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Small cars have a big future, according to Skoda’s top executive.

The Czech company would want them to because it has thrown lots of time and money at its latest “shape of the future”, the SCALA compact 5dr hatch.

Company chief Bernhard Maier told me in an interview on the fringes of the SCALA launch in Tel Aviv he is convinced people still want a smart, economical car with good space.

He said (he would, wouldn’t he?) that the SCALA would redefine its sector. It helps, for sure, that it replaces the Rapid, which I disliked intensely.

However, it’s not built to take an electric powertrain, Mr Maier conceded, though he insisted it would be “when needed”. Hmmmm. It’s also not an SUV.

That would appear to be two major modern trends set aside for now in this new car. Yet Mr Maier was at pains to point out that the SCALA has a critical position in the brand’s range which, he emphasised, comprises several SUVs already on the road and a smaller one on the way. And on electrification there is a plug-in hybrid Superb next year and two totally new EVs imminent.

The SCALA is designed to do more than replace the vapid Rapid. The company claims it marks a new era of design too. For example, it is the firm’s first production model in Europe to bear ‘Skoda’ lettering on the tailgate instead of the famous logo.

Mr Maier told me that the suggestion to do so came from the Chinese market.

They researched the reaction and found it was popular. Every new-generation Skoda will be similarly adorned.

I can see the SCALA suiting people who don’t need as large a hatch as the Octavia.

As you may know, SCALA means ‘ladder’ or ‘stairs’ in Latin, and you’ll see it in Ireland next June.

It’s aimed at younger drivers and slots between the smaller Fabia supermini and the larger Octavia.

I reckon it will start around the €18,750/€19,000 mark (Fabia from €15,600, Octavia at €22,000). Official pricing and spec levels (Active, Ambition and Style trim lines remain) will be announced in March.

As well as majoring on styling, they’re looking to take on the likes of the Ford Focus on handling and ride. A big challenge.

Around 400 Irish buyers are expected to drive away in a new one over a full year – double the Rapid’s numbers.

The SCALA is longer, wider, higher and roomier, and is the first Skoda based on the Volkswagen Group’s A0 MQB platform.

It looks smart front and back, I think, but it’s not nearly as dramatically drawn as was suggested by its design links to the VISION RS study at the Paris Motor Show.

The real winners will be back-seat passengers in a roomy cabin that is clean-cut and smart. I had serious room when I sat in the rear. Indeed, cabin room is not far off the Octavia’s, thanks to a 2,649mm wheelbase.

It looks like a low-slung compact estate, and that’s a compliment (4,362mm long, 1,793mm wide, 1,471mm tall). The boot (467 litres;, 1,410 with the rear seats folded) is also decent.

In the cabin, naturally, the dash/instrumentation etc are the key focus areas. The infotainment display screen ranges to 9.2in (biggest in class).

The optional 10.25in customisable virtual cockpit display is built into the dashboard and is a right classy affair.

The SCALA has a good spread of technology on board with the upgraded infotainment system.

LED head/tail-lights are standard, and old reliables stand the test of time: there is the umbrella in the driver’s door, the ice scraper in the fuel filler flap and the easy-open cup holder.

There will be three petrol, and one diesel, engines.

The 1.0TSi 95hp petrol is expected to be the most popular with Irish buyers. It has a 5spd gearbox as standard, while the 1.0TSi 115hp version will have either a 6spd manual or a 7spd DSG automatic. The same applies to the 1.5 TSi 150hp petrol. The 1.6 TDI 115hpp diesel will have an automatic initially with a manual to follow.

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