Scouting for a sound and straightforward 4×4 estate

by Huw Thomas

SKODA passed a significant milestone in 2014 – for the first time in its 120-year history it produced and delivered more than one million cars in a single year.

SKODA OCTAVIA SCOUT.

SKODA OCTAVIA SCOUT.

Turn-around of Skoda Auto since 1991 as part of the Volkswagen Group has been one of the industry’s great success stories. Among the assets which became available to Skoda after 1991 was a broad range of 4×4 technology. The Czech company was quick to capitalise on this.

Both Yeti (compact SUV-like crossover) and Superb (large saloon-like hatch and Estate) offer 4×4 options with more overt “Outdoor” variants too. The “Scout” badge is reserved now for the Octavia line-up and this is its latest model. Launched in 2012, the current Octavia landed at dealerships here early in 2013. Estate and vRS (high performance hatch) versions followed that Summer with the Scout reaching this market later on last year. The premium charged for 4×4 (over front-wheel-drive 4×2) is around £1,450 for the Estate in SE, Elegance or rangetopping Laurin & Klement trim. It’s not available on S, GreenLine or vRS versions.

The Scout, however, sits slightly higher (around three inches) which is actually more useful than it might appear for rougher ground or wading through water etc. It also gets 17-inch alloy wheels (but not the largest 18ins) and tyres are taller profile items rendering the alloys less vulnerable to damage and, if anything, making for a smoother ride.

Apart from rugged looking side panels and “protective-shield” types front and back, Scout comes with a “Rough Road Package” which includes an engine guard and underbody stone-guard. This would be £200 extra on the other 4×4 variants. The interior is basically “SE grade plus” with some Elegance and L&K features added – the main ones being dashboard touchscreen connectivity and satellite navigation.

For the UK market the latest Scout is Diesel only. VW Group’s trusty and gutsy 2.0 litre TDI Diesel puts out 150ps and drives through a six-speed manual gearbox for an asking price of £25,315 or there’s a 184ps version of the same engine coupled to a twin-clutch DSG autobox (also six-speed) at £27,990.

A regular Estate SE 4×4 (150 manual) is listed at £22,865 and there’s also a 1.6 TDI 105 (five-speed) 4×4 at £21,965. Obvious and best choice is the 2.0 TDI 150 manual six-speed. And it’s great to see a proper manual handbrake here too rather than one of those useless electric switches – worse than useless off-tarmac or on snow and ice.

Electronics are pretty comprehensive with a good portion of the alphabet plundered (ESP, ABS, EBV, MSR, ASR, EDS, HBA, DSR) to describe the various braking, stability and traction controls incorporated into the system. The 4×4 device is the latest Haldex V unit. “De-coupled” under normal conditions so front wheel drive only until signs of slip are detected. But it responds pro-actively, it is said, and doesn’t wait until the front wheels have lost it before the rear axle kicks in. Drive can then divert rearwards increasingly as necessary.

The electronics again extend to imitating a limited slip differential on both axles which also enhances grip. The 2.0 TDI 150 generates a real dollop of torque and (front) wheel-spin (especially on “step-off”) is a frequent feature. But this was absent throughout the Scout’s appraisal.

Electronic wizardry, 4×4 system or bit of both, it certainly worked and tends to lend credence to the claim that the 4×4 system aids high speed driving on dry roads too despite the de-coupled ‘default mode’ of this device. Haldex IV units channelled a trickle of torque rearward and thus kept the axle ‘primed’ permanently.

The Scout’s not an off-roader and neither is it an SUV but there’s sufficient offtarmac competence here for the majority of people who might have some towing to do or whose domestic and and/or work commitments take them beyond the metalled road system. Apart from steering that’s a bit lifeless, but otherwise accurate enough, dynamic elements (cornering, body-control, ride quality) are more than acceptable and, of course, it’s a very surefooted car.

Lack of a spare wheel is a minus-point (“space-saver” a £75 extra) but there is a “first aid” kit, which is just the thing in the middle of nowhere at dead of night! Skoda asking prices have become a touch ambitious – no longer a “cheap” car by any stretch – but that usually means scope for bargaining.

Overall this is a car of substance with a very spacious cabin and a load-space which beats many from the (upper-medium) class above. SEAT and VW are about to do something similar with their Leon and Golf Estates (Xperience and Alltrack) but up to now, the Scout’s set the pace – a sound, straightforward 4×4 estate with a (deservedly) broad following.

Facts and figures: Skoda Octavia Scout 2.0 TDI 150ps 4×4 6sp manual; 129mph; 0-62 mph 9.1 seconds; 55.4mpg (official combined figure); 42mpg (brim to brim) on test; 42-44mpg trip computer (so 45+ should be there); CO2 129g/km – road tax ’D’/£110 (12mths); insurance group 19; maximum braked trailer weight 2,000kg.

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