Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: Europe on India’s roads


Sedans are what Skoda does best. This legacy is evident right from the first-gen Octavia, which established Skoda as a premium brand in India over 20 years ago, to the best-in-class Superb, which has ruled its niche for years, and, of course, the mainstream Rapid, which has been the bread-and-butter model for the company. SUVs have come and gone and so have hatchbacks, but it’s the traditional three-box sedan that has been the backbone of Skoda’s range in India.

Which is why the importance of the Slavia, Skoda’s latest sedan offering, cannot be underestimated. For one, the Slavia is the second product to be built under the company’s ambitious ‘India 2.0’ programme, a USD 1 billion ( 7,500 crore) investment to develop products more in tune to local tastes and pockets.

The Slavia has also arrived to reinforce Skoda’s position in the mid-sized sedan segment, and having grown in size and space with more features and power, it’s not just a replacement of the now-discontinued Rapid, but has moved up a rung on the sedan ladder. In fact, it’s bigger than the first-gen Octavia in every dimension. It’s been launched with two engine options, a 1.0 and 1.5 TSI turbo petrol. So, is it more of a junior Octavia than a bigger Rapid? It’s a bit of both actually.

Upside-downside

The Slavia looks best from the front where it is unmistakably a Skoda with its signature grille. In contrast, the Slavia’s sides are clean and straightforward whilst the rear gets a distinctive set of tail lights and a nicely sculpted boot lid. All-in-all, the Slavia is a sharp looking car with a distinct European air.

Like most Skodas, the Slavia too comes with a practical and spacious cabin that feels well-built and long-lasting. However, the interior doesn’t feel as premium as the exterior and that’s largely down to the finish of some of the materials. The imitation leather seats, for example, are crinkly in some areas and look like aftermarket seat covers. Bits like the woven roof liner and some of the plastic quality don’t live up to the legacy of past Skodas.

Indian customers may be happy to sacrifice the ultimate level fit and finish if the upside is a good price. The smaller 1.0 TSI is competitively priced and the range starts at `10.69 lakh and goes on to 15.39 lakh for the top-of-the-range Style variant engine, which pits it directly against the Honda City. The more powerful and bigger 1.5 TSI is a good 2 lakh plus and clearly it’s only die-hard enthusiasts who will justify the much higher price, especially since there’s no differentiation on the outside, not even a badge, to tell it apart from the cheaper 1.0 model.

The Slavia has a generous, roomy cabin that packs a lot of features
The Slavia has a generous, roomy cabin that packs a lot of features

Power plus

Both models come well-equipped and the top-end Style gets lots of kit, like six airbags, cooled seats, a sunroof and wireless charging. The 10.1-inch screen (lower variants get a smaller 7-inch one) is sharp, easy to use and has its own bundle of apps.

Space is where the Slavia really aces it. The cabin is very roomy with generous space both in the front and back. The rear seat is a bit low but has fantastic legroom and is nicely cushioned. Adding to the comfort is the phenomenal ride quality, the upshot of a finely judged suspension that cushions passengers against bad roads.

Turbo power is something that Skoda touts and when you experience these engines you’ll know why. The smaller 1.0 TSI punches above its weight, delivering performance that’s in the league of bigger engines. Apart from a bit of sluggishness at low revs, it delivers power vigorously and you won’t be left wanting for more. The 1.5 TSI is in a different league and the 150hp engine makes the Slavia the fastest mid-sized sedan you can buy. Both the 1.0 TSI and 1.5 TSI come with manual and automatic options and if money was not an issue, we’d plumb for the pricey 1.5 TSI auto.

The Slavia isn’t cheap but it has a lot going for it and will certainly appeal to those who want a fresher, European alternative to the Honda City.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, March 6, 2022

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