SKODA OCTAVIA SCOUT IS PREPARED

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Skoda is scouting for new buyers with the introduction of the final model of its all-new Octavia series – the Octavia Scout. The importer’s hunt for buyers is to be boosted by offering new engines, including a petrol unit for the first time, and serious price reductions.

For some reason Skoda is still struggling to find awareness downunder. Those who aren’t into cars either haven’t heard of the Czech maker, or think it comes from one of the Asian countries. This awareness is even harder to understand when you learn that Skoda is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. That’s right, Skoda dates all the way back to 1895.

Just as importantly, Skoda has been controlled by the Volkswagen Group for the past 20 years, so is a branch of one of the world’s biggest automotive groups.

Engineering excellence was one thing VW really wanted when it made a bid for Skoda after the Iron Curtain came down in Europe. Czechs have been respected for their engineering prowess since long before the motor car was invented.

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The Skoda Octavia Scout is an all-wheel-drive wagon based on the standard Octavia station wagon. As well as the sophisticated Haldex 4WD system it has higher ground clearance, at 171 millimetres (up 33 mm on the standard wagon), protective cladding on the wheel arches, underbody protection and a tougher looking design of 17-inch alloy wheels.

These modifications don’t make the Scout an off-road vehicle, but it is capable of handling dirt tracks, forest trails, perhaps even trips to the beach.

During our drive program at the launch of the Octavia Scout in Tasmania we spent a couple of hours test driving on unsealed roads and it handled them with ease. The all-wheel-drive system and well designed suspension and steering, assisted by electronic stability controls let us to take it to cornering forces much higher than those likely to be generated by most owners.

After pushing hard for a few minutes we backed off to the sort of speeds that sensible drivers would use, and thoroughly enjoyed the unspoilt Tasmanian scenery, a tour of a hydroelectric facility and a visit to a boutique distillery. Exactly the sort of outing Octavia Scout is aimed at.

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Exploring is further aided by a load area of 588 litres. The tailgate is a powered unit, always a nice feature if you’re carrying a lot of stuff in your arms.

The front seats are large and comfortable and the rears have good legroom for adults, though you may have to ask those in the front to move forward a little if you need to travel extended distances in the back.

The Scout’s body felt strong and stable, though there were a few squeaks from plastic areas in the dash and door area on some of the harsher road surfaces on one of the three vehicles we drove. We will comment on this again after our full road test in our home area.

Power now comes from a choice of three turbocharged engines, a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol producing 132 kilowatts of power and 280 Newton metres of torque. The latter coming in at an astonishingly low 1350 rpm and staying on tap till you get to 4500 revs. Most drivers will therefore have the engine providing its best pulling power all the time.

We loved this petrol unit during our test drives. It’s smooth, responsive, for a turbo unit, and quiet and easy to live with.

Turbo-diesels in two different stages of tune are offered, both displace 2.0 litres; one has 110 kW and 340 Nm, the other 135 kW and 380 Nm. Oddly, the diesels need more revs than the petrol to get into their best area of torque – which doesn’t begin till the engine is spinning at 1750 revs. Nevertheless, the bulk grunt from the diesels makes overtaking safe and simple and hillclimbing is never an effort.

The 110 kilowatt turbo diesel sits beside a six-speed manual gearbox, the others have a six-speed double-clutch DSG automatic transmission.

Scout has a wide range of safety gear and has achieved a five-star safety rating. Every model has driver fatigue warning, tyre pressure monitoring, daytime running lights and nine airbags (instead of the usual full width curtain airbag it has separate units for the front and rear seats, thus explaining the higher than average number of airbags).

Infotainment touch screens are fitted in all Scout models, a rather small 5.8 inches in the 110TSI, a much more generous 8.0 inches in the others; Bluetooth streaming, USB, Aux and SD card are all part of the communication package.

Skoda Australia has dropped the price of the entry level Octavia Scout TDI manual by a huge $7000. It can now be yours for $32,990. The 132TSI petrol auto is priced at $38,590 and the 135TDI diesel has a recommended price of $41,390.

Skoda Octavia Scout deserves a place high on the short list of those looking for a semi-serious SUV. The tough Czech provides comfort in a spacious cabin and is backed by the might of the huge Volkswagen Group.

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