Scala on the right track
Skoda's new hatchback offers a lot for those who don't want to go down the SUV route, finds Campbell Spray
In my teens, I remember a lot of men with the title Major, Commander, or Wing Co calling to our hotel to see my father. Often they would be driving Rovers or Jaguars and in addition to their sheepskin car coats they'd have leather driving gloves - often with a crocheted string-back.
These old officers were a dying breed, although I tended to spot their like when I moved here 40 years ago. They tended to congregate on Lansdowne Road and were often also seen swigging from their monogrammed hip flasks.
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I was reminded of this when a press release came from Dents, a British company dating back to 1777, which has been making motoring gloves since 1912 and made all the early racing ones for the likes of John Surtees and Jack Brabham.
Obviously there is still a market for such gloves - the new Hazelmere ones look good, cost €75 and are in hairsheep leather - but personally I haven't worn them for years. That is since leather-covered steering wheels became the norm, cars got heaters, air conditioning and you no longer had to put your hand out of the window to show that you were turning left, right or slowing down. However, gloves were a boon in winter when an iced windscreen needed scraping.
They also would have been useful last weekend when I had to change a punctured rear wheel on the Skoda Scala I was testing.
It was the only really bad note of a week in the Czech company's impressive new family hatchback which is one of the roomiest in its class and starts at a good €23,650, although the test model in Style trim with a punchy 1.0TSI 115bhp engine was €25,650.
It was dressed in a Moon White Metallic paint (an extra €617) and had a nice spoiler at the back to give a classy look that reminded me of some good-looking Volvos.
Skoda says that the Scala name is derived from the Latin for steps and that the car is a "spiritual successor of the Rapid".
Not a good idea; the Rapid was everything but and I thought it was a disaster. However, luckily the company goes on to contradict itself by saying that the vehicles "share very little in common" (phew) with the Scala "showcasing some of the most advanced technologies in the VW group".
It is also the first car to receive the latest infotainment system; the Bolero 8" screen on the test car was especially impressive.
Basically the Scala - which sits between the Fabia, which I don't like and the Octavia, which I do - is a Volkswagen Golf with more room, luggage space and dare I say it, style. It drives well and has enough classy touches like "copper brushed" decorative inserts to make you feel pretty special while staying at a reasonable price. However, you will notice there are also lots of other bits taken from the general VW parts bin. I didn't find the front seats very supportive or comfortable and while the rear ones were roomy enough for two six-footers, they were low and gloomy.
At the moment the DSG automatic box is only available over here in a 1.6 TDi 115hp diesel and a 1.5TSi 150hp petrol model and takes the price up to €30k.
This is unfortunate as manuals are fast on the way out and it is estimated that in five years' time, 80pc of all new cars will be automatic.
Like driving gloves, learning to change up and down will be only for the nostalgic. The spread of hybrids, EVs and the rush of premium sectors away from manual will only exacerbate the move. Remember, that when you are reselling, a manual will push the odds against you in a few years.
Talking of reselling, Skoda has very a good record in this field and the Octavia has just been judged by the DoneDeal Motor Industry Review to be the best for holding the strongest residual value in the Irish car market for the third consecutive year.
No wonder so many taxi drivers have them.
When I first drove the much-missed Skoda Yeti, the marketing manager presented me with an enormous cuddly bear-like toy which soon made its way to a charity shop.
As I picked up the Scala, I half expected the same man to jump out of the boot and sing an aria about how the Karoq, the Yeti's successor, is such a money-maker for the company. I might miss it, Skoda's accountants don't.
I reckon they could have the same success with the Scala and it will quickly make the Rapid a distant memory.
The driving dynamics are nothing to write volumes about; progress on motorways is very good, rough roads not so much.
But everything is very passable, not Focus-like but the Scala holds its own in the sector.
If you don't push it too hard, economy is good and the annual tax is €200.
There is a lot of safety equipment and other toys on board so you don't have to waste money on the expensive options. So, all in all, the Scala's size, price, reliability and nice design touches could make it a good choice for those who still prefer a well-made family hatchback over the excesses of an SUV.
The recent debate about the increase in road deaths saw a concentration on both seat belt wearing and mobile phone use.
I can't understand why after all this time people don't automatically buckle up. It is plain stupid.
As for the phones, this is an addiction that has to be tackled. If teenage boys are already spending six hours a day glued to their phones, what hope is there when they start driving?
But teenagers aren't the only ones. I was standing at Doyle's Corner in Phibsborough when a car whizzed through the red light just as people started to cross.
I could see the middle-aged woman driver being totally distracted by watching something on her phone. I hope it was a preview of her court sentence.
The following day at the same place, two louts with two mini-louts on board sped down the footpath on fairly powerful electric scooters. Everybody had to give way for them.
Scooters have a part to play in mobility solutions but only when they are regulated, have age and safety restrictions and are not used on pavements.