DSC_1781_editedIAIN ROBERTSON 

Not everybody wants an SUV, states Iain Robertson, despite the category’s escalation in popularity, with every carmaker from Audi to Lotus and Mazda to Volvo desperate to launch another ‘off-road’ variant, which creates a useful niche for Skoda.

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While both Audi and Volvo were not the first to introduce four-wheel-drive versions of their popular estates, 1999 was a good year for the allroad quattro and Cross Country respectively, as both carmakers took an alternative approach to beefing-up their family wagons. Now Vauxhall, Fiat and a few other players have tackled the soft-roader scene with varying degrees of success, with the VW Group being notable for niche-filling, with both Seat and Skoda having their Experience and Scout offerings (based on the same platform)…although not all are as purposeful as the latter in Octavia form.

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As regular readers might be aware, I am a staunchly supportive fan of Skoda, partly because of the brand’s perceived value offering but also because of its indomitable reliability. However, I have become concerned of late that Skoda is departing its long-held values, concentrating instead on ‘market pricing’, by which it believes that it can sell its products for significantly higher price tags than its core customers can afford, or actually wish to pay, for its products. Is this just self-belief, or marketing arrogance? It might be that it is attempting to bolster its profitability, while the sun shines, before another recession strikes at the UK and Europe’s economic heart.

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Yet, I feel strongly that the £33,390 price tag of the Octavia Scout tested here, based on a £27,990 entry price but with the balance made up from a long list of optional extras, will not serve to enhance the brand’s repute, instead restricting its reach, despite its competence and range of capabilities. After all, it is little more than an assemblage of components from the Group’s parts bins, the costs of which reduce by volume, regardless of the individual brand ‘spin’ to sell them. Therefore, the buyer of a Skoda Octavia Scout 4×4 is going to be an individual targeting this pinnacle model determinedly for whatever reasons might be deemed appropriate at the time. When I first sampled the allroad, it was priced at the same rate, back at the turn of the Millennium. Of course, the new versions of that larger A6-based model now range from £45,755 to £55,825, while the real size competitor, the A4 allroad, starts at £34,395, rising to £40,595, which makes the Skoda look like fantastic value for money, thus giving it a viable place in the class.

 

Those aforementioned ‘extras’ include: different alloys (£150), bi-Xenon headlights and LED daytime running lamps (£900), boot net (£50), upgraded stereo (£400), chrome window surrounds (£250), sat-nav (£800), cornering front fogs (£100), double-sided boot floor (£75), remote opening back door (£300), white metallic paint (£525), space-saver spare (£75), panoramic sunroof (£950), rear camera (£300), stainless steel pedals (£85) and winter pack (£430). You could imagine which of them I would delete, as the car is fairly well-equipped as standard.

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Powered by the 181bhp version of the VW Group’s excellent 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, which drives all four wheels through a 6-speed sequential-manual, DSG transmission (sadly, not including the paddle-shifters of the vRS model), a decent power-to-weight ratio equates to an excellent performance graph. Reported as possessing a 136mph top speed, its 0-60mph acceleration time is given as a wholly believable 7.5 seconds. However, the unit is known for its low CO2 rating, in this case a mere 134g/km, which demands an annual fee of just £130 for the VED.

 

As an undying fan of DSG, this installation is as sweet as a nut, shifting imperceptibly up and down the ratios, when left in ‘Drive’, with manual selection remaining useful for added control, either in the urban sprawl, or when tackling rough tracks. Although the engine is good, it is among the more noisy of the breed, although it tends to be more ‘rattly’ at start-up and low speeds, than while cruising on the motorway. Delivering bags of mid-range punch, open road overtakes are a doddle, seldom demanding little more than a gentle squeeze on the throttle, the transmission deciding whether a drop down one or more ratios is required.

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This combines to make the Scout sometimes remarkably fuel efficient. I obtained an excellent 54.1mpg, on the car’s on-board computer, over a specific route of almost 210 miles, which contrasts most favourably with the quoted 55.4mpg Official Combined figure. Of all manufacturers, VW Group is the one that can get closest to its government figures consistently, with least effort, a factor that is of tremendous value to its customers. Digging deeply into the Scout’s performance envelope, including some limited off-road activities (just to prove that the Scout can tackle the ‘boonies’ with competence), the car still recorded a 40.1mpg figure, which is immensely impressive and not too far off the actual figure of 38.9mpg, verified with a refilled tank.

 

Talking about off-road, Skoda does its level best to prepare the car properly, with a ground clearance raised by 33mm over the regular Octavia estate car and both approach and departure angles below the floor improved significantly. Skid-guards form part of the off-road package to protect lines and susceptible underbody components. Thanks to the torque-sensing 4×4 transmission, the Scout delivers unrelenting, spin-less grip on wet grass and inclines and it shrugs off dusty, or sandy, tracks, although care does need to be taken on really rough, or undulating, surfaces, to avoid too many unfortunate clashes with the environment. After all, despite its inherent strengths, the Scout is just a soft-roader and not a proper 4×4 battle-bus.

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Apart from the metal finish underbody guards fore and aft, the Scout also features wheel arch extensions to sweep aside shrubbery and multi-surface tyres for added traction. The added ride height does not afflict the car’s core handling and the longer travel suspension even improves its ride quality on our Third World road surfaces, absorbing bumps and undulations most confidently, without detriment to passenger comfort.

 

The interior of the Scout is finished in a pleasantly agricultural shade of soft brown plastic and Alcantara for most surfaces. The door bins are lined usefully in felt for sound-deadening quality, while all pockets and trays are lined in rubber for the same reason. The cabin is a place of great refinement and the large, tinted, electric-opening sunroof provides a pleasant amount of extra natural light into what might otherwise be a dark interior. The heated front seats are exceptionally comfortable and adjust manually through a massive range, matched by the rake and reach adjustable, leather-wrapped steering wheel, which is also supportively bolstered.

 

A typically clear instrument display sits ahead of the driver, while minor controls can be accessed via the steering wheel spokes, the rest of the switchgear being laid out neatly in the centre console. A large-screen sat-nav also acts as the information centre for the HVAC, on-board computer and entertainment, with a mini-screen carrying more concise information located for instant read-out between both speedometer and rev-counter.

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As with other Skoda models, the Scout’s steering is lovely and fairly direct, with the ride comfort aided by well-controlled body-roll and superb grip on any surface. Believe me, it was monsoon rain on the M69 and, while visibility was impaired, the Scout was never wrong-footed by puddles, or sheets of standing water. The upshot is confidence inspiring to the driver.

 

Conclusion:   As you probably gather, price is my main complaint about the Scout. I have no issue with its appearance, its quality, which includes the superficial elements, as well as its solid build, or the car’s dynamics, which are excellent. This fourth iteration of the Octavia is by far its most attractive and the Scout variant does manage to look outstandingly purposeful. Not excessively expensive to live with, it is a really good car with excellent space utilisation and a handsomely conservative appearance.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).