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The new SCALA compact 5dr hatchback does more than replace the Rapid model, which has been around for some time without ever greatly distinguishing itself.

It signals a whole new design era for Skoda. It will be the company’s first production model in Europe to bear ‘ŠKODA’ lettering on the tailgate instead of the famous logo.

It has technology on board that would have flattered a Mercedes S-Class a few years back. There is even the option of a virtual cockpit (much heralded by Audi) and a hugely upgraded infotainment system. LED headlights and tail lights are standard as well.

The new car – SCALA means ‘ladder’ or ‘stairs’ in Latin they tell me – is due in Ireland next June so it will make it for the 192-reg plate season.

Aimed at a much younger driver, it will slot in between the smaller supermini Fabia and the larger popular Octavia hatchback. While costs have yet to be confirmed, I reckon it could start around the €18,750/€19,000 mark.

The Fabia currently starts at €15,600 and the Octavia at €22,000 so I’m picking half way between both – but I am sticking my neck out. Official pricing and spec levels (Active, Ambition and Style trim lines remain) will be confirmed in March.

Critically, the car is set up to rival the likes of the Ford Focus specifically on handling and ride – the Ford is easily the best driving car in the class so the SCALA has its work cut out.

Regardless, they expect around 400 people to buy one in a full year. That is double the Rapid’s modest volume and is quite a step up.

The new car is longer, wider, higher and roomier than the Rapid (which I never liked and have described as Skoda’s only slip on the ladder they’ve been climbing since Volkswagen took them over).

Significantly the SCALA is the first Skoda to be based on the Volkswagen Group’s A0 MQB platform on which the likes of the Polo has been based.

The new 5dr hatch is very much about design however. Heavily influenced by the VISION RS study unveiled at the recent Paris Motor Show there are straight design lines that show they mean it when they say it’s a forerunner of fairly radical new looks for the Czech maker.

Inside is roomy with clean-cut contours but the surprising thing is that, considering its relatively modest exterior dimensions, its cabin room isn’t far off that of the Octavia. That’s due to a long 2,649mm wheelbase while the car itself is 4,362mm in length, 1,793mm wide and 1,471mm tall.

That makes it 58mm longer, 87mm wider and 12mm higher than the Rapid Spaceback it replaces. And there’s a large boot (467 litres; 1,410 with the rear seats folded) – something you expect- or take for granted- from a Skoda these days.

Focus of attention in the cabin is the large infotainment display slot that ranges up to 9.2ins (biggest screen in its class). The optional 10.25ins customisable virtual cockpit display is built into the dashboard. I like this idea a lot as you can change and choose between five different display settings.

For all the modernity, some old reliables remain: 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.

So it’s all go for the Czech automaker as it takes another ‘step’ up the ladder with SCALA.

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