The Skoda Octavia Scout 'lifestyle estate' - i.e., the one that looks like it might be a bit handy when venturing off-road - is facelifted along with every other model in the Czech manufacturer's family hatchback/estate range. It's going to be the front-end styling of the car that is the make-or-break decision on buying one for most folk, because the rest of the package is pretty darned impressive in every single department.
In the metal
As with the rest of the Skoda Octavia line-up, the Scout gets the controversial split headlamps look that can appear convoluted. However, it just about works on the Scout, because there's a lot going on at the front anyway, what with that big silver skid plate lower down and the model's bespoke bumpers, which we think help to detract a little from the shock of the lights. Indeed, if Skoda had made this particular face bespoke to the Scout, we might even have been praising this daring design move.
Everything else about the Scout is as you were - it gets its own design of alloy wheels, it has silver roof rails up top and black plastic body cladding down below, while it stands 30mm taller than a normal Octavia and fully 45mm above an RS model. Inside is 'Scout'-branded Alcantara and leather upholstery, and the ability to have various brown-coloured or wood-effect trims scattered about the place to up the adventurous ambience. It also gets all the tech updates and improved infotainment displays, including the superb 9.2-inch top-of-the-line item, that have been drafted in elsewhere in the range to freshen up the Octavia offering.
There is one more change to outline and it's a mechanical one. These new Octavias, Scout included, have a 30mm wider rear track, which promises extra stability and therefore more comfort when cruising.
On tarmac, this is definitely the most cosseting of the Octavia range. It's not like the rest of the models in Skoda's line-up cover ground in an unrefined manner, but there's an extra degree of suppleness in the Scout's longer suspension that benefits the ride quality no end. Vertical body movements are languid yet controlled, road imperfections are completely smothered out of existence at low speeds and there's a general hush and elegance to the way the Scout glides about that's thoroughly endearing. As it's taller and bluffer than a normal Octavia, wind noise at speed is marginally increased, but it's not by enough to worry about.
The pay-off for such comfort is the Scout's less impressive cornering ability, as it leans notably in the bends and feels less willing to be hustled about the place than its siblings. But it's not a total write-off. There's still oodles of grip and generally lovely steering, and the 150hp diesel engine is punchy enough that you don't often feel like you'd need the extra 34hp/40Nm of the more expensive Scout. This high-riding Octavia also resists understeer brilliantly, and with that fluid suspension it does mean the car flows smoothly along a road at pace, even if you're not driving as if you're on the way to A&E in a hurry.
We'd advocate the Scout for its impeccable comfort levels alone, then, but of course you do actually get some genuine off-road capability built in. The Skoda will wobble about through deep, offset compressions with only three or even two of its wheels in contact with the ground, while those amended bumpers front and rear give good approach and departure angles too. We can't imagine the devoted off-road brigade would ever take to the Scout, yet for anyone who does actually venture away from the main road, for work or otherwise, the Octavia should prove a dependable machine in the rough terrain.
What you get for your money
The Scout range is very simple to understand. You get the estate body, you get four-wheel drive and you get a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine as standard. All you have to choose from is whether you want the 150hp/340Nm variant with a six-speed manual gearbox, as tested here, or the flagship 184hp/380Nm Scout that comes with a six-speed DSG automatic transmission. The price difference between the two is €3,355 and the gap in economy/emissions is almost negligible; almost, we say, because although there's only 3g/km in it on CO2 emissions, the 184 does sit a band higher for motor tax, resulting in a €10 per annum premium.
The only direct rivals for the Octavia Scout in the off-roading C-segment estate marketplace are both 'in-house' cousins: the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack and the SEAT Leon X-Perience. And the former isn't even sold here in Ireland. Above this grade, there are plenty of cars like the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, Audi A4 allroad quattro, Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain and so on, but they're also a sight more expensive than the Skoda to boot. So it's a strong contender if you like this rugged wagon sort of thing.
The problem with the Scout is that it's considerably more money than the equivalent regular Octavia Estate, because a 2.0-litre TDI in luxurious Laurin & Klement spec is nearly €1,000 cheaper, while this 150hp version of the soft-roader is even more money than an RS Combi with the 184hp diesel (albeit only by €45). So unless you really, really, really need 4x4 and the added ground clearance, you might be better off with just a regular wagon and some decent winter tyres instead.
The Skoda Octavia Scout competes in a narrow field, even if it is of an ilk of car that is finding more favour these days, because there's only one direct competitor for it in Ireland - and that's the mechanically identical SEAT Leon X-Perience. It's also, for the 2017MY, saddled with the clunky redesign of the Octavia's nose that will not win universal praise.
But that doesn't mean we're not about to heartily recommend the facelifted Octavia Scout; far from it. It has a massive, high-quality cabin stocked with goodies, it drives beautifully in day-to-day traffic and there's enough on- and off-road capability here to keep everyone happy. If the Scout were a little bit cheaper to buy, then we'd give it an extra half-star despite the headlights, because this is a supremely comfortable and rather brilliant car, from a company that is now renowned for such things.