First drive: Skoda Octavia Scout
What is it?
Think of it as an Octavia Estate that's been given a khaki shirt, a coloured scarf, a woggle and a campaign hat. Sorry, we'll stop the Scout references now, but this is what happens when Skoda pumps up its mid-sized load-lugger so that it can go off-road. And, trust us, it really can be used in far more extreme situations than mounting the kerb at Sainsbury's. The regular Octavia Estate has been jacked up by 31mm, a newer type of four-wheel-drive has been fitted as has a butch bodykit to give a rough-and-tumble look. Scouts can also pull up to two-tonnes - perfect for country types with horse boxes to move about.
What's under the bonnet?
Just two engines: A 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel with a six-speed manual 'box or a more powerful version with 182bhp. While the former does around 55mpg and emits 129g/km of CO2, it's the latter that's the more important news. Thanks to its 182bhp, it's the most powerful Scout ever (should that matter to you) and comes with the tried-and-tested six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic gearbox. Combined fuel consumption is the same as the lower output diesel, while CO2 emissions are 134g/km. More importantly though, it'll get from 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds thanks to a hefty 380Nm of torque. Both engines come with sophisticated 'Haldex-5' four-wheel-drive, an electronic differential lock, stop/start and brake energy recovery systems.
What's the spec like?
There's just one trim level and, justifying its position towards the top of the Octavia range, it's pretty well equipped. For your £25,315 (£27,990 for the 182bhp version), you get black or brown leather and Alcantara upholstery, a leather gearknob and a multi-function steering wheel, black or brown/black dashboard and a smattering of Scout badges in various places. That bodykit isn't for show either as the Scout gets a 'rough-road' package as well. Plastic panels fitted underneath protect the car over rough ground meaning the Scout – with its 171mm of ground clearance – really can do a bit of light to middling off-road work.
There are a few. Volvo's XC70 is very similar and immediately spings to mind as does the Audi A4 Allroad. Both are distinctly middle class and can tackle the rough stuff with ease while keeping their occupants supremely comfortable thanks to opulent interiors. But both come with hefty price tags – you need to look at the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack for a more comparable offering but even that is a few grand more. For the money, the Scout is rather on its own in the off-roading estate market with the only similarly-priced competition being small SUVs like the Subaru Forrester and Skoda's very own Yeti.
What's it like to drive?
It would be easy to dismiss this Scout as just an Octavia in drag, but it isn't. That extra 31mm of ride-height really does make a difference to way the Scout drives compared with any other Octavia estate. It never wallows or leans excessively in corners (not something that can be said for the Volvo XC70) but you are constantly aware of the higher centre of gravity. But that extra height really comes into its own off-road. Even Skoda's UK boss who hitched a lift when we took the car on a special off-road course said it was far too extreme for the what the typical Scout customer (nurses, Ambulance Service, well-off farmers, horsey people for example) would be doing, but the car handled it with aplomb thanks to decent approach and departure angles – so the body didn't scrap on inclines and descents – and the electronic differential lock – a clever system which detects if one wheel is slipping and then sends the power to the opposite wheel, giving traction. Apart from this the driving experience is typical Octavia – nothing too much to say, and that's not a bad thing.
The AOL Cars verdict
This particular car follows the path trodden by a number of other Skoda Scouts, but it's this car that is the most accomplished. Skoda believes it'll sell around 2,000 cars in the UK – not mega numbers but it certainly doesn't make the Scout insignificant. If you need to go off-road and have around £25k-£28k to spend, you'd be hard-pressed to find something as good. If you don't need full off-road capability, but want the reassurance of four-wheel-drive, Skoda's Octavia Estate 4x4, priced from £21,965, is more than up to the job.
Model: Skoda Octavia Scout 2.0 TDI CR 184PS 4x4 DSG DPF
Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged diesel
Power: 182bhp, 380Nm
Max speed: 136mph
0-60mph: 7.6 seconds
Emissions: 134g/km CO2