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Can Slavia help the sedan make a comeback?

S Muralidhar | Updated on October 29, 2021

Skoda’s second from its India 2.0 project is a mid-size sedan. After testing the covered prototype in Pune last week, we can say that it looks and feels capable of reviving this segment

In a market that has come to be dominated by sports utility vehicles (SUVs), the sedan body style has seen tremendous pressure over the last decade. Many brands have discontinued production or import of some of the most popular sedans of the recent past. And this culling has been across size and price segments. The latest to go was the Toyota Yaris. The only ones surviving have been from the sub-compact sedan category; and even there the numbers are skewed towards demand from fleet operators.

So, what gives Skoda Auto India the confidence to line-up a sedan as its next offering. The recently christened Slavia will be the next model to roll out of Skoda’s facility. The company calls it a notchback, but it certainly fits the classic profile of a midsize C segment sedan. Skoda has been known for its sedans starting from the Octavia with which it debuted its innings in India two decades ago. Later the Superb and the Octavia RS have helped cement the premium, sporty sedan roots of the brand. Now, Skoda feels it may be the right time to bring back the mojo in the sedan segment.

Build

The new Skoda Slavia will be built on the same MQB-AO-IN platform that the Kushaq was also based on. The versatile, fully-scalable, light and rigid platform will enable Skoda to focus on safety, class-leading ride and handling, and in keeping a tight rein on costs, say company officials. The Slavia will be bigger than the first generation Octavia (a D-segment sedan); a stat that really sets the tone for what to expect from the new model. A lot of information about the Slavia is embargoed till November 18 this year when Skoda is set to host a virtual global premiere. Some of the information and opinion that I am sharing here is based on what has been allowed by Skoda at the camouflaged prototype test drive event conducted in Pune recently. The actual dimensions of the Slavia are - wheelbase: 2,651mm, length: 4,541mm, width: 1,752mm and height: 1,487mm. It will compete with the likes of the Honda City, the Hyundai Verna and the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz. The Slavia that I test drove was heavily camouflaged with stickering that bore a design that was one of the award-winning submissions in a contest conducted by Skoda. The orange coloured kaleidoscopic design of the skin you see in these pictures still shows off the final profile of the Slavia. The sedan will borrow design lines from the Kushaq, including a reinterpreted version of the butterfly grille that is a Skoda signature.

A lot of info about the design, cabin and build is still confidential. but what I can tell you is that the cabin gets a digital cockpit that offers multiple real-time drive related information. And there is a generous amount of space in the cabin and boot.

Focus on safety

According to Skoda officials, the Slavia has not just been tested for generic crash tests like the Indian homologation cycle and GNCAP, but has also been designed and tested for more stringent crash scenarios that are based on internal Volkswagen standards. About 67 per cent of the Slavia’s structure is made from high tensile strength steel and about 14 per cent from hot formed steel. Both the structure integrity and side airbags performance is said to have been designed and tested to meet a side pole crash scenario which is claimed to be higher than GNCAP standards. Slavia’s curtain airbag design has also been conceived to offer equal head impact protection to the front and rear occupants. While Skoda’s embargo stops me from elaborating on much of the Slavia’s design, I can add here that priority has been given for pedestrian safety also. Currently Indian regulatory requirements only mandate protection to lower leg and head impact, but the Slavia is designed to reduce upper leg injuries also. The Slavia has also undergone extensive open air and extreme weather testing which is said to have been conducted over the last two years in both Arizona in the US and in Aurangabad, India. The vehicle has been tested over 100,000 kms for dust, water ingress and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).

Powertrains

The Skoda Slavia will be offered with the same two TSI petrol engines that the Kushaq is also being offered with. The MQ200 one-litre, turbocharged, 3-cylinder petrol engine and the MQ281 four-cylinder, TSI 1.5-litre petrol engine are offered in the same state of tune as the Kushaq, but will sport a different set of gear ratios, even though they are offered with the same three gearbox options. The 6-speed manual transmission is offered as standard. And while the 1.0-litre can be specified with the AQ250 6-speed automatic gearbox, the 1.5-litre can be had with the 7-speed DSG - dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The 1.0-litre TSI delivers 115PS of peak power and the 1.5-litre delivers the same 150PS of peak power as in the Kushaq.

The 1.5-litre with the DSG transmission will also get steering mounted paddles for manual gear selection. Both the engines are peppy and refined, and though their output numbers may seem just about enough for a mid-size sedan, they should deliver excellent driveability for the Slavia. I am particularly looking forward to driving the final production version of the manual gearbox variant of the 1.0-litre Slavia. That is one great sounding 3-cylinder even at high revs.

Ride and handling

The highlight of the camouflaged prototype I drove was its ride and handling. The suspension tuning delivers a firm, yet pliant ride like in the Kushaq. Putting it through some really bad patches at speed still doesn’t shake things up in the cabin. There is a sense of solidity that the ride quality brings to the driving experience. I test drove the proto in Pune city, some broken tarmac in the outskirts and on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. I was told by Skoda officials that the suspension settings are yet to be fine tuned. Trim and variant strategy details are also awaited.

Bottomline

The Skoda Slavia is an all new sedan that is being launched after a long gap. Skoda officials say that the company is keen on setting new benchmarks in the sedan segment to bring the lure back to this body style. They expect the AO segment to grow by 138 per cent and that Slavia will deliver on all the customer expectations in this segment.

A sedan does luxury and comfort better than a SUV can. And I personally feel that there is a greater sense of ownership in a sedan than a SUV. If the Slavia can deliver the ground clearance and the driveability of a SUV for the average car buyer who is never going to attempt off-roading levels of engagement, then the sedan could easily be the one to choose.

Ultimately, the customer is king and the hope is that the pendulum of preference will swing back in favour of sedans in the years to come. The Slavia sure looks and feels well-equipped to take advantage of the re-emergence of the sedan. Expect prices to range from ₹10- 17 lakh.

Published on October 29, 2021

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