The Skoda Slavia is not your average concept. Most are produced to preview a future production model or demonstrate next-gen technology. Not the Slavia. Instead, it’s the outcome of a factory-backed project featuring 31 apprentices who were given free rein to create a car worthy of Skoda’s 125th birthday. So cutting edge manufacturing techniques meets the TikTok video generation, right?
Well, not quite. The Slavia is much better thought out than that. The 31 people involved in this sixth consecutive running of Skoda’s Azubi (apprentice) programme are all students at the Czech firm’s academy. The Mlada Boleslav facility has been around since 1927 and seen 23,000 graduates pass through its doors. Today, over 900 students split between 13 different technical courses are studying there, vying for the spots that would automatically see them offered a job at Skoda.
This means the Slavia – which gets its name from the bicycle that Skoda founders Vaclav Laurin and Vaclav Klement developed in 1895 – is their first real-life go at making a working machine in their chosen vocation. You’ll probably have already noticed that it's based on a Scala hatchback; one that’s been turned into a roofless, two-seat and two-door speedster with buttresses and a rear wing. It’s a design said to hark back to the look of Skoda’s legendary 1957 racer, the 1100 OHC Spider, as well as the original Slavia bicycle. We spot more similarities with the former.
To turn an off-the-line five-door rival to the Ford Focus into the open-roof Skoda you see here, the team used computer aided design to figure out what they could cut off and where they’d need to claw back structural rigidity. Working with Skoda’s engineering and bodywork full timers, the apprentices opted to counteract the loss of top-half stiffness with strengthening in the lower structure. The back doors (or at least what was left of them) were also welded to the body, and the A-pillars were reworked so they were of convertible strength, creating the base onto which the skin of the Slavia concept could be added.
The shape itself was actually crafted to minimise drag, hence the addition of two buttresses behind the passengers, where the rear seats of the Scala would be located. They’re said to guide airflow down towards the rear wing, which adds to the car’s racy silhouette. Understandably, the youngsters saw fit to pinch a set of 20-inch alloys from the Kodiaq vRS parts pile, helping to widen the tracks, close up the arch gaps and firm up the ride with thinner tyres. Oh, and they decided to fit an exhaust that had apparently been ‘modified’ - which on starting the car up, we took to mean ‘made straight through’.
But that’s as far as the fundamental changes go. Last year’s Montiaq pick-up was very clearly a chopped Kodiaq and the Sunroq before that was obviously a cut-and-squashed Karoq. Azubi projects typically retain the underlying running gear of their donor, so in the Slavia there's a 150hp 1.5-litre TSI powering the front wheels via a seven-speed DSG gearbox, with all the standard Scala mapping. It’s not particularly racy, then, although thanks to the retention of the infotainment screen and centre tunnel buttons, you’re only a click away from turning the powertrain into ‘sport’ mode. Or at least what passes for the Scala’s most responsive setting.
PH timed its visit to the Millbrook Proving Ground - where Skoda lets a handful of UK journalists sample the Slavia - to perfection. The rain had finally cleared off, leaving us with a damp but sun-lit ‘hill route’ on which to sample the juvenile one-off. And we mean that literally; not only does the unsilenced engine bark and gargle like a de-catted hatchback on start-up, there’s a 2,250-watt subwoofer and twin-320-watt speakers just over the driver's shoulder. The new pipework and sound system are both said to threaten Millbrook’s 105dB noise limit.
Inside the Slavia you get softer, more supportive seats with black leather and perforated ‘carbon’ fabric sections, contrasted with white stitching. The seatbelts are also gone, replaced by four-point Sparco safety harnesses; all the better for keeping up ties with Skoda’s 1100 OHC racer. But other than that, it’s familiar Scala; once you’re accustomed to the exhaust system, driving it is no more complicated than normal. The steering is light, the VW Group turbocharged four-pot typically responsive and the ride surprisingly smooth - albeit with a little (actually, quite a lot) of scuttle shake and windscreen rattle.
But the car itself feels pretty solid, and thanks to 235-width Continental SportContact 6 tyres on those vRS rims, there's plenty of bite, too. Body roll is also minimal on those wider tracks, so the Slavia does actually go around bends in a convincingly sporty fashion - assuming you're happy to ignore the chirruping of a cut-and-shut roadster. This is an apprentice-made concept, after all. Still, it’s impressive to see how well a modern piece of automotive architecture can get along without its roof. Try doing this with a Skoda Favorit.
While the similarities with the 1100 OHC are best described as spiritual, the Slavia does at least nail one of the classic racer’s defining traits, in that it leaves you with a cold forehead and a mild onset of tinnitus. Skoda’s class of 2020 apprentices will likely spend at least part of their careers making ploddingly sensible cars; at the very least, the Slavia is pleasing evidence that they'd indulge in something much showier (and sillier) if the gloves came off. If Skoda commits to a limited run of 1100 OHC Spiders in 25 years time, we'll know where the inspiration came from.
SKODA SLAVIA CONCEPT | SPECIFICATION
Engine: 1,498cc, inline four
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 150@5,000-6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@1,500-3,500rpm
0-62mph: N/A (original Scala 8.3 seconds)
Top speed: N/A (original 136mph)
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