Quirky Czech automaker Skoda is one of those brands that often tends to slip off the radar for more than a few new car buyers, but hop into a Skoda Kodiaq for the first time, and we guarantee you’ll have a newfound appreciation for the brand.
There isn’t really any one aspect that stands atop another, but as a complete package this seven-seat all-wheel-drive load lugger with clean European styling, a ton of tech, and a sensible price tag is a seriously compelling package in what is a ferociously competitive segment.
Some will be taken by the Kodiaq’s novelty features, such as the secretly stashed umbrellas in the front doors, or the individually packaged cashmere-soft blankets hidden under the boot floor – all entirely convenient features and thoroughly real-world tested by this reviewer.
Others will warm to its overwhelming practicality, comfort and general all-round liveability of this almost-large SUV with a badge that’s been around for more than a century. So, it’s fair to say they’ve had plenty of practice.
One of the Kodiaq’s most useful features, though, are the door protectors that automatically pop out when said doors are opened, while neatly retracting when shut. They protect both your vehicle and those parked next to you in space-starved shopping centre carparks.
Size-wise, the new Skoda effectively bridges the gap between mid-size and large SUVs – meaning at 4697mm long it’s 104mm shy of Volkswagen’s Touareg (