You’ve got to admire Skoda. In the last few years, it has completed a remarkable turnaround, completely reinventing itself with some excellent family cars, all backed up by clever marketing campaigns.
So, with a firm foundation to build from, the manufacturer is becoming increasingly adventurous with its products, turning out some exciting and genuinely different models.
We’ve already seen evidence of this in the quirky new Roomster MPV and there’s a new, small 4x4 – the Yeti – due in 2008.
The range is set to widen further before that, though, when this rugged-looking machine goes on sale next month. It’s the Octavia Scout, billed as a more capable version of the Octavia 4x4 with raised ground clearance, protective body mouldings and more standard equipment.
It’s similar in concept to Audi’s Allroad – but costs half the price. However, at £17,725 for the 150bhp 2.0-litre FSI petrol version and £19,670 for the 2.0-litre TDI diesel, is it worth a £1,000 premium over the standard Octavia 4x4?
View the Scout for the first time, and it’s clear Skoda has spent plenty of time getting the newcomer’s appearance right. With chunky black bumpers, extended sideskirts and wheelarches plus front and rear protective metal skid plates, it looks much tougher than its stablemate.
There are lots of neat touches, too, including sporty 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, large spotlights at the front, and twin chrome exhausts at the rear. Classy Scout badges complete the look.
Inside, the off-road inspiration continues. There’s an aluminium grab handle on the dash, hard-wearing cloth trim, and aluminium kickplates on the door sills. The standard of equipment is excellent with dual-zone climate control, a six-disc CD changer and cruise control, plus useful netting in the back to help you make the most of the vast boot. Skoda draws the line, though, at adding complex off-roading mechanicals. And while the Scout initially appears to be a cut-price alternative to the Allroad, there’s no adjustable air-suspension or locking differentials.
However, in common with the Octavia 4x4, a clever Haldex clutch shares drive between the front and rear axles when traction is lost. And, on a snowbound test track at the model’s launch, the system proved very impressive indeed. Providing 17mm more ground clearance than the regular Octavia 4x4, the Scout breezed over deep ruts, proving that it has all the off-road ability most owners will ever be likely to need.
On dry tarmac, it’s equally pleasing. Despite the jacked-up body, the Scout doesn’t roll much more than the regular estate and, thanks to that clever clutch, 98 per cent of power goes to the front wheels in most conditions. As a result, it behaves like a standard Octavia with accurate (if rather numb) steering, a comfortable ride and decent grip.
Skoda estimates that nearly 90 per cent of Scouts bought will be diesels. The 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI unit is certainly strong on torque, with a beefy 320Nm making light work of overtaking manoeuvres. It’s frugal too, returning 44mpg on the combined cycle. In fact, its only downside is a lack of refinement, with too much engine noise entering the cabin.
So is the Scout worth the extra money over an Octavia 4x4? Just about. Most buyers will be delighted with the regular version. However, if you want something that stands out a bit more than the average estate car and offers plenty of off-road ability, the Scout is undoubtedly a very appealing package.