ŠKODA scouting for more sales success
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13th June 2009 - Courier Mail - Neil McDonald
History is on ŠKODA’s side. Having survived two world wars and Eastern European communism, as well as snide Western criticism of their communist-era cars in the 1960s and 1970s the current global financial crisis will be a doddle.
Why? Because ŠKODA is one of the oldest car companies in the world and one of the fastest growing car makers in Europe today.
With the might of the Volkswagen group behind it – the German brand has owned ŠKODA since 1999 – surviving the challenges facing its growth locally should be no problem.
With the arrival of the refreshed Octavia range recently, the Czech company is poised to bring in the updated Octavia RS and Scout all-wheel drive later this year.
The sporty RS for Rally Sport, will continue to be available as a sedan and wagon – Combi in ŠKODA-speak – with improved 2.0-litre TSI petrol and 2.0-litre TDI engines.
VW Group Australia spokesman Karl Gehling says ŠKODA wants to lift interest in the RS locally, which until now has had modest success with 20 percent of total Octavia sales being RS models. “The improvements should help broaden the car’s appeal,” he says.
Like the Octavia models, the RS and Scout benefit from some styling tweaks ahead of the A-pillar.
The grille is more prominent and new headlights curve around to the sides of the car. The bonnet is more pronounced, thanks to some sharp crease lines and the headlights, grille and honeycomb lower air intake look more purposeful. The rear end gets new taillights and a more defined bumper.
Like the Subaru Outback, the Scout goes chunky with additional plastic bumper and wheel arch lines for a more utilitarian off-road look. Inside there are better quality materials, new centre console and heating controls, as well as a new three-spoke multi-function steering wheel.
The RS is due to arrive later this year but ŠKODA Australia expects it to arrive in the showrooms close to the current car’s price point.
That means a start around $38,000 for the 2.0-litre TSI manual, topping out around $44,000 for the 2.0-litre TDI wagon.
The Scout should hit the ground around $40,000. Initially it will only be available with a six-speed manual mated to the TDI. A DSG gearbox will arrive late next year, Gehling says. “People are more likely to accept a manual gearbox in a diesel than they are in a petrol,” he says. “When the DSG arrives we may look at a 1.8-litre TSI petrol Scout too.”
The RS is powered by VW-sourced TSI petrol and TDI four-cylinder engines driving the front wheels while the Scout runs a TDI and Haldex all-wheel-drive system with a 40mm higher body than the standard Octavia.
Volkswagen fans will love the silky 2.0-litre TSI and 2.0-litre TDI in the RS, both of which drive the front wheels. Both engines comply with Euro V emissions requirements. They are well-engineered units that are mated to six-speed manuals or the six-speed DSG gearbox.
The TSI pumps out 147kW from 5100-6000rpm and 280Nm from 1700rpm while the TDI manages 125kW at 4200rpm and 250Nm from 1750rpm.
ŠKODA has tweaked each engine for marginally improved fuel economy. The TSI gets 7.5 litres/100km combined and the TDI delivers 5.7 litres/100km while the six-speed manual-only Scout achieves 6.4 litres/100km.
RS buyers can expect a 13mm lower sports suspension with stiffer spring rates, stability control, 17-inch Zenith alloys, boot spoiler on the sedan, sports seats and pedals, tyre pressure monitoring, climate control airconditioning, three-spoke leather steering wheel and, for the first time, LED daytime driving lights.
Safety gear includes six airbags, active front headrests, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake pressure distribution and traction control.
A six-speed DSG gearbox will be optional in the RS.
The Scout is no pauper either. It shares much of the RS’s safety gear but looses some of the bling in a more sober-looking wagon.
A big plus with both the sedan and wagon is luggage space. The sedan has 585 litres of boot space, which increases to 1455 litres with the seats folded. The wagon ups the ante with 605 litres and 1655 litres.
ŠKODA in Europe has dropped the full-size space in the RS to save between 15kg and 20kg weight depending on the model, replacing it with a tyre repair kit.
However, Australia is tipped to retain the full-size spare for our market.
On the road
Visually the hotter Octavia and Scout benefit from the styling updates of the Octavia range but the 17-inch Zenith alloys on the RS really do set it off.
Look closely at the RS and you won’t be able to tell the TDI from the TSI. There are no badges to distinguish the pair and its only when you fire up the TDI that you realise it’s a diesel.
The refreshed interior is less dour than previous models and looks smarter. The faux alloy trim highlights in the RS also help lift the ambience while the Scout gets durable cloth seats and somewhat Germanic but quality interior.
On the road, the RS TDI exhibits some characteristic turbo lag low down, which is annoying if you want to press on or are winding through mountain roads.
The trick is to keep the turbo “on-song” by selecting a lower gear and keeping the revs up.
The TSI will certainly give the TDI a run for its money but the flexibility and low-down grunt of the diesel warrant a closer look.
The TSI wins the acceleration stakes with a 0-100km/h time of 7.2 sec for the six-speed manual, while the TDI is not too far behind with 8.3 sec.
Handling-wise, the RS is biased to a predictable and progressive understeer. It’s never a problem and most drives will be able to exploit the car’s fluid balance and inherently good dynamics.
The RS is easy to drive smoothly and both the TSI and TDI are deceptively quick and quiet, even in the wagon.
The ride is firm but not uncomfortably so and at high speeds on the autobahns both the sedan and wagon are rock solid. Likewise the Scout but its higher-riding body does cause some “float” at high speeds, and we’re talking more than 160km/h here, which is academic in Australia.
Both the RS and Scout exhibit a high degree of reassuring solidity, good grip and precise steering.
RS buyers will not be disappointed with either engine. But the TDI proves that it is more than competent to wear the RS badge of honour.
RS car, wagon
Price: $37,500 TSI and $39,500 TDI (sedan projected), $41,500 TSI and $44,000 TDI (wagon projected); $39,990 (Scout projected)
Engines: 2-litre four-cylinder TSI and 2-litre TDI turbocharged four cylinder, (RS); 2-litre TDI (Scout)
Power: 147kW from 5100-6000rpm (TSI), 125kW @ 4200rpm (TDI); 103kW @ 4000rpm (Scout)
Torque: 280Nm from 1700rpm (TSI), 350Nm from 1750rpm (TDI); 320Nm from 1750rpm (Scout)
Transmission: Six-speed manual and six speed DSG; six-speed manual (Scout)
Economy: 7.5 litres/100km (TSI) six-speed manual, 5.7 litres/100km (TDI); 6.4 litres/100km (Scout)