The Great Volkswagen and Škoda Cat A Driveaway: Scoring 'A's

The Great Volkswagen and Škoda Cat A Driveaway: Scoring 'A's

Joel Foo
Joel Foo
11 Jun 2023
Cat A figures might be underwhelming for some, but feeling the grip through the bends, the suspension working hard to keep as much of its rubber peeled to the tarmac, and keeping throttle and brake pressure ‘just so’ was overwhelmingly satisfying after each well-executed cornering or overtaking manoeuvre.

The old adage, “there is no replacement for displacement”, might be a little outdated when it comes to car-ownership advice, especially in a place like Singapore. With a mere 50 km separating the east and the west, and the existing speed limit set on our highways, Category A COE cars will tick most of the boxes for a large proportion of car-owning families here.

What’s more, with the advances in forced induction-technology and the commonality of its application, engine capacity is no longer the strongest indicator of performance.

With engine capacities that are below 1600 cc and with less than 130 bhp, you might think that being limited to such figures would prove to be an underwhelming experience given the lack of raw power. But a look into the history books will tell you that some of the most successful and fun to drive cars come from this very class – names like the Volkswagen Beetle and Golf, Mini Cooper and Fiat 500 immediately come to mind.

Hence, I was rather looking forward to sampling Volkswagen Group Singapore’s (VGS) existing range of Category A Škoda and Volkswagen cars for a 500 km tour of the state of Johor, through some of the twists and turns its B-roads have to offer.

The cars we would be driving included the Škoda Scala 1.0TSI Monte Carlo, Škoda Octavia 1.0TSI, Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI Life and Life Plus and the Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0TSI.

Starting off bright and early from Volkswagen Centre Singapore, the first leg of our journey would have us at the wheel of the Scala. Adorned with racier Monte Carlo bits like 18 inch alloys and figure hugging bucket seats, I immediately mentioned to my co-driver, Sean, that I could foresee this being the perfect car for any young family.

And boy were we glad that the Scala was specced with those wider tyres. There was nothing “entry-level” about the way the Scala dealt with the curves once our convoy crossed the border. Granted some patience is required for the Golf-sized hatchback to get up to speed, but that was no indication of its ‘chuck-able’ quality through the bends.

Did I also not mention its surprising refinement on the highway run between each of the border crossings? The Škoda Scala in my mind, gives a lot of entry level family hatches a run for its money, especially considering the price point it is available at.

After a sumptuous breakfast at Sunroast where we savoured one of the best roast meat dishes that JB had to offer, it was our turn to jump into the Golf 1.5 eTSI Life Plus. Identified externally by its slightly different LED head and tail lamps and larger rims, the Life Plus sits in the middle of the range in the existing Golf line up.

Let’s not get distracted though, because the more important bits lay under its skin. Being one of the more iconic representations of ‘the people’s car’, I was rather excited to see whether the 129 bhp Cat A variant would hold up the spirit of the Golf.

Sporting a slightly different torsion beam suspension system (as opposed to the independent suspension found in the 148 bhp Cat B Golf when it was the only variant on offer), the Golf seemed to be able to dance through the corners despite this simpler set up. The extra cylinder over the rest of the 3-pot powered cars was also welcome, and just that bit of extra grunt was pretty evident when gaps needed to be covered.

Even when the heavens opened and grip levels were seemingly reduced, the Golf held its own through the bends. And to be able to hold the Golf on the edge of grip whilst balancing throttle input, before stretching its 4-cylinder block to the end of the rev range, was really satisfying. For me, that was more than enough proof that fun can be had, even if it’s “just” in a Cat A 1.5-litre Golf.

Passing through the lush greenery surrounding Jemaluang Emerald Lake and towards the western coast of Malaysia, another car swap beckoned at Jasons Bay Beach.

The change of scenery was rather welcome, and I daresay some of us were tempted to take a few moments to sink our feet in the sand. But not before long our little brat pack of Cat A VAG cars were on our way.

Taking our turn in the Škoda Octavia 1.0 TSI e-TEC, I recalled our editor, James’s fondness for how the Octavia exuded a sense of loyalty and reliability.

I have to agree that there is something very working-class like in the manner in which the Octavia potters along. Yes it might just be a 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder engine, but having access to 200 Nm of torque from low down in the rev range means that in theory you should have enough shove for the daily runabout.

Having been placed as car #1 of the pack for this leg of the journey towards our lunch stop, some slack had to be cut by the leading Octavia RS down the straights (well obviously), but through the bends, the result was rather surprising.

Despite having narrower rubber and more softly sprung shocks, the Octavia had no qualms holding onto the tail of its bigger RS brother. One certainly had to apply a bit more finesse with throttle and steering inputs to guard against excessive understeer, but despite that, the Cat A Octavia managed to hold its own.

Through the sweeping B-roads, piloting the Octavia at speed made you feel like you were in a getaway car. It could have been the fact that this was still a spacious family sedan, or that having the longest wheelbase of the pack ensured some comfort in its chassis, but on the whole, the Octavia gave you the sensation that it was up for any task.

They say that time passes when you’re having too much fun. Not before long, dusk had broken and we had arrived at our evening stop at Anatara Desaru Coast Resort. And after a restful evening, it was back on the road where we got into our final 2 cars for the trip – the Volkswagen Golf Life and the T-Cross.

Being the entry model to the Golf line-up, the ‘Life’ comes in with a $14,000 discount over the Life Plus. If you’re willing to forgo those extras on the outside and the tri-zone climate control, you will still be rewarded with the excellent drive characteristics that the Cat A Golf presents.

Stepping into our final car for the trip, the Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0, it immediately feels different, especially sitting a little higher off the ground than the rest of the cars on test. I’m not sure about you, but the T-Cross felt like a mini-Tiguan – an urban, high(er) riding SUV, doused with endless amounts of practicality owing to its boxier nature and utilitarian vibes.

It might have appeared to be the slowest of the bunch (not that it should matter since all were limited to 130 bhp), but on the highway and through the bends, the T-Cross felt reasonably planted and surefooted.

Yes it swayed more in the corners, but at the hands of the right driver, it had no issues keeping up with the bunch.

And this perfectly encapsulates the running theme amongst all the cars sampled throughout VGS’s Cat A drive – that it is indeed all about the drive, and the sensations experienced by the driver no matter the amount of power or speed had.

Sure, the Cat A figures might be underwhelming for some, but feeling the grip through the bends, the suspension working hard to keep as much of its rubber peeled to the tarmac, and keeping throttle and brake pressure ‘just so’ was overwhelmingly satisfying after each well-executed cornering or overtaking manoeuvre.

The Cat A Golf may have been the most highly anticipated and stolen the limelight given that it was a new launch, but if I were to pick one, being the do-it-all and most unassuming of the bunch, the Škoda Octavia may have just pipped it for a spot in my heart.

Photos by Volkswagen Group Singapore

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