Driven - Skoda Octavia Scout

For reasons I don't really understand - and I've tried - many Australians are dedicated buyers of Subaru AWD wagons. There's nothing especially wrong with these cars, but they're like a uniform in some rural areas, such as the Southern Highlands in NSW.

Now there's a valid alternative - Skoda's useful Octavia Scout. While the Skoda name is slowly gaining acceptance in Australia and Skoda products are seen as unusual, in fact the Scout is far less off-beat a design than the much loved Subarus. It's a straightforward design mechanically, using parent company Volkswagen's 2-litre turbo-diesel engine and 4-wheel drive with Haldex clutch.

Perhaps the most limiting aspect for sales is that the Scout is only available as a 6-speed manual at present. Whilst the gearbox works perfectly well, many buyers in this car's category will prefer automatic.

Based on the front wheel drive Octavia wagon, the Scout gains more than just taller suspension and four-wheel-grip. There's underbody protection, wheelarch and sill extensions and 17-inch alloy wheels. Inside a few mainly decorative items spell out that it's a Scout and there are trim differences over its sibling.

The Scout has a decent luggage area, expandable of course, and comes with roof rails standard. There's a storage tray under the passenger seat and a useful cargo net in the boot. Usefully, the front console box and the glovebox are both cooled. Six airbags are fitted. Power windows, cruise control, rain sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirror, heated front seats, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and an 8-speaker 6-disc CD and MP3 player are part of the picture of a pretty comprehensively equipped car.

Octavias benefited from a facelift about a year ago and they remain a smart looking if inoffensive design.

Whilst there are not many car-based 4WDs on offer in Australia - mostly SUVs, the $36,490 Scout compares favourably with its main opposition on specifications and price. Subaru's Forester costs about $5000 more for an equivalent spec car (though they do offer cheaper versions) and the larger Subarus are more pricey of course. Peugeot's upcoming 3008 is expected to start just a little higher than the price of the Scout. And there's not much more like it, without going to taller SUVs.

The Scout is solidly put together, well equipped and a good drive - surely it should see decent sales - if only people can come to grips with the Skoda name.

Engine type: 1968cc 4-cylinder turbo-diesel
Power: 103kW
Torque: 320Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Price: $39,490 at time of review
Text & photos - Paul Blank (copyright)