Beat the crowd

Dis­cover a seven-seat niche with Skoda’s sleek and clever SUV

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

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.

VERDICT

The Ko­diaq is a fresh al­ter­na­tive in the over­crowded seven-seat SUV mar­ket. If it wore a VW badge, it would brain the com­pe­ti­tion.

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