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Like it or not, large SUVs are a big deal. More than half of the 50-odd manufacturers that sell cars in Australia offer a large, high-riding, family wagon.
With the launch of the 2017 Skoda Kodiaq, we can add one more to that list.
Planned to arrive in Australia in mid-2017, the Kodiaq is the first seven-seater for the Czech manufacturer, and the start of a rollout of SUV models due to hit showrooms over the next four years.
Kodiaq is named after the Kodiak bear which inhabit the Kodiak islands in Alaska. For some handy dinner table trivia, the car is spelt with a ‘q’ not a ‘k’ as a tribute to Alaska’s native Alutiiq people who identify an animal by ending its name with a ‘q’. That and there’s already a Chevrolet Kodiak and, you know, lawyers.
The bear has been the mascot for the Kodiaq development, being an icon of something that is big, tough and clever (ever seen one catch a salmon?).
One more thing while we are learning stuff, the accent on the 'Š' in ŠKODA is called a caron (CNTRL + V on a Mac keyboard) and gives the 'S' a sound like 'SCH'. Just pretend you are Sean Connery when you say Skoda, and you can't miss.
The big SUV is built on the Volkswagen MQB platform, making it more of a big Volkswagen Tiguan than a small Audi Q7 (the first-generation car used the MLB platform). This architecture is also utilised by the Skoda Octavia and Superb, and in a pure size comparison, the Kodiaq sits somewhere in the middle.
It’s 4697mm long (roughly 40mm longer than an Octavia and 160mm shorter than a Superb) and has a 2791mm wheelbase, 50mm shorter than the Superb. For some category context, the Skodiaq (sorry, can’t help myself) is almost identical in dimensions to the local Hyundai Santa Fe, which measures 4.7m long and 1.88m wide.
From the outside, though, the Kodiaq doesn’t look too big. The sharp lines and angles give it a very clean and modern look, more like a station wagon than a traditional SUV. The front, with its ten-bar grille, radome ‘nose’, high-mounted stacked lamp array and large intake panel below the bumper does take a bit of getting used to.
Quite a bit of getting used to, in fact.
It’s distinctive, no doubt, and elements like the straked LED ‘eyelashes’ within the lamp housings themselves are pretty cool… but it’s not what you would go out and call ‘stunning’.
The rear too, seems at first to look too wide between the lamps, and ultimately very conservative in its design, but it does grow on you. The lights in particular, which have a crystalline appearance to them, look fantastic.
Colour and wheel choice make a big difference to the overall appearance of the car, so we’ll have to wait to see local launch specification before continuing any style-based judgement.
Bottom line, it does look like a Skoda and does hold true to the brand’s ethos of being simple, practical and clever.
After all, you don’t buy a Skoda to impress with how it looks (although even that is changing), you choose the brand for that ‘simply clever’ motto. And here, the Kodiaq will both surprise and delight.
Skoda claim there are 30 ‘simply clever’ features around the car. Now, to be fair, they call the powered tailgate one of these features, which might be clever, but isn’t really new or special. Luckily, the Kodiaq has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve.
Here’s a short selection…
The lower fog lamps at the front double as cornering lamps. Inside the fuel flap is an ice-scraping tool that also works as a magnifying glass. Inside the boot, the interior light detaches to become a torch which is magnetised to stick onto the car. The bottle holders between the front seats have little ‘grips’ on them which allow you to open a lid of a bottle with one hand.
The doors have integrated protection strips that flip out when you open the door (again, not a brand-new concept), so that it won't bash on the wall or another car. You can activate a system that picks up the driver’s voice from the Bluetooth microphone and pipes it to the rear passengers via the stereo speakers, so you can yell at the kids without yelling at the kids.
Yes, there are umbrellas in the front doors. You can remotely activate/deactivate child locks from the driver’s seat. The phone tray in the center console has an inbuilt antenna for better reception, plus it will support conductive charging for compatible phones.
The best one, however, is a ‘sleep system’ on the rear passenger head rests, that flip forward allowing your head to be supported should you want to have a nap in the back. This is combined with a little blanket that clips onto the front headrests, to keep you all warm and snug.
This is the right car for lots of clever little items, there to make your life a bit easier and more comfortable.
It’s not all party tricks, either - the more mundane practicalities of a seven-seat SUV seem to have been well thought out too.
Rear leg room is excellent (although not as good as a Superb), plus the bench is split 60:40 on rails to adjust for third row passenger room. Head and toe room are also great, plus the seats are exceptionally comfortable. The outside rear seats both support ISOFIX seats and have about ten degrees of recline.
You can option a pair of picnic trays on the back of the front seats, but to be honest, they are a bit light and flimsy for our liking. Integrated window blinds are also available.
There is a central arm rest with cup holders, a USB, 12-volt and 230-volt (Euro plug) outlet in the center console, and rear air conditioning vents with temperature control is part of the standard equipment. The seats can fold 40:20:40 as well.
Access to the third row is a tilt-and-slide procedure. The accessway isn’t huge, and neither is the space, so consider these for children only. Fair to note that I did manage to squeeze in, so it is possible!
Back there, you won't find vents, and there's just a single cup holder. The seats themselves are comfy, though, but with the headrests fully deployed you can say goodbye to any rear-window vision. The seat belts have a clever roof-mounting point for when they aren’t in use too. The third row folds 50:50.
The load lip on the boot is at a good height, and the door itself is powered. There’s a double sided floor to protect against wet items, a store for the cargo blind when not in use, and even a space saver spare tyre under the floor. In typical Skoda fashion the tool kit has been well thought out and includes some backup fuses, tweezers to install and remove them, plus the spare wheel rim itself houses the subwoofer for the stereo.
Around the boot, as well as the torch, there are remote releases for the second row and the third row is easy to open and close - providing the middle seats haven't been pushed all the way back on their rails (the headrests get stuck against the seat back otherwise).
Cargo volume extends from 270 litres with the third row in place, to 630 litres as a five-seater, and to 2055 litres with all seats folded flat. This gives the Kodiaq the largest cargo space in its class.
Practicality upon practicality. It really is a very well thought-out car.
Up front, a central eight-inch glass-fronted touch screen takes pride of place in the dashboard. Like the Superb, the infotainment system is similar to a Volkswagen, but has been given a pleasant update by way of sharper graphics and colour usage.
It offers a predictive function, making contextual menus active as you move your hand toward it. In Europe, this system supports a telemetry and online data services package called Skoda Connect. It isn’t known if the Kodiaq will support this when the car launches in Australia, but they are working on it. It's a pity, as this combines back-to-base diagnostics as well as consumer convenience like Google Street View and satellite overlays - and mobile app connectivity to check on things like where you parked, or how much fuel is in the tank.
Generally, the infotainment system is good. As in the recent Volkswagen models we have reviewed, finding all the functions can take some getting used to, but it is full-featured and fundamentally easy to use.
We like the personalisation options that let you change everything from each driver’s preset distance on the adaptive cruise control, as well as one of ten ambient lighting colours in the cabin. These can be downloaded to a Skoda Connect customer portal, so that your settings can move with you from car to car.
Also up front are twin gloveboxes (the lower one is chilled), a center armrest storage cubby, a tray in front of the transmission lever with a USB plug and 12-volt outlet, door bins with hi-vis vests in them, and a remote release for the boot.
Materials aren’t what you’d call premium, but they are generally very nice. There’s a solid feel to the switch gear, despite it not being of the most top-shelf quality. That said, it is nicer than I expected it to be.
The front seats too are very comfortable and supportive. We sat in both a leather-trimmed car, with lovely perforated seat designs that support heating and ventilation, as well as the leather/alcantara trimmed car. Both are nice places to spend time, but a standout is the optional lighter leather trim which really lifts the up-market feel of the cabin.
All Australian-specification Kodiaqs will be seven-seat configurations with all-wheel drive.
There will be a choice of a 132kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which has been revised for the Kodiaq, and a 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel which we know from the Superb.
