Vijay Pattni14 July 2014

First drive: Skoda Octavia Scout

Soft-roader gets diesel engine from the VRS and four-wheel-drive. But is it any good?

What's that?

This is the brand new, second-generation Skoda Octavia Scout. It's a car based on the new Skoda Octavia Estate, and as such sits on the much-vaunted MQB chassis being rolled out across the Volkswagen Group range. You're talking new Golf, new Leon, new A3, new everything, practically.

So MQB equals good, then?

Yes, but we'll get to that shortly. First, a couple of points of order. This new Octavia Scout will only be offered with two diesel engines in the UK, a 2.0-litre four-pot with 147bhp, and the range-topping 2.0-litre with 181bhp and 280lb ft of torque. It's the same engine you get in the Octavia VRS, though the Scout will actually accelerate to 62mph quicker than that VRS saloon (7.8 seconds vs 8.1 seconds for the saloon).

The 181bhp version only comes with a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox (DSG), while the 147bhp Scout is only offered with a six-speed manual.

However, both get the latest-generation Haldex four-wheel-drive system as standard, itself 1.4kg lighter than the fourth-gen Haldex used in the first generation Scout. It's a front-driver for most of the time, but constantly and continuously adjusts the torque being delivered to the rear axle to provide grip at all times.

Electronic diff locks on both the front and rear axles apportion grip side to side. If a wheel spins, driving force is applied to the opposite wheel, the brakes acting on the spinning wheel until you've got traction.

And if you buy the higher-powered, automatic version, you'll find it's the first time Skoda has married this DSG gearbox to four-wheel-drive ever. Be still, beating heart, etc.

What else is new?

The standard Octavia Estate's ride height has been increased by 33mm for Scout duty, to give a total ground clearance of 171mm. Then there's a new Scout-specific front bumper with black plastic moulding and silver trim, black plastic side mouldings that cover the wheel arches and door sills, and - you guessed it - black plastic moulding on the rear bumper and a three-panel metal guard to top it all off.

There's more underbody protection, along with shields to the brake lines and fuel pipes to prevent them from breaking during your off-road extravagance.

Off-road?

Most of these Scouts will be used for towing Things - it can haul up to two tonnes, and features a greater angle of incline at the front.

It's good off-road, too. We took it deep into a forest, and could feel the Haldex system underneath squirm its way through the thick mud, huge potholes and puddles deep enough to backstroke through. And yet, there was never any transmission bump through the car, never any sense that the 4x4 system was working its little driveshafts off to keep the Scout pointing in the right direction. Progress was easy and unruffled. And impressive.

And on-road?

Sublime. Sublime comfort, that is. The Scout is based on the Octavia Estate, and so brings with it those dynamic nuances: light, slightly numb steering, and a decent chassis that doesn't excite but doesn't disappoint. Sure, it bobs around on its springs a bit, but this isn't a car you buy to tackle the fearsome Maggots-Becketts series of corners at Silverstone.

And because it's just a bit softer, it means you can coast around from muddy path to front door with barely any stresses on your spine. It's wonderfully relaxing. The engines are great, too. We'd naturally plump for the higher-powered 181bhp diesel - grunty, meaty and full of torque - but the lesser-powered 147bhp version doesn't let itself down either. It feels punchy, marginally less gruff and with more than enough power to transport you and your dogs.

Ah yes, my dogs. How much space have they got?

610 litres from the boot, expanding to 1740 litres with the seats down. In other words, a van. Legroom's better than the old Scout, it's beautifully built inside and gets a great 5in touchscreen display, too.

I'm interested. How much is it?

Prices start from £25,315, so it's just over £2k more expensive than a standard Octavia Estate 4x4. If you want the added off-road ability to the standard great competence of the Octavia Estate, you definitely need to consider it. A good, honest car.

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