Wrapped in a psychedelic disguise, and not due to be officially revealed until December, is Skoda’s answer to the Ford Focus and VW Golf. That’s a pretty core segment, you’re probably thinking, so why hasn’t Skoda already got such a model in its line-up? Well, it has, it’s called the Rapid and it is the least popular Skoda on sale in the UK today.

This all-new version is designed to reverse that; the car is completely new from the ground up and its dramatic overhaul has also brought with it a new name – meet the Skoda Scala.

• Best hatchbacks on the market

Auto Express has been invited to take a closer look and get behind the wheel of a prototype before the car arrives in showrooms early next year.

While we can’t yet show you any images of the finished car, we were shown the production model inside and out away from prying eyes and any cameras. Stripped of the disguise, the Skoda Scala is a handsome if understated hatchback.

The cabin, by contrast, is a much greater step forward and a huge improvement over the rather drab interior of the Rapid. A new 9.2-inch display sits in a recessed dash and cleans the cabin of most of the buttons and dials. The good news is that Skoda has left some physical switches, mainly for the climate control, so they are easier to operate on the move. Better still, the rotary dials are made from knurled metal and operate with satisfying clunk.

Being a Skoda the Scala’s focus is on practicality; the hatchback is larger in every dimension over the Rapid and is based on the VW Group’s new MQB A0 platform. Against the Golf, not a car that skimps on space, the Scala is 107mm longer, 17mm taller and has a 12mm-longer wheelbase. There are 467 litres of boot space; that’s almost a 100-litre advantage over the VW.

It’s also very spacious in the back seats, where head and knee room are up with the best in class. Practicality box well and truly ticked, then.

As for the way it drives, the cars we tested were all late prototypes, and still had a few issues that needed ironing out, such as the steering calibration and noise-cancelling tech. But by and large the Scala stacks up to be the kind of refined and polished package Skoda has become known for delivering.

The 148bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo is an engine we’re familiar with and, as we’ve come to expect, it’s a cracking little engine that pulls strongly from low revs, while remaining hushed and well isolated from the cabin at all speeds. Performance figures are being guarded for now, but we we’re told to expect the 0-62mph time to dip below eight seconds and fuel economy to reach more than 55mpg.

The roads around Skoda’s Mlada Boleslav factory in the Czech Republic were a stern test for the car’s refinement levels, largely due to the often-appalling surfaces. There are no real surprises with how the Scala performs, placing comfort and refinement ahead of any sporting prowess. A Focus is far more engaging to hustle down a winding B-road, with more controlled damping and better steering response, but the Scala is designed as a practical and comfortable family car, and here it performs exceedingly well.

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