Beat the crowd
Discover a seven-seat niche with Skoda’s sleek and clever SUV
STILL trying to figure out what this is? You’re not alone.
At first, people squint to get a better look at the unusual design. Then they squint to find the badge.
The Skoda logo may be to most Australians but it is one of the world’s oldest automotive nameplates, dating back to 1905.
The Czech brand, taken over by German giant VW in 2000 and reintroduced here in 2007, is still trying to get a foothold in Australia, one of the world’s most competitive markets.
The just-arrived seven-seat Kodiaq is its best chance yet, given our insatiable appetite for SUVs. Previous Skodas have largely been hand-me-down Volkswagen tech in roomier body styles with marginally cheaper prices than their German counterparts.
The Kodiaq, however, is new from the ground up — and inside-out — and uses the latest generation VW-Audi Group underpinnings.
It still borrows VW components and digital screens but the information is displayed in a Skoda font. The interior design is a more daring take on German styling.
Apart from the love-it-orhate-it exterior, the Kodiaq stands out from the crowd for one other reason. It’s a sevenunfamiliar seat SUV that, for now at least, has no direct rival.
Just when you thought there were no more SUV niches to be filled, the Kodiaq fits in the 10mm gap between the Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Santa Fe.
Priced from $42,990 plus onroads (although the example we tested exceeded $50,000 driveaway), it is our cheapest European seven-seat SUV.
A caveat: servicing is dear after three years. The fouryear/60,000km visit costs $993.
A glance at the standard equipment list reveals how it differs from the Japanese and Korean alternatives.
The Kodiaq comes with nine airbags, radar cruise control, city-speed automatic emergency braking, seat belt reminders for all seats, power tailgate, front and rear parking sensors and rear-view camera (a 360-degree camera is optional).
Other standard fare includes built-in navigation, Apple Car Play/Android Auto, a “glassstyle” touchscreen, dual-zone airconditioning and LED headlights with turning lamps (to illuminate corners at night).
Neat Skoda touches: an umbrella stashed in each front door panel, a small plastic bin for the front door pocket and a discreet plastic tab on the windscreen to stop pay-anddisplay parking tickets blowing away. An ingenious rubber strip pops out of the door on opening so you don’t dent the car next to you in the car park.
The sleek roofline may be a little lower than other SUVs but the interior layout is clever. The middle row seats (which slide and tilt) can be lowered by pulling a tab in the cargo hold;
the third-row seats each have a separate tab. You’ll spend less time fumbling with large items in the car park at Ikea et al.
For those carrying infants, there are two Isofix child seat mounts in the outboard positions of the middle row, and three top tether points, so a non-Isofix child seat can be fitted in the centre position.
Middle-row passengers also get air vents, a 12V power socket and — here’s an idea to help keep kids quiet on long drives — there’s an adjustable phone/ tablet mounting bracket on each front seat headrest.
The third row seats are for kids only, as the floor is too high and the roof too low for adults on anything other than a trip around the block. There’s a 12V power source for the back row but no airconditioning vents.
ON THE ROAD
For now, the only engine is a 2.0-litre turbo (132kW/320Nm) matched to a seven-speed dualclutch auto and permanent allwheel-drive. A 2.0-litre turbo diesel (140kW/400Nm) will follow later in the year.
The example we tested was equipped with a $5900 “launch pack” that includes 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension (with six settings), lane keeping, blind spot warning, 360-degree camera, 10-speaker audio, rear cross-traffic alert, automatically folding side mirrors and a foottriggered motion sensor to open the tailgate, among its other mod-cons.
Add $700 for metallic paint and the price of the car tested is $49,950 plus on-roads, or about $53,000 drive-away. Electrically adjustable front seats are part of the $4900 “luxury pack”.
The Kodiaq cabin is already classier than what is par for the course in this price range. The standard seats, with suede fabric, look sporty and fit snugly. The bulging, flat-bottomed steering wheel could have come from a VW Golf GTI.
Performance from the engine is surprisingly perky, despite asking a four-cylinder to move 1.7-tonnes of metal.
The seven-speed lacks the stop-start stutter of earlier examples because it is the latest, wet clutch type. We’ll spare you the technical explanation but in practice there is less of a delay when moving from rest and smoother transition between gears. Paddle-shifters would be a welcome addition but they’re not available.
There are six driving modes but we experimented mainly with comfort, normal and sport. The suspension gradually gets stiffer, the steering sharper and the engine and transmission more responsive. In all modes, the suspension absorbed bumps well, though the normal mode suffices for the daily grind.
Cornering grip is impressive and road noise at freeway speeds was almost eerily absent.
The lane-keeping tech works OK when the cameras can clearly see the lane markings but is only effective on straight sections or gentle bends. A couple of times it missed the markings even though it gave us the green light. As the disclaimer says, safety is always the driver’s responsibility.
The radar cruise control works well, though the stalk functions take some mastering. The driver can adjust it up or down in increments of 1km/h or 10km/h increments.
The Kodiaq is a fresh alternative in the overcrowded seven-seat SUV market. If it wore a VW badge, it would brain the competition.