“The only way to bring growth to a segment is by introducing new products in the market” says Zac Hollis, Škoda India’s Director of Sales & Marketing.
The new product in this instance is Škoda’s sleek sedan— the Slavia. In a segment that has shrunken in the past couple of years, Skoda’s steadfast faith in the appeal of the sedan finds many supporters. The question, however, is can the Slavia entice those bewitched by the crossover SUV?
The Slavia comes in two avatars and for all practical purposes, can be positioned as two separate cars.
The 1.0-litre TSI is going to be the big seller. It comes with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic optional gearbox, in a variety of trims equipped with varying levels of active and passive safety features (including a tyre pressure monitoring system, EBD and an Electronic Differential Lock).
The other model is powered by a 1.5-litre TSI engine, featuring an optional seven-speed DSG gearbox and making 148bhp and 250 Nm of torque.
Škoda has made it clear that the Slavia isn’t a replacement for the Rapid, even though its twin the upcoming VW Virtus is essentially the car that will replace the VW Vento.
The reason isn’t only because the brand hopes to sell the remaining Rapids in its inventory but it wants to establish the Slavia is a far superior product, the top-end version of which has no direct rivals. But it makes no bones about the fact that the Slavia has got the Honda City in its sights.
The Slavia is attractive. In a sea of crossovers, the sight of a proportionate, sharply-creased sedan is a welcome one, especially considering the colours.
The nearly barren fields of sedan-land desperately need repopulating and, as far as pure visuals are concerned, the Slavia seems like the car for the job.
While the brand’s confounding embargo rules mean we cannot discuss the 1.5-litre TSI, there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to the model that’ll form the bulk of the Slavia’s sales.
The 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder turbocharged motor here is targeted at rivals still running on naturally-aspirated, MPFI (multi-port fuel injection) units, making less power.
In this case, the power figure, even at an entry-level, reaches a healthy 114bhp, with a solid 250 Nm of torque. Power figures being identical to those of the Kushaq, the question isn’t about the nature of the motor but how well the Slavia deploys that power.
Sitting in the top-end 1.0-litre automatic, it’s clear that Škoda has paid heed to the criticism it has come in for in the past.
The Slavia has a fabulously appointed interior. A leather-wrapped two-spoke steering, ambient lighting, wireless charging, virtual cockpit and a 25.4cm touchscreen infotainment system are among the many highlights found in both models.
There’s plenty of storage space, everything seems within reach and the view from the driver’s seat is great. There’s enough ride height to let the Slavia waft over sinister speed breakers. And yet, this hasn’t messed with its composure.
Hollis has stated the even the roof-lining of the Slavia has been improved compared to the Kushaq and that the brand is constantly taking-in customer feedback and improving products with minor tweaks and upgrades.
In motion, the Slavia is smooth right off the bat. Before the linearity of the motor or the idiosyncrasies of the gearbox become apparent, it’s the near-perfect calibration of the suspension that gets to you.
The 1.0-litre automatic is aimed at efficiency and Škoda maintains that its fuel economy figures surpass anything in the category.
For a three-cylinder motor, the 1.0-litre turbo unit packs a decent punch. It is, however, let down by the six-speed torque converter which relishes in lowering the refinement quotient, at least when you’ve got the throttle pinned.
Switching to ‘Sport’ mode allows you to hold the revs a lot longer but the noise levels still filter through the cabin. Thankfully, Škoda has equipped the car with paddle shifters which do help squeeze out an added bit of performance from the car.
Hollis, however, maintains that the six-speed automatic isn’t aimed for the enthusiast but the more conservative city driver, looking for exceptional economy with measured throttle inputs.
“An enthusiast would probably go for the 1.5-litre TSI ,'' he adds. On the fuel efficiency front, Škoda might be onto something. Because despite some very spirited driving for the better part of an afternoon, almost entirely with the gear lever slotted in “S'', I only saw one bar disappear from the fuel gauge.
That said, the 1.0-litre isn’t exactly a wheelbarrow. Sure, it might feel strained when maxed out, it is, after all, a three-pot motor. But in manual, it can likely be an absolute hoot.
Although I didn’t get to try out the manual, if the Kushaq is any metric to go by, I’m certain I won’t be disappointed; 114 bhp is more than enough power to have a little bit of fun. Not too long ago, it marked the upper-end of hatchback performance in the country.
But where the Slavia really comes into its own is the manner in which it handles. It is astonishingly good. Škoda may have pandered to the Indian customer’s preference for gimmicky features in recent times but the Slavia is the proof that it has stayed true to its DNA.
In fact, one of the main appeals of the sedan is how planted it feels when compared to a crossover SUV. The Slavia has truly understood the assignment.
With EBD and traction control keeping close watch, the Slavia can be pushed considerably around the corners and it always comes out flatly. This wouldn’t be such an astonishing feat, if it didn’t feel supple to the point of being softly-sprung.
Throw it into a decidedly acute corner and the Slavia remains unfazed. Sure, a smidge of front-wheel drive understeer is always present but Škoda’s pedigree is pouring out of every crevice of this car.
With the price starting at Rs 10.69 lakh, the Slavia provides a base level of performance that is much higher than what the segment offers at that price point.
Add to it Škoda’s reduction of service and spare part costs along with the premium one seemed to have paid for European technology, and the Slavia emerges as a top contender.
For its variety of active and passive safety features, peppy performance mixed with fuel economy–the Slavia 1.0 TSI seems to be a sure bet.