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Skoda Slavia test drive review

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Mar 09, 2022

Does this sedan have what it takes to wean buyers away from the SUV? 

Skoda’s India portfolio has witnessed big additions during the last few months. The India 2.0 project vehicles starting with the Kushaq have the potential to completely rewrite the brand’s prospects and bring it ever closer to becoming a mass-market brand with a good market share. Compact SUV Kushaq, the first vehicle built on the MQB-AO-IN platform, was one of last year’s most awaited cars. As promised, more vehicles are in the pipeline sharing that India-centric platform. But after the Kushaq, it is the Slavia sedan that will now share the spotlight at Skoda showrooms. 

The company is gung-ho about Slavia’s prospects and genuinely believes that this car has the potential to bring the excitement back into the sedan segment. Interest in the sedan body style has been waning amongst buyers, who have been starstruck by the SUV; both because it is more practical in Indian conditions and possibly because the body style is still new and novel. This tectonic shift has been the reason why so many sedans in the midsize and the executive segment have fallen by the wayside, or loosing numbers to the SUV. Executive segment sedans Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are gone, and the volumes in the midsize segment is also much lower than during the heydays of the sedan. As of now, sales of vehicles that fit the SUV body style even outnumber small car volumes. But, what if a sedan can offer all the practical benefits of an SUV and at the same time also offer the engagement and joy of a driver’s sedan? The Slavia aims to deliver that kind of package. Can it lure buyers away from SUVs?

Design

The Slavia’s design is genuine, a term I chose for the authenticity of its sedan profile, while it manages to marry both Skoda’s classic elements and its more recent, more ‘local’ design language, which we saw in the Kushaq. The Slavia sports the brand’s profile with the tapering nose, steeply raked A-pillar, sweptback roofline and the stubby, notchback style rear. It sports a very aerodynamic profile, though from the side it is evident r that the entire car has a raised stance and that it must have a healthy ground clearance (179mm). The wheel wells don’t look empty despite sporting relatively compact 16-inch rims. But, the stance still looks a bit too raised, though the 205/ 55 R16 Goodyear tyres do help fill out the wheel wells. 

In pictures, the Slavia looks fairly compact, but when I stand next to it, I realise that it is almost as big as an executive sedan. It is bigger than the first-gen Octavia. Much about its design had been written about right after the Slavia was unveiled in November last year. But two big picture points that I would make is that the Slavia is big for a midsize sedan without seeming ungainly, and manages to look special without over-trying. The large headlamps with the now-familiar LED light signature, the reinterpreted butterfly grille with its chunky chrome frame and the sporty front fender construction give it Octavia vibes, albeit not as chiselled and lowered a stance. The contour lines running down the centre of the bonnet slab, the parallel, straight character lines and waistline ridge bring more of that Skoda design language to the Slavia. At the rear, the split tail-lamps feature a LED light configuration that fits the brand language; and the 3D cutaway style is similar to other Skoda models. The chrome appliqué on the rear fender visually emphasises the Slavia’s width. Skoda badging in bold chrome on the boot lid is another trademark that has been carried forward into the Slavia.

The Slavia is expected to take on competitors on all four major metrics - size, space, performance and value-for-money. Its primary competitors in the sedan segment are the Honda City and the Hyundai Verna; but it must fight the entire price segment from ₹10-18 lakhs. Its generous exterior dimensions certainly deliver on the promise of size and space. 

Cabin

The Slavia’s interior is simple and uncluttered, but not spartan. The dashboard features a three-layer construction with as many different textured materials occupying the spaces. The pictures you see here are of the top trim variant, so some elements would be different in the lower-priced variants. The circular aircon vents, the two-spoke steering wheel (a more recent Skoda trademark), the centre console with its neat array of controls arranged on either side of the gearstick are some of the cabin’s highlights. The matt-gold sash like trim insert dividing the fascia of the dash looked good and not garish. The 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system and the thin auto climate control screen (Ambition and Style trims) on the centre stack offer access to most features in the cabin. The dashboard has a deity spot at the top and right behind the infotainment screen. Despite the slightly improved functionality in the Slavia, my crib about touchscreens for features like aircon controls is that they are less user-friendly than physical knobs. 

