Tuesday 26 September 2017

I've scouted ahead... and this has hidden depths

SKODA OCTAVIA SCOUT RATING 80/100
SKODA OCTAVIA SCOUT RATING 80/100

This is something of a well-kept secret. It is a number of things. First, it is a Skoda Octavia estate (they call it Combi). Then it has four-wheel drive. And then it sits a good deal higher than an ordinary car, so you can go out into fields and up boreens and things and not scratch or damage the undercarriage (within reasonable bounds of course).

It is so unfussy and straightforward, you really have to look beyond what sits opposite you on four wheels. It certainly does not have the glitz and glamorous grooves of so many so-called 'crossovers' and SUVs and estates.

Now I have a bad record of taking 4x4s into fields. More times than I care to remember, I've had to get some 'help' to tow me out. So I steered clear.

But I did drive it over whakity roads with potholes as deep as Angela Merkel's pockets. And I found that to be the real attraction of this combination. It is better on the road than many a bigger and more mainstream SUV, yet looks, for all intents and purposes, like an estate.

A bland enough estate, by the way. I would say one of the least visually attractive I've had the pleasure of driving for some time. If ever there was a prize for hiding talents under a bushel, then I suggest this is a serious contender.

Yet the technology is beautifully blended in the sense it is just there, unobtrusive but present. I won't say it was a wonderful drive on ordinary roads or even on the motorways. It was a typically modern Skoda: robust, assured but not necessarily that madly engaging.

Yet it came into its own over surfaces and roads like those you come across down through the Wicklow valleys or on an early afternoon skate over the Woodfield Bog road down in Offaly.

There's a big, big cabin in this and loads of room at the back for passengers or with the rear seats down or split.

I can see this being more than useful on a farm, in a small business or for those who need to tow a boat or trailer. Certainly the engine is well capable of that sort of work, considering its ability to pull effortlessly from low revs in middle and high gears.

Initially I baulked a bit at the price, to be honest, but that is because I don't want to pay €30,000-plus for an Octavia estate.

However, as I began considering the layers of technology, increased height and all that, it began to measure up significantly against the potential opposition. Indeed, it began to look a lot better on price the more I worked through it.

It's a really decent effort. Scout's honour.

ecunningham@independent.ie

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