- Fully loaded and well priced
- Punchy yet efficient engine
- Very spacious and high quality cabin
- Ride and handling shaded by some rivals
- No manual Launch Edition
Thanks to their dominance in the market, all we seem to talk about are SUVs here at DiscoverAuto. It’s always SUV this, SUV that, here’s yet another one, etc – so forgive us for being genuinely excited when something that isn’t an SUV launches. Enter the 2021 Skoda Scala Launch Edition, which replaces the lacklustre Rapid in the Skoda lineup as the brand’s small hatch entrant. It’s got the latest in Volkswagen Group technology – including a newer and more efficient engine than the VW Golf – and in typical Skoda fashion, offers the absolute maximum in interior space for its relatively modest exterior dimensions.
We tested the Scala Launch Edition, which sits atop the local range for now. While entry level cars are available (even as a manual, thank you Skoda Australia) from $25,990 drive away, the Launch Edition is priced at $35,990 drive away and includes the two extensive (and expensive) option packages that are optional on the base model, as well as different wheels and a few other different trim pieces. It’s priced to compete against small cars such as the Hyundai i30, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and so on, so is it worth consideration over those rivals? Let’s find out.
Price & Equipment: 8/10
Priced from $35,990 drive away, the 2021 Skoda Scala Launch Edition sits at the pricey end of the non-sporty small hatchback segment and competes specifically with the Mazda3 G25 Evolve, Toyota Corolla ZR and Ford Focus ST-Line. While its price is not small, we think it is good value as it is fully loaded with kit – a lot of which you can’t find on competitors for the price.
Standard on the Launch Edition are 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery with suede inserts, a 10-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat, heated front and rear seats, four USB-C charging ports with a wireless phone charger, a 10-speaker sound system, a 9.2-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation, a digital driver’s display, auto lights and wipers, LED interior and exterior lighting including cornering lights and interior ambient lighting, an electric tailgate, keyless entry and start, an alarm, heated/auto-dimming/auto-folding mirrors, rear privacy glass and dual-zone climate control.
All the usual Skoda ‘simply clever’ touches such as a dual-sided boot floor, various boot hooks and nets, a parking ticket holder, an umbrella in the driver’s door and a tyre tread checker/magnifying glass/ice scraper in the fuel cap feature as well.
Standard safety kit is good too with seven airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, lane assist with travel assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse auto braking, driver attention monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring, multi-collision braking that prevents a secondary accident after an initial impact, a reversing camera and even automatic parking.
The only options for the Scala Launch Edition are a $1,300 panoramic glass roof, $550-$1,100 metallic paint – including the fetching ‘Race Blue’ of our test car, as well as ‘Moon White’, ‘Brilliant Silver’, ‘Quartz Grey’, ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Velvet Red’ – and a $2,000 tow bar that folds underneath the rear bumper when not in use.
Is it missing much? We don’t think so – maybe some more safety features such as auto high beam, digital radio, live traffic for the navigation system, a heads-up display and memory functionality for the seats, but the Scala Launch Edition is otherwise very well equipped.
How does it compare to rivals’ pricing? Well, one must add a $1,250 safety pack to the Focus to match the Scala’s safety kit and even then, the Scala has leather seating, an electric driver’s seat and so on over the Focus. The Mazda absolutely creams the segment for active safety kit – even the base G20 Pure features a heads-up display, blind-spot monitoring and so on – though one must step up to the G25 GT for kit such as leather, heated seats and a premium sound system. The Corolla ZR seems the most well matched to the Scala with its half leather seating and JBL sound system, though the Scala has significantly more interior space.
The Scala also has features not available with these other cars such as heated rear seats, rear USB ports, an electric tailgate and cornering lights. And importantly, even the most expensive Scala undercuts the cheapest version of the new Mk8 Volkswagen Golf, and includes significantly more standard equipment such as larger wheels, leather and heated seating, satellite navigation, the newer engine and more interior space.
Performance & Fuel Economy: 9/10
Under the bonnet of the 2021 Skoda Scala Launch Edition is a 110kW/250Nm 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that’s mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission – it’s actually a generation newer than the 1.4-litre unit that’s fitted to the larger Skoda Octavia and related Volkswagen Golf, though it produces the same power and torque – albeit over a wider spread in the rev range for a more linear power delivery.
The engine itself is a gem – yes, it’s not as powerful as the 125kW Corolla, 134kW Focus or 138kW Mazda3, but it does offer more torque than the former two and only 2Nm less than the latter. Skoda claims that the Scala will hit 100km/h from 0 in 8.3-seconds, which is reasonable for the segment – though we do wish a hotter Scala RS was coming with the Polo GTI’s 147kW 2.0-litre engine. Unlike the Mazda3 with its plethora of drivetrain options, the 1.5-litre turbo is the sole engine available in Australian Scalas for now.
Where the Scala shines in the segment, though, is fuel economy as it’s rated at just 5.5L/100km on a combined cycle – the Focus and Mazda3 G25 are both rated at 6.6L/100km and the Corolla 6.0L/100km. We found that achievable too, ending up on 5.9L/100km that included a lot of urban driving. Aiding the Scala’s efficiency is a low 1,215kg tare mass – versus the 1,390kg Corolla – and that it can shut down two cylinders when cruising to save fuel. The Scala features a 50-litre fuel tank and requires minimum 95RON fuel.
All Scala autos use the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission as its Kamiq sibling, as well as a plethora of other Volkswagen Group cars. In our time with the car, it was mostly fine though we were wishing for the eight-speed torque converter auto used in the Karoq. The typical low-speed hesitancy was there at times, though thankfully not the lack of auto hill hold like in the VW Tiguan that we reviewed recently. The Mazda3’s six-speed torque converter is definitely a more predictable transmission, though it doesn’t shift with the ferocity of the dual-clutch auto in the Scala.
