Skoda NZ’s new general manager Rodney Gillard (above) couldn’t have timed it better: literally days after his appointment he got to wheel out the company’s new hatchback, the five-door Scala.
“It’s going to help us put a footprint into a segment that we have probably struggled a bit,” said Gillard.
He means the small car sector – but Scala’s big-as boot and roomy cabin alone will almost certainly result in it muscling in on the medium-sized market.
“We think Scala is going to punch well above its weight,” Gillard said. “Having a fresh name and a fresh model with fantastic spec and a nice price point is going to give us a real footprint, not only on the retail sector but also in the corporate sector. “
The name’s not the only thing that’s fresh. The Czech company has used Scala to show off its new design language, a mix of sculptured flourishes and signature details front and back that will rub off on future models.
Another first for Skoda are LED lights, standard at both ends. Yet another is the name S K O D A across the tailgate. This is one for the future too.
Skoda has always made do with the badge alone on the rear. It’s a winged arrow inside a circle. The arrow is for speed, the wings for progress, and the circle for continuity. Skoda’s founding company Laurin and Klement began building cars in 1895.
Gillard brings to his new role a wealth of motoring experience too. Been in the game for 36 of his 51 years. A qualified auto electrician, he once worked as a rep for automotive supplier Lucas Industries.
“When I got the job at Lucas I went to their office to meet ‘Peter’, the rep I’d be taking over from,” Gillard said. “Peter was Possum Bourne. He was an auto sparky, too – many people may not know that.
“My two older brothers were involved in rallying and I’d seen Peter in his (Mazda) RX2 in the Maramarua forest.
“We hit it off really well. He took me out to clients for two weeks and then handed the ropes on to me. He taught me that the big smile and the good old-fashioned handshake is how you do business. From day one he gave me the foundation that it’s all about people. “
Gillard left a sales role with Nissan NZ nine years ago to join the Giltrap Group and its Volkswagen division. As Skoda GM he replaces Greg Leet, who has moved down the hall as general manager of Volkswagen’s passenger vehicle division, in turn taking over from Tom Ruddenklau, now with car rental company Jucy.
At Skoda, Leet did much to boost the Czech carmaker’s profile; the alliance he formed with NZ’s world champion sprint cycling team continues under Gillard’s reign.
Scala – from the latin ‘scalaria’ for ‘stairway’ – replaces the Rapid, which has been in NZ for around six years. Rapid was a modest performer for Skoda; its best year was in 2018 when 82 were registered, 50 or so in a fleet deal to the one company.
The front-drive Scala offers much more – for starters, it’s longer, wider, and taller than Rapid and its cabin design is a cut above, with a tablet-style screen (almost mandatory these days) above the centre console, more soft-touch material, more storage (1.5-litre bottles fit in doors), more room for occupants.
There are three petrol-powered spec levels – Ambition ($29,990), Sport ($34,990), and Style ($38,990). Ambition runs a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine delivering 85kW/200Nm; Sport and Style each get a boosted 1.5-litre four-cylinder good for 110kW/250Nm. The gearbox in all three is a seven-speed DSG.
A couple of equipment differences, apart from the graduated ones, stand out: the tablet in Ambition and Sport uses push-buttons; Style has a touchscreen. Also, Style alone gets two electronic chassis settings: standard and sport.
Each model comes with Skoda’s ‘simply clever’ conveniences: folding umbrella in a door slot; ice-scraper in the fuel flap (above) that doubles as a tyre tread depth gauge; cup holder that grasps the bottom of a bottle to allow for one-handed opening; luggage nets and Velcro fasteners in the boot; and, under the bonnet, the cap on the windscreen washer tank has been redesigned to serve as a funnel for easier filling.
A brief drive in Sport and Style (Ambition is still on its way to NZ) shows up an obvious improvement over Rapid, a generational advance you would expect: the relationship between Scala’s chassis – a modular version of the VW Group’s MQB base – and its suspension set-up is more harmonious.
As a result, it provides a softer, more compliant ride – but with added accuracy. Once, it would have been a contradiction in terms. Not now.