In a market that has become dominated by sport utility vehicles (SUVs), sedan body style has been under tremendous pressure over the past decade. Many brands have stopped producing or importing some of the most popular sedans in the recent past. This was a lynching across the volume and price segments. The last car launched was the Toyota Yaris. The only ones surviving were compact sedans. Even there the numbers are skewed towards demand from fleet operators.

So, what gives Skoda Auto India the confidence to classify the sedan as its next offering. The recently christened Slavia will be the next model to be launched from the Skoda facility. The company calls it a notchback, but it certainly fits the classic look of a C-Class mid-size sedan. Skoda has been known for its sedans starting with the Octavia which debuted in India two decades ago. Subsequently, the Superb and Octavia RS helped solidify the brand’s luxury sports sedan roots. Now, Skoda feels it might be a good time to bring the Mojo back into the sedan segment.

Builds

The new Skoda Slavia will be built on the same MQB-AO-IN platform on which Kushaq was also based. The versatile, fully scalable, light and rigid platform will enable Skoda to focus on safety, class-leading handling and handling, and in controlling costs, company officials say. The Slavia will be larger than the first-generation Octavia (D-class sedan); Statistics that set the true tone for what to expect from the new model. Much information about Slavia has been blocked until November 18 this year when Skoda prepares to host a virtual world show. Some of the information and opinions I’m sharing here are based on what Skoda allowed at the camouflaged prototype engine test event that took place in Pune recently. The actual dimensions of the Slavia are – Wheelbase: 2,651 mm, Length: 4,541 mm, Width: 1,752 mm and Height: 1,487 mm. It will compete with the likes of Honda City, Hyundai Verna and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz. The Slavia I test-driven had a heavily camouflaged stick-on design that was one of the award-winning applications in a competition conducted by Skoda. The orange colored leather design you see in these photos still shows off the slavic finish. The sedan will borrow design lines from Kushaq, including a reinterpreted version of the butterfly grille that is Skoda’s signature.

Much information about the design, cabin and build remains classified. But what I can say is that the cabin has a digital cockpit that provides multiple driving-related information in real time. There is plenty of space in the cabin and luggage compartment.

Focus on safety

According to Skoda officials, the Slavia has not only been tested for general crash tests such as the Indian homologation cycle and GNCAP, but has also been designed and tested for more stringent crash scenarios based on Volkswagen’s internal standards. About 67 percent of the Slavia structure is made of high tensile steel and about 14 percent is hot-formed steel. Both the structural integrity and performance of the side airbags are said to have been designed and tested to meet a side pillar crash scenario that is claimed to be above GNCAP standards. The Slavia curtain airbag is also designed to provide equal head-impact protection for front and rear occupants. While the Skoda ban prevents me from explaining much of Slavia’s design, I can add here that pedestrian safety has been prioritized as well. Indian regulatory requirements currently mandate protection only for lower leg and head impacts, but the Slavia is designed to reduce upper leg injuries as well. Slavia has also undergone extensive outdoor and severe weather testing which is said to have been conducted over the past two years in both Arizona in the United States and Aurangabad, India. The vehicle has been tested over 100,000 km for dust, water ingress and NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness).

Motors

The Skoda Slavia will be offered with the same two TSI petrol engines that are offered with the Kushaq as well. The MQ200 one-liter turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine and the 1.5-liter TSI four-cylinder MQ281 petrol engine are offered in the same tune as the Kushaq, but will have a different set of gear ratios, although they are offered with the same three gearbox options. A six-speed manual transmission is offered as standard. And while the 1.0-liter can be had with the AQ250’s six-speed automatic gearbox, the 1.5-liter can be had with the seven-speed DSG – a dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The 1.0-liter TSI engine delivers 115 hp of maximum power, while the 1.5-liter engine delivers the same 150 hp maximum power as the Koshak.

The 1.5-liter engine with DSG transmission will also have steering-mounted paddles for manual gear selection. Both engines are lively and polished, and while their output numbers may seem nearly adequate for a mid-size sedan, they should provide excellent driveability for the Slavia. I am particularly looking forward to driving the final production version of the Slavia’s 1.0-liter manual gearbox variant. That’s a great three-cylinder sound even at high revs.

Ride and handle

The highlight of the camouflaged prototype I drove was the ride and handling. Suspension tuning provides a stable but flexible ride as on the Kushaq. Putting it through some really bad patches quickly still didn’t bother things in the cabin. There is a feeling of solidity that the ride quality brings to the driving experience. I did test drive in Pune, some broken paved roads in suburbs and on Mumbai-Pune highway. Skoda officials told me that the suspension settings have not yet been set. Details of the cutting strategy and variant are also awaited.

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Skoda Slavia is an all-new sedan to be launched after a long hiatus. Skoda officials say the company is keen to set new standards in the sedan segment to bring back the appeal to this chassis style. They expect the AO segment to grow by 138 percent and that Slavia will meet all customer expectations in the segment.

A sedan does luxury and comfort better than an SUV. Personally, I feel there is a greater sense of ownership in a sedan than in an SUV. If the Slavia could provide the ground clearance and driveability of an SUV for the average car buyer who would never attempt off-road engagement levels, then the sedan could easily be their pick.

In the end, the customer is king and the hope is that the pendulum of choice will swing in favor of sedans in the years to come. The Slavia certainly looks and feels well equipped to take advantage of the sedan’s resurgence. Expect prices to range from 10 to 17 lakh.

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