Ride & Handling: 8/10
Underneath the 2021 Skoda Scala Launch Edition lies the Volkswagen Group’s MQB-A0 platform, which also underpins its Kamiq sibling, as well as cars such as the new Fabia and the Volkswagen Polo. This is strange given that the Scala is even longer than the larger-than-Polo Golf, which uses a different and more sophisticated platform. Will this platform choice matter to buyers? We doubt it – the Scala drives much like you’d expect a Volkswagen Group product to.
The steering is very linear – though not the last word in feel – and well weighted, the outward visibility is excellent and the ride quality isn’t bad either, though it can be a touch firm at the rear thanks to its torsion beam suspension. It’s this less sophisticated rear suspension set up that is our only question mark in the Scala’s dynamic set up – the independent rears of the Corolla and Focus allow them to not only ride better but handle better as well (if that matters to you, that is). But it does ride better than the Hyundai i30 and it’s on par with the Mazda3. Road noise is kept well hushed too, thanks to decent sound deadening and solid door seals.
The Scala is a reasonable handler as well, and can be pretty fun behind the wheel, though the sportier-riding Scala Monte Carlo is definitely more keen to be chucked around on a back road. But importantly, thanks to the Scala’s rather torquey engine, it’s more effortless to drive around town than the Mazda3 or Corolla, as you don’t need to rev it to get the most out of it. It’s quite a pleasing and relaxing car to drive, though don’t expect hot hatch levels of fun.
Interior & Practicality: 9/10
While the 2021 Skoda Scala offers a comparable driving experience to rivals, the interior is where it comfortably shines in this segment by taking the usual Skoda quality and practicality and presenting it in a smaller and arguably more stylish shape. No rival puts anywhere near the same level of thought into practicality in this segment – especially the Mazda3. Not only is the Scala’s interior more cleverly designed than rivals, but the amount of space in it is larger as well – it offers comfortably the most rear seat and boot space in the segment, for example.
The only practicality downside to the Scala is its relatively small central cup holders, though these are outshone by big door pockets, a large glovebox, a big centre tray with a wireless phone charger, an average centre armrest cubby and a large secret compartment to the right of the driver’s knee. The rear seat also features two map pockets, rear vents, rear USB-C charging ports and the same big door pockets – though a rear centre armrest is a strange oversight, Skoda Australia (it’s available overseas).
The quality inside the Scala is not up to Mazda3’s luxury standards, but it’s comfortably superior to the Corolla and the Focus with nicely textured soft-touch plastics on the dashboard and door tops, and even the harder plastics lower down are nicely textured too. The bronze pin strip on the doors and dashboard adds a bit of colour, while the ambient lighting is a nice touch at night too.
Centre of the Scala’s cabin is a 9.2-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and inbuilt satellite navigation, though it annoyingly lacks live the traffic functionality and digital radio that both the Focus and Corolla get. The screen itself is excellent quality though – much better than the grainy screen in the Corolla – and it’s quick to touch inputs as well. The digital display in front of the driver adds an expensive feel to the cabin, and you can set it up to have maps in front of you – the unbranded 10-speaker sound system isn’t bad, either. The lack of full AC controls without going into the touchscreen is annoying – though pressing auto helps massively (just make sure the fan threshold is set to high first).
As mentioned, the room inside the Scala is best in class. Six-footers will have no trouble sitting behind each other as knee-, leg- and headroom are excellent in the rear seat. The boot is also best-in-class with 467-litres on offer that expands to 1,410L with the rear seats folded – it would be nice if the Scala had a dual-level boot floor though, as when you fold the seats, there’s an annoying ridge between the seat and the boot floor. The other features in the Scala’s boot, such as a double-sided mat, various nets and hooks and even an electric tailgate, make up for it though.
Service & Warranty: 8/10
Like other new Skoda products – and rivals from Ford, Mazda and Toyota – the Scala features a five-year/unlimited km warranty that’s pretty much the industry standard these days. Unlike the Mazda with its five years of roadside assistance, though like Ford, the Scala has one year of roadside assistance – the Toyota has none.
If you pay-as-you-go service the Scala, over five years/75,000km it costs $2,040 ($408 per service), which is not cheap. We would definitely choose the pre-pay option for servicing for the same duration at $1,400 ($280 per service) that also includes five years of roadside assistance, or you can even pay a monthly subscription fee from $50 per month to keep the car serviced – that option also includes brake, battery and wiper replacements. It is so refreshing to see Skoda Australia keeping up with the times and offering flexible servicing options for their cars.
Undoubtedly, the Toyota Corolla is the most cost-effective car to service in this segment at just $900 for the first five years/75,000km ($180 per service). The Ford Focus costs $1,546 for the first five services ($309 per service) and the Mazda3 costs $1,945 ($389) over five years – though thanks to the Mazda’s shorter 10,000km service intervals, that’s only to 50,000km and not the 75,000km mark of the others.
The 2021 Skoda Scala Launch Edition DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.4/10
To be honest, we were expecting the Scala to be just a Skoda Rapid with a new name in the Scala, but its long list of attributes make it one of the best choices in the small hatchback segment. It’s definitely more spacious than that small SUV you were considering, it’s well priced, offers a long standard equipment list, including some features not available in other small hatches. Unlike the Rapid too, it drives with the sophistication you’d expect from a European vehicle.
It’s also got a frugal new engine that’s also reasonably punchy and if you choose a service pack at time of purchase, reasonably frugal to maintain as well. It’s not cheap to buy in this spec and some rivals offer more fun behind the wheel, but the 2021 Skoda Scala Launch Edition is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the small hatch segment. Now how about that Scala RS, eh Skoda?