Skoda Slavia prototype review, test drive


Skoda's larger and more substantial made-in-India Slavia will take on the Honda City and Hyundai Verna when it is launched early next year. We drive a bunch of early test cars to get a first impression.

What is the Skoda Slavia?

The Skoda Slavia is the second model from the India 2.0 plan of the manufacturer and built on the Volkswagen group’s MQB A0-IN underpinnings. Made in India  like its sister car, the Kushaq  in an effort to give it a more affordable price tag, the Slavia is fundamentally larger, more spacious and is likely to be substantially better equipped than the Rapid, a car it will eventually replace.

The Slavia is larger than even the first-gen Octavia, although it isn't as long as the Honda City. It, however, will be the widest car in its class and will come built on the longest wheelbase, so expect plenty of space and comfort on the inside. This, Skoda says, will give it the ability to take on entrenched competition like the Honda City, Hyundai Verna and the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz.In line with the substantially larger size, Skoda has also decided to go with an all new name; Slavia. The name means glory in Czech and was the brand name used from 1895 to 1925 on cycles and motorcycles sold by the company. While the Slavia nameplate will be used in India first, what’s interesting is that it is also likely to be carried over into other markets.

What will also help the Slavia gain traction is that Skoda has a rich heritage in India when it comes to sedans. The Czech company started its journey here with the first generation Octavia, and over the years, has sold every successive generation here. This is also true of the larger and more luxurious Skoda Superb  which, for the last two generations, has simply dominated its class. Then there’s the Rapid that has, all things considered, enjoyed a fair run too. So yeah, Skoda really knows how to do sedans, and do them well.

Skoda Slavia: exterior and platform details

We got our first look at what the Slavia would look like when Skoda released the sketch of a camouflaged car. What’s clear from that is that the Slavia carries Skoda’s new and wider flush mounted grille and triangular headlights. Extrapolate these details on the profile of the orange camouflaged cars we’re driving, and you are likely to get a fair idea of what the car will look like - a baby Octavia. Interestingly, the orange camouflage you see here is created by Indian artist Shreyas Karambelkar and was selected from over 200 submissions.

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you more about the looks, despite having seen pictures of what the final car looks like, as the details are under embargo. What we can tell you is that under the orange camouflage sits the Volkswagen Group’s MQB A0-IN platform. While A-zero designates the size and IN India, what the nomenclature doesn’t tell you is that this platform forms the mainstay of the VW group. Having to adhere to global standards and regulations makes it very highly specified and expensive. So what Skoda has done in India is localised this fundamentally expensive platform to help reduce costs, with a target to eventually reach an impressive 95 percent localisation. The IN platform, however, isn’t identical to the A0 in Europe as Skoda also brought costs down by deleting features not needed for our climatic conditions and regulations.

Skoda also hasn’t (apparently) stinted on safety. The chassis is made up of 14 percent hot formed steel and 67 percent High Strength Steel. The car will come with six airbags and optional curtain airbags. Additionally, it gets a laser welded roof and tailgate, Skoda has gone the extra mile and conducted side pole and rear crash tests. These are not tests that are currently mandated by authorities in India or conducted by GNCAP  the independent body that puts out star ratings for cars after crash testing them. The Slavia has also been designed to improve on pedestrian safety, over and above requirements in India. The bonnet and bumper not only protect against lower leg and head injury, as mandated, this car will also better protect pedestrians against upper leg injuries.

Skoda Slavia: engine details and performance

While the interiors of the car were disguised, the first thing you notice when you step inside the cabin is that it gets a digital instrument panel, with multiple modes. Powering the Slavia are the same set of engines and gearboxes as those on the Kushaq. This, immediately, makes the Slavia the most powerful car in its class. The 1.5 TSI or direct injection turbocharged engine puts out a stonking 150hp, putting it head and shoulders above its rivals. And then there’s the 250Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm  also class leading. The gearing on the six-speed manual, however, is tall, to aid fuel efficiency and emissions, considerably taller than on the Kushaq and the Honda City as well, with third gear taking you all the way up to an indicated 159kph on the speedo. Second gear is extremely tall too and accentuates the turbo lag, especially if you allow revs to drop in city traffic, and you do need to shift to a lower gear at times. Cross 1,800rpm, however, and the lag soon fades. Put your foot down and you are propelled forward by what feels like a long wave of torque, the engine pulling cleanly all the way up to 6,500rpm. Even better is the fact that performance doesn’t really slacken at higher revs, with this engine feeling more free revving and responsive than the one on the Kushaq.

While the clutch is light  lighter than on the Kushaq  and the six speed manual gearbox doesn’t need too much effort, it’s the twin-clutch automatic that actually feels like the more accomplished and better rounded package of the two. The automatic is clearly much nicer in city traffic, as it masks the turbo lag nicely and feels right at home, either cruising in city speeds or executing quick shifts. The paddles take the fun factor up another notch.

Also improved is the 1.0 TSI motor. Idle is smoother than on the Kushaq, with fewer vibrations felt in the cabin and the engine seems better insulated too. What also helps when you drive in traffic is that the power band is wide and this engine loves to rev. Even the gearbox feels lighter and easier to shift than on the Rapid 1.0 TSI, which came powered by the same engine-gearbox combination. The clutch isn’t as slick as on the 1.5 TSI and the action is a bit springy, but the shorter gearing means you don’t need to shift to a lower gear as often as on the 1.5 TSI, which is nice.

While outright performance can’t be compared to that of the bigger engine, the 1.0 TSI has sufficient power, and, when you wind the engine, this can be plenty of fun. It’s just that at higher revs, the engine does get a touch noisy, something you have to ignore. Also improved over the Kushaq is the six-speed automatic gearbox. There’s less creep at low speed when you take your foot off the brake  the car doesn’t want to dart ahead quite as much. Idle speed is still a bit high and shifts are only reasonably quick, but this automatic still does a fair job both in the city and on the highway.

Skoda Slavia: ride and handling

Apart from the performance of the 1.5 TSI, ride quality is another area where the Slavia blows the competition out of the water. While there is a layer of firmness on the Kushaq, the suspension on the Slavia is more supple and absorbent. It is more comfortable over bad roads than any of its rivals, and the Slavia even manages to take larger bumps and potholes in its stride, only getting caught out by large potholes. This is due in part to a number of factors; the ride height is generous for one, it also has a good amount of wheel travel. But what’s even more impressive is that the Skoda rides flat even at higher speeds. In addition, the steering is relatively light and effort free at city and parking speeds. There is a small amount of road noise over coarse surfaces, but insulation on the move in general is excellent. 

With its ride-centric setup, the Slavia isn’t particularly sporty to drive. That said, straight line stability is excellent, but introduce it to a corner, and the steering gives you a good amount of confidence and turn in nicely. It doesn’t quite dart into corners and there is a bit of body roll. But sling along corners in a neat and tidy manner and, without asking too much of the car, the Slavia will deliver a pleasing driving experience. Just wish it were a bit sharper.

Skoda Slavia: what to expect

With its strong engines, comfortable ride, large cabin and big car feel, the Slavia promises a lot. Clearly a massive step over the Rapid, you can expect the Slavia to be well equipped, refined and practical. Skoda is also likely to price it around the Honda City  currently the bestseller in this class  and some buyers will miss not having the choice of a diesel. Still, if what we’ve experienced on these prototypes can be taken as an indicator of just how good the Slavia is, expect it to set new benchmarks in its class and give the Honda City a run for its money. All things considered, Skoda’s baby Octavia has the potential to be the best car it has ever put on sale in India yet, and that could be huge.

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