The cabin’s fit and finish are good considering the average build quality amongst competing for Indian cars. But, considered independently, I felt that plastic quality could have been better in places, and the quality of the faux leather upholstery for the ventilated seats in my test mule. Also, LED back-lighting for the button that activates the cooled-seats light up in orange (instead of blue), but the added comfort on a sunny day is worth mentioning. Headroom, legroom and shoulder-room would be amongst the best in the mid-size sedan segment. The Slavia’s boot offers 521-litres of luggage space; it can be increased by folding down the rear seats. The infotainment system offers the usual suite of connectivity options. The top-trim variants get 8-speaker music system that also features a sub-woofer that has been smartly tucked under the spare wheel in the boot. The Slavia also gets many connected car features that can be used via the MySkoda Connect App. There was quite a selection of active and passive safety features in the Slavia, including ESC, six airbags and hill hold control; but it was good to note that the rear middle seat also gets a 3-point seatbelt. 

Performance

The Slavia gets the same two TSI (direct injection) petrol engines that are being offered with the Kushaq. The turbocharged, 3-cylinder one-litre unit is being offered with a 6-speed manual and a torque converter automatic. The 1.5 TSI EVO petrol engine gets a 6-speed manual and VW’s 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Both the engines are excellent choices for the India 2.0 project vehicles. Both sports technology enables them to deliver displacement-defying performance and relatively decent fuel efficiency.  The 1.0 TSI turbo engine delivers 115PS of peak power and 175Nm of peak torque. This hardly behaves like a 3-cylinder unit. As expected there is Turbo lag at low rpms. But power delivery smoothens out and is very linear once the engine nears the 2,000rpm level. Get the engine up to a boil and one can expect a sprightly performer, without any gruff noises coming off the bonnet. 

The 1.5 TSI EVO engine delivers 150PS of peak power and peak torque of 250Nm. Those numbers are impressive themselves for a sedan in this segment. But it is even better when experienced on the road. There is certainly a bit of lag from the variable vane turbocharger and the taller first three gears have been chosen for nudging that fuel efficiency number higher is my guess. However, once the rpm-needle crosses the 2,000 mark, the 1.5 TSI Slavia simply gallops. Currently no car is quicker than the Slavia 1.5 in the segment. With tech features like Dual VVT, a start-stop system and cylinder-deactivation (1.5TSI), the Skoda claims that the Slavia’s rated average fuel efficiency is over 18.5kmpl for the 1.5TSI MT and AT. The rated mileage for the 1.0TSI is and average of 19kmpl for the MT and AT. 

The manual gearbox offers clean, smooth shifts. A short throw stick and light clutch combination is perfect for  agile and relaxed driving styles. The DSG auto is predictably quick in choosing the right gear and shifts are imperceptible. Steering mounted paddles allow manual gear selection, if you are in the mood for a more engaging driving experience. 

The ride quality in the Slavia is a big highlight. One of the feedback even from the camouflaged prototype that I drove last year, the suspension setting in the Slavia gives it a really good balance between a pliant and firm ride. Speed-breakers, broken tarmac, rumble strips and clean black top roads are all dealt with ease. Even at the rear seat the ride quality is very good. There are no unsettling rattles, bobbing or slackening of control while going over some really bad roads. It still has a mild body roll, felt only when the Slavia is thrown into corners. 

Bottom Line

Skoda expects more than 4 out of every 5 Slavias sold to be the one-litre turbo engine variants. It will be only the small group of uncompromising, performance focused buyers that will choose the 1.5-litre Style variant. But, the one-litre TSI manual and auto variants are no pushovers. While this engine doesn’t deliver the 1.5 TSI’s pace and breadth of performance, there is enough engagement that you can wring out of it. Like in the Kushaq, It will still surprise you with its level of refinement despite being a 3-cylinder. 

Skodas are known for their focus on performance and dynamics. The Slavia finds its position in that list with its driver-focused performance. The 1.5TSI variants are being offered only in one loaded ‘Style’ top trim each for the manual and DSG automatic. And the price differential between these variants and their 1.0TSI counterparts is quite significant. Buyers are going to be a small group of enthusiasts. The 1.0TSI will, on the other hand, be much more accessible and give the buyer in the sedan segment some much needed excitement. Prices range from ₹10.7 lakh to ₹15.4 lakh for the 1.0TSI and from ₹16.2 lakh to ₹17.8 lakh for the 1.5TSI. 

Published on March 08, 2022

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