When Škoda introduced the Rapid in 2011, it was seen as a bit of a Goldilocks model in the range. If the Fabia was too small and the Octavia was too big, the Rapid would be just right. In theory.
But in Britain not even Goldilocks liked the Rapid much. It suffered from build quality problems, felt cheap inside and not many people bought it. It is soldiering on in Russia and China, but here it has been replaced by the new Scala.
This is a good-looking car, even if it does look a lot like many other small hatchbacks, and from the rear it could easily pass for an Audi.
Engines range from a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol with 95 or 115PS (94 or 113bhp) to a four-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol with 150PS (148bhp) and a 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel with 115PS (113bhp).
After a spirited dash through the Croatian mountains in a 115PS triple with a six-speed manual ‘box during the car’s international launch, swapping to the more powerful petrol engine felt like a bit of a let-down, despite its extra grunt. This is a gruffer motor which lacks the triple’s turbine-like smoothness. A lack of involvement probably wasn’t helped by its seven-speed DSG twin clutch gearbox; it didn’t do anything badly, it just didn’t surprise and delight the way the 1.0-litre version did.
The most surprising, and seemingly the pick of the bunch, then, is the 115PS petrol version, which combines levels of punch and refinement which would have seemed unimaginable from such a tiny engine a few years ago.
The people at Škoda are terribly excited about the word ŠKODA appearing in capitals on the Scala’s rump, instead of the brand’s usual “chicken car” logo, as my kids used to call it. Most people won’t notice.
The Scala’s cabin has Škoda’s usual high-quality soft-touch materials – so much better than the flimsiness of the Rapid – and the car feels solid and well put together.
There is a vast array of safety equipment, too. Front assist with pedestrian monitoring and lane assist are both standard, and an improved side assist system, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, park assist, multi-collision brake and up to nine airbags are all available with the various trim levels.
The windscreen, front seats and steering wheel can all be heated, and there’s ambient lighting for a touch of luxury. It’s roomy, too, with plenty of leg and head room in the front and rear, and a boot which expands from 467 to 1,410 litres with the rear seats folded.
We did try the diesel version, which was fine – torquey and fairly refined – but it probably won’t sell in large numbers, despite Škoda’s assertion that it could be up to 10 per cent of sales. Yeah, right.
There are lots of things to like about the Scala. With an entry level price of £16,595 it undercuts many of its rivals in the competitive Focus/Golf sector of the market. It is practical and fun to drive, with good steering and ride, a fine manual gearbox, surprising levels of refinement with the one-litre engine, and a decent helping of style. And I never did like that chicken logo.
Stat attack: Škoda Scala 1.0 TSI 115PS SE
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol