The hatchback segment has long been defined by the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A Class at the ‘premium’ end, with the Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf accounting for most other private purchases and corporate fleet leases. Recent years have seen ŠKODA become a resolutely more desirable brand with models that attract on many levels, but until now the Czech marque’s lineup has lacked a genuine contender in the hatchback arena, whether family or corporate.

Sitting between the smaller Fabia and larger Octavia, the new Scala is ŠKODA’s direct attempt at luring younger company car drivers in particular away from VAG stablemates like the SEAT Leon and aforementioned Golf, along with other rivals and hopefully even more upmarket equivalents. While exuding ŠKODA’s usual values like a focus on smart and ’emotive yet understated’ design, class-leading space, practicality and value for money, Scala carries the privilege of debuting the brand’s new design language.

The Scala’s face may be instantly recognisable as a ŠKODA but never before has one of its models looked so mean and aggressive thanks to sleek headlights, a bold grille and fresh creases around the bumpers and down the bonnet. Viewed from the side, the ŠKODA Scala isn’t dissimilar to an A3 proportionally, with a welcome hint of Q5 about the way the taillights sit above the registration plate. The car’s sporty and evocative design is accentuated by crisp, somewhat muscular and refreshingly different LED taillights, and especially appeals with the optional extended rear window in black complete with ŠKODA lettering, flanked by optional dynamic rear indicators that will give the Scala significant credibility in office car parks.

While more seasoned private and fleet motorists may smile on discovering ŠKODA’s endearing Simply Clever innovations, from a branded ice-scraper and a tyre tread depth gauge under the fuel filler cap, a waste bin incorporated into the door trim and plenty of other nets, hooks and practical storage features, younger drivers are often allured by technology and infotainment features – another core feature of the Scala.

The premium-feel interior of the ŠKODA Scala will most noticeably feature a floating infotainment touchscreen of between 6.5 inches and 9.2 inches, jutting up out of the multi-layered crystalline dashboard, and the Volkswagen Group’s stunning Virtual Cockpit technology can be fitted, meaning a superb 10.25-inch highly-customisable display behind the steering wheel. The car remains online constantly thanks to the in-built eSIM’s LTE connection, while the car’s infotainment and other features can be controlled by a smartphone app. Meanwhile, the Amundsen infotainment system boasts real-time Online Traffic Information and fuel prices, Wi-Fi hotspot capability and a 64GB SSD hard drive.

The Scala’s impressive list of tech brought across from Audi even includes Phonebox, for wirelessly and inductively charging compatible handsets. Ambient lighting in either red or white, optional Suedia microfibre and the option of an electric tailgate further enhance the Scala’s class-defying characteristics, while fleet managers will be pleased to see the inclusion of Emergency Call and Proactive Service telephony services, plus Lane, Front, Side and ‘Crew Protect’ Assist, City Emergency Brake and other safety features fitted as standard, making the Scala one of the safest hatchbacks on the market.

Due to its long wheelbase, ŠKODA claims that the Scala actually comes close to the ridiculously impressive Octavia in terms of interior space, with the biggest boot in class thanks to a 467-litre capacity, stretching to 1,410 litres with the rears down. Rear headroom is the most ample in the class at 982 mm, with ‘generous’ rear knee and elbow room at 73mm and 1,425mm respectively. An electrically retractable tow bar even appears on the options list, which is a first in the segment, although only has limited merit for fleets unless towing is a requirement.

There are four engines available right from launch, namely three petrol units and one diesel, thankfully without Audi’s absurd naming system: an entry-level 1.0 TSI with 95PS, a 1.0 TSI with 115PS and a range-topping 1.5 TSI with 150PS, the latter two specifiable with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG, leaving the entry level 1.0 TSI with a five-speed manual gearbox only. For now at least, the 1.6 TDI 115PS diesel engine marks the fourth launch engine, but an eco-friendly 1.0 G-TEC CNG (compressed natural gas) engine will follow in 2019 – although due to the UK’s poor CNG fuelling network it is unlikely to find its way to the UK, unfortunately.

It will be fascinating to see the ŠKODA Scala take the hatchback fight to fierce rivals including the new Ford Focus, Mazda’s new 3 and the French crowd, and we hope the brand’s core values will help the new model carve out a place in this very popular segment of the contract hire and leasing market.