Can Skoda’s new Octavia Scout light our fire?

Skoda’s Octavia Scout 4x4 is very capable, but buyers may not recognise its talents

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 01:00

No one really needs a car quite like this, that’s the thing. One of the more depressing aspects of Irish car sales is how they are so weather-dependent. If we get snow and ice during winter, then sales of all-wheel-drive cars take a massive spike . If a mild winter follows, forget it; 4WD cars will stink up the forecourt. Lest we forget.

Which puts the new Octavia Scout in somewhat of an invidious position. It is an exceptionally talented, capable car, but it will shunned by a majority of Skoda buyers. Worse still, it will be seen as a fashionable, trendy item, and passed over in favour the almost-as-capable “standard” Octavia 4x4. It is something of a funny world in which we live.

Urban MacGyvers The Octavia Scout follows, pretty much blow for blow, the template set down by the likes of the Audi Allroad, Subaru Outback and Volvo XC70. That is to take a relatively humble family-friendly estate car and, with the addition of some stick-on black plastic and a rugged-sounding name, convert it into a model which will play well to the hordes of buyers who fancy themselves as urban MacGyvers.

The thing is, though, that the Octavia Scout is far, far more capable than its estate-car origins would have you believe. It rides a mere 31mm higher on its springs than does a standard Octavia, but that is enough to endow it with a 16-degree approach angle and a 13-degree departure angle. That may sound like so much hiking-boot-obsessed gobbledegook to you, but what it basically means is that the Octavia Scout is good at climbing steep things and equally good at scrambling its way down the slope. It’s also uncommonly good at finding traction and grip, thanks to its fifth-generation Haldex clutch-controlled four-wheel-drive system.

Most of the time, the Octavia Scout is a resolutely front-drive vehicle, but if the sensors and their controlling computers sense that a wheel is losing the ability to paw at the ground effectively, it can shunt power from one axle to another.

Grunt from the engine can also be diverted from one side to another and, in use, the system is essentially seamless. You point, it goes, regardless of whether the surface underneath is sloppy mud, loose gravel or any surface in between.

Tackling steep slopes In spite of a lack of hill-descent control, the Scout can also tackle staggeringly steep. slopes with insouciant ease. It is, in all, far closer in its DNA to that of a Land Rover Defender than it is to a conventional family estate.On the tarmac sections of our test route, the Scout cruises and corners much as you would expect any Skoda product to do – with one or two caveats. The first is engine noise: on a cruise, at a light throttle, the 150hp 2.0-litre TDI engine is quiet and relaxed, but even faint pressure on the throttle pedal elicits grumbles.

Push the Sport button The other is in its steering. All of our test cars came with the optional driving mode selector, which allows you to toggle between Sport and Normal. In Sport, the steering is well weighted and accurate, if utterly free from road feel. In Normal, a mode to which most will default, the steering becomes unnervingly light and vague. Either keep the Sport button pushed or don’t pick the driving mode option and hope the standard setup is better.

There’s also little point in going for the ritzier, more expensive 180hp, DSG automatic-gearbox equipped version. There’s little real-world difference in the performance relative to the excellent 150hp engine. Stick with the basic manual version and all will be well.

With an asking price of €33,795 the new model seems to offer good value. It is only €1,300 more expensive than a standard Octavia Estate with the 150hp engine and four-wheel-drive, and its vast range of capabilities show it to be an exceptionally talented multi-role family car. Still, though, a basic Octavia 4x4 costs only €29k and can offer at least 90 per cent of the Scout’s talents in 90 per cent of conditions you will face. It’s down to how much you desire the chunky 4x4 looks of the Scout that will determine whether or not the Octavia Scout is worth the extra cost.

The lowdown: Skoda Octavia Scout 2.0 TDI 150ps 4x4

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel

Transmission: six-speed manual, four-wheel-drive

Body style: five-door crossover estate

CO2 emissions: 129g/km (Band B1, €270 per annum)

Combined economy: 55.4mpg (5.1-litres/100km)

Top speed: 207km/h 0-100km/h: 9.1 seconds

Power: 150hp at 3,500rpm

Torque: 340Nm at 1,750rpm

Price: €33,795

Our verdict: Some flaws, and it's pricey, but the Scout is useful and has unexpected brilliance in the rough stuff.

Our Rating: 3/5