The petrol pulls well off the mark, and offers peak torque from 1400 to 3940 rpm. Around town, in slower traffic, it responds well and even under heavy load doesn’t sound overly raspy.
Medium to high-speed acceleration, say 80-100km/h when overtaking, isn’t its strong point and making any passing moves on a country drive will require a bit of planning, as it just seems to run out of legs in this situation.
The petrol does cruise happily though, and we saw fuel consumption in the 9.0L/100km range.
Of the two power plants though, the diesel is most certainly our pick.
Like the petrol motor it pulls well, down low, offering peak torque between 1750 and 3250rpm. It feels just that little bit more punchy and, when given the same overtaking test in the 80-100km/h range, performed with greater confidence, meaning less time on the wrong side of the road.
Fuel consumption here was under 8.0L/100km for our roughly 100km drive loop.
That said, neither is a powerhouse and when you consider the Hyundai Santa Fe is offered with a 199kW/318Nm 3.2-litre petrol V6, it makes the Skoda feel perhaps a bit light-on for oomph. We'll eagerly await the 177kW/500Nm bi-turbo diesel RS variant, which, while not yet confirmed, seems to be the worst kept secret in Eastern Europe.
The new seven-speed DSG transmission will also feature on all Australian-market cars, and for our short loops in the Kodiaq around the country roads of Mallorca, we have to say it performed really well.
Shifts were smooth and the kickdown delay not overly long. There was minimal vibration at low speed, and off-the-line take up was good. I will caveat this by saying that we didn’t really get a chance to test the transmission behaviour in isolation. There were no forward/reverse manoeuvres or incline-based starts that usually tend to upset a DSG. That’s not to suggest there will be issues, but just providing clarity on the drive experience.
In a nutshell, the drivelines are both well suited to urban running, but the diesel is better on the open road.
In terms of handling, the Kodiaq is remarkably well sorted. For a large SUV it feels smaller and lighter on the road than you would expect. It’s just a really nice car to drive, especially for relaxed touring runs.
The steering is light, albeit perhaps a bit too light on center, but the car feels good through both sweeping and tight corners.
You can adjust the driving modes to an eco, comfort, sport, snow and individual setting, as well as the default normal mode. Changing to sport (as you do) gave the Skoda a more responsive throttle and slightly heavier steering weight to help with the tight, mountain passes on the Spanish isle.
The increased steering weight doesn’t translate into better feel, but we will save judgement here too for when the car lands locally.
Ride quality is very impressive, and the SUV only really gets upset over sharper edges and bigger gaps in the road. Over speed humps and standard road surface changes, the Kodiaq is compliant and ultimately very comfortable.
It’s quiet, too. We measured just 62dB at 100km/h, which is the same as what we recorded in a Jaguar XF. For the most part, the only noise was wind around the mirrors and across the enormous panoramic sunroof. Under the rear wheel arches on the Skoda is a carpet-like coating, which helps keep road noise down.
Adaptive cruise control and AEB will be standard features on the car, and the ACC system worked well, even queuing to a stop in city traffic. There’s plenty of other cool tech available as an option too, from a three-dimensional surround view parking camera to a clever trailer-reversing assistance system that uses the automatic parking function to help steer the trailer in the right direction.
Local specification and pricing hasn’t been confirmed, but we are expecting the Kodiaq to match the Superb in being offered with a single trim grade and a number of bundled option packs. Pricing should be close to the Superb too, and inline with cars like the Hyundai Santa Fe, which range between $40,000 and $60,000.
It's that unknown price equation, plus the fact that many of the real standout features, are either optional or not yet confirmed for Australia, that keeps a higher rating of the Skodiaq (you wait, it will catch on) at bay.
That said, for Skoda’s first, big SUV, the 2017 Skoda Kodiaq is a very good car. They’ve come out with a very clever, very complete package, ready to take on some very established names. And, as the saying goes - if you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly!
We can’t wait to drive the Kodiaq on Australian soil, in Australian specification, to see how it stacks up against the local competition.
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 Skoda Kodiaq below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward.