buttons for recirculation and front and rear demisters. Simple, but effective.
The media screen is a bit basic without your phone hooked up via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but it is simple to get your head around the panel of controls for the stereo.
Just like in the Kamiq, the cup holder situation isn’t great. There are two-and-a-half cup spots between the front seats, none of which will fit a KeepCup, and a take-away cup mightn’t fit well in there, either.
There are bottle holders in the doors, a covered centre console bin, and a storage section in front of the shifter, too. In the driver’s door there’s a hidden umbrella, and one of the unsung heroes of Skoda smarts – a parking ticket holder on the driver’s side A-pillar.
I’m 182cm or 6’0” tall, and a fair few rival small hatches on the market don’t have enough space for me to be comfortable behind my own driving position; but in the Scala, that’s not the case.
I had ample knee, foot, and headroom in the second row, though keep in mind that if you want to fit three grown-ups across the back seat, there’s quite a large transmission tunnel intrusion to contend with.
There’s no fold-down armrest and therefore no rear-seat cupholders, but there are bottle holders in the doors, map pockets, and a small storage tray down below the directional rear-seat air vents. Those are a nice family-friendly touch, as are the twin USB-C charge ports in the back which complement the two up front.
Parents, take note – there are ISOFIX points in the outboard rear seats (with handy removable covers over them) and three top-tether points as well. I fit in a forward-facing seat for my daughter, and there was ample space for her to swing her feet and still have a grown-up sitting comfortably up front.
The Scala’s best practicality trait is behind the back seats though, with a huge boot capacity of 467 litres, which expands to 1410L with the rears folded down.
There is no electric boot opening (the related Kamiq SUV has it), but there is a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor.
Now, unlike a bunch of other Skoda products in years gone by, this base grade doesn’t get any of the neat netting that allows you to secure your stuff.
There are a few options for bag hooks though, and handy spots rear of the wheel arches to store loose items (like milk or bread, to stop it flying around in the boot on the drive home).
As mentioned, the Ambition gets the less powerful engine, called the 85TSI.
It’s a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol, with 85kW (5500rpm) and 200Nm (2000-3500rpm). It has a seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic transmission as standard, and is front-wheel drive.
For a bit of context, the 110TSI scores a punchier 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with 110kW (6000rpm) and 250Nm (1500-3500rpm).
I like three-cylinder turbo-petrol engines, but I could totally see why some people might prefer the more refined and relaxed 110kW 1.5 TSI in the Scala Signature.
It’s a much smoother and quieter engine, and has more effortless power and torque available to the driver.
But if you are okay with a bit more gruff and grumble, then you might love the three-pot 85TSI engine which is a willing and pokey thing. It has more grunt than you might think, and it gets along nicely with a pretty thrummy warble to it at times, too.
The main consideration with this powertrain is concerned with low-speed commuting or stop-start driving, whereby the engine’s start-stop system – teamed with a seven-speed DSG and the inherent lag it adds to the mix, plus the turbo lag from the little petrol engine – makes for at times frustrating lurchiness from a standing start
My driving typically doesn’t involve a whole heap of that traffic treachery, but when I was stuck in a few snarls over the week, I found myself thinking “I should probably just switch off the start-stop”.
I don’t usually, so I persisted; but if I wished to, there’s a nice little button down near the shifter – some cars have it buried in menus on a screen and you have to switch it off each time you start the car.
I had one particularly alarming moment; when performing a three-point turn on a tight street, the car seemingly didn’t want to engage reverse, and it had a second or two of ‘dead’ before lunging backwards way faster than expected. It only happened once, but thankfully there was nothing/no-one in the way.
For someone like me, who does more highway driving than urban grind driving, those frustrations could well be overlooked because the transmission is very good at speed, offering snappy shifts and not shying away from letting the engine’s torque do the work either.
I liked the steering too, which is very easy to judge, and has a nice weighting to it.
And it can handle itself in the bendy bits. Sure, there’s a bit of body roll if you push it hard, but it hung on well when I hustled through some corners, and it offered good body control as well.
The suspension is generally a bit on the firmer side, which I’m totally okay with for a Euro hatchback like this, and it never felt too hard or punishing over the roads I drove it on.
However, just keep in mind that like most smaller VAG products, it’s prone to a fair bit of road noise intrusion on coarse-chip roads.
Scala Ambition highlights:
- 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Apple CarPlay, Android Auto (wired)
- 10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit
- 8-speaker sound system
- 18-inch ‘Vega’ alloy wheels
- LED headlights
- LED daytime running lights
- Front fog lights
- LED tail lights
- LED rear fog lights
- Rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
- Tyre pressure monitoring
- Interior ambient lighting
- Wireless phone charging
- Dual-zone climate control
- Keyless entry/start
- Height-adjustable front seats with lumbar support
- Electric boot opening and closing
- Multifunction flat-bottom steering wheel
- Automatic headlights
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Electric mirrors, heated/folding, driver auto-dimming
- Double-sided boot mat
- Driver’s door-mounted hidden umbrella
- Floor mats
- Privacy glass
- Black window surrounds
- Silver roof rails
Scala Signature adds:
- LED adaptive front lighting system
- LED interior lighting
- Leather/’Suedia’ upholstery
- 9.2-inch ‘Amundsen’ touchscreen media system
- Satellite navigation
- Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Wireless phone charging pad
- Dual-zone climate control
- Heated steering wheel with paddle-shifters
- Heated front seats
- Power adjustable driver’s seat
- Heated rear seats
- Ambient lighting
- Keyless entry
- Push-button start
- Double-sided boot floor mat
- Front parking sensors
- Semi-autonomous parking (Park Assist)
- Chrome exterior elements
The Skoda Scala was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in 2019.
It managed 97 per cent for adult occupant protection, 87 per cent for child occupants, 81 per cent for vulnerable road users and 76 per cent for safety assist.
Okay, so you don’t need to offer blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert to achieve a high ANCAP score. And at the time of writing, that tech is not available – even as an option – on the base Scala.
You can option it on the top-spec – you bloody well shouldn’t have to, if you ask me – for $1250.
Standard safety features include:
- 7 airbags incl. driver’s knee
- Adaptive cruise control
- AEB incl. Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Driver fatigue detection
- Lane-keep assist
- Multi-collision brake
- If you crash, it’ll apply the brakes to stop you crashing again
- Rear manoeuvre braking assist
- Brakes for obstacles, not pedestrians
The ownership experience – on paper, at least – should be better now than when the Scala launched in Australia.
Skoda now offers a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, which is as good as you’ll get without having to read the fine print.
Skoda also offers a couple of really appealing prepaid service packs, including a five-year/75,000km plan at $1800, or a seven-year/105,000km option for $2500. That is affordable European small car maintenance. The service intervals, if you didn’t do the maths, are 12 months or 15,000km.
Further, the 85TSI Ambition version of the Scala has a combined fuel economy figure of 5.3L/100km, while 110TSI variants claim 5.5L/100km.
Over a week of testing the 85TSI Ambition across a mix of urban, open road, highway and freeway driving, I saw an impressive 5.9L/100km. Maybe leaving that start-stop technology switched on is helpful, after all.
It requires 95 RON premium unleaded petrol, and has a 50-litre fuel tank capacity.
It has a few missing items, and a few things you can’t even option if you want them, and that could be enough for you to think about a different option to the Scala 85TSI Ambition.
But I reckon it’s a pretty solid option for buyers on a budget who are eager to have something European in their driveway, and want a smartly packaged and stylish small car.
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MORE: Everything Skoda Scala