Driving around Goa on a Sunday meant very little or no traffic, and we had the roads entirely to ourselves. I drove past old and stately mansions and via treelined roads, some of which were very narrow.
The Slavia siblings are part of Skoda’s product offensive for this year, and I was a part of a group of journalists putting the car through its paces in a state which retains a Portuguese flavour, at least in the villages.
The Slavia’s DNA is Czech and its understated design language is quite stately, giving this sedan an upmarket look — one that would age well by the virtue of its clean and simple lines, and modern elements like the LED lamps, 16-inch alloys, as well as subtle branding on the boot.The cab-forward stance with the rising beltline and a chrome embellishment along the base of the windows, gives the Slavia an athletic and geared-up look even when it is standing still.
The interior have a dual-tone colour scheme with the black-and-beige upholstery making the cabin look and feel airy. There’s a layered design to the dashboard that sees use of different materials, including a piano-black panel above the glove box, and a long,bronze horizontal slat, adding a touch of finesse.
The Slavia gets a 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, complemented by an eight-speaker audio unit that gets a spare-wheel-mounted subwoofer in the boot. The new-age, two-spoke Skoda steering wheel is pleasing to the eye, and so is the 8-inch digital instrument cluster with its large and legible fonts that aid information consumption while on the go.
While the knurled, steering wheel-mounted scrollers reek quality, that of some of the injection-moulded parts like those around the lower half of dashboard and centre console, falls below the levels of expectations from a Skoda’s cabin.
However, these design-led quality decisions could be estimated to have been consciously taken to introduce the Slavia, which is based on Volkswagen’s MQB-A0-IN platform, at a highly competitive price tag, ranging from Rs 10.69 lakh to Rs 17.79 lakh, ex-showroom, India, after achieving upwards of 95 percent gross localisation levels.
The seats are well contoured and there’s an immediate sense of being at home when inside the Slavia’s cabin. The driver ergonomics are good, and the seats offer ventilation function as well, an extremely critical feature, more important than the Slavia’s single-pane sunroof, considering India’s tropical climate.
Driving the 1.0 TSI
This correspondent first got behind the wheel of the 1.0-litre TSI engine that is coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox. The combination produces 115hp and 178Nm of peak torque, driving the front wheels. Finding a relaxed driving position is a breeze in the Slavia and when on the move, the precise feedback from the steering wheel, well-calibrated brakes, as well as comfortable suspension are quite reassuring.
Despite being a three-cylinder unit, the 1.0 TSI is one of the strongest attributes of this sedan, giving it a unique character. The engine idles without sending much vibrations into the cabin, and it starts off from standstill in a clean manner. The power, however, builds up in a strong fashion after the turbocharger comes into action at 1,800rpm and there’s a rush of performance well beyond 6,000rpm. This makes the Slavia a driving delight.
After experiencing the burst of power on the narrow-straight national highway connecting Mumbai and Goa, I took the car a bit uphill to Loutolim where we had a pitstop for lunch — at a period mansion — and to swap cars.
The car’s dynamic capabilities worked in total harmony, with the Slavia’s handling, high-speed cornering and suspension manners being the key highlights. Although it has notable body roll emerging out of a comfort-oriented suspension, there is a perceptible Europeanness to the Slavia’s demeanour. The drive was complemented well by the sound system that offers ample bass and crisp sound even at high volume.
Experiencing the 1.5 TSI
At the lunch-cum-interview session, Zac Hollis, brand director, Skoda Auto India, expressed his confidence that the Slavia will “revitalise the midsize sedan segment".According to Hollis, Skoda Auto India is targetingup to 3,000 units per month with a similar number from the Kushaq midsize SUV as well, both born from the VW MQB-A0-IN platform. The company which clocked sales of 23,858 units in 2021, wants to sell three times more to 71,000 units in the current calendar.
The interview was followed by an experience behind the wheel of the more powerful 150hp, 1.5-litre, four-cylinder TSI engine that comes as a disintegrated unit from Europe and is locally assembled in India.The engine comes paired to either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission and it was the latter that was on offer in the ‘Crystal Blue’ car assigned to this writer..
Though more powerful, the 1.5 TSI doesn’t immediately feel lighter on its feet. There is, in fact, the added weight of the engine as well as gearbox, which makes performance sluggish at low rpms. There is excessive turbo lag managed well by the smooth-operating DSG, and it is only after 3,000rpm that the Slavia surges forward with a relentless thrust. There is a notable difference in the mid- and high-end pull between the two engines with the 1.5-litre unit, clearly emerging the stronger performer at higher engine revolutions.
However, the weight doesn’t help matters much as the braking performance feels par for the course in this trim of the Slavia. In comparison with the 1.0 TSI manual, the 1.5 TSI with the DSG offers blitzkrieg performance in a straight line, but real-world tractability of this engine is hampered due to the low-end turbo lag. The DSG also comes with paddle shifters that uplift the driving experience of the Slavia. It would therefore be best suited for enthusiasts, who might also want to explore the Slavia’s potential on a race track, and justify the hefty Rs 200,000 premium over the similar-spec 1.0-litre variants.
The Skoda Slavia is entering the SUV-dominated segment which has registered notable growth. UV sales crossed the one-million unit milestone in FY2021, up 12 percent year-on-year.More importantly, the share of UVs in the overall PV sales has increased to 32 percent in March 2020, as against 14 percent in March 2016, when sedans had a 21 percent market share. The share of sedans have now slipped to 9 percent in four years.
The Kia Seltos, Hyundai Creta, MG Hector and even the Mahindra XUV700 are products that are giving a tough fight to the Honda City, Hyundai Verna and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, which collectively sold 57,971 units in FY2021, when the Hyundai Creta alone clocked 120,035 in the same fiscal. While Skoda is optimistic that its new offering will appeal to customers who want to relish the superior driving dynamics of a sedan over an SUV, it will have its task cut out with tall competition staying put in the form of legendary brands like the Honda City.
The feature was first published in Autocar Professional's 15 March, 2022 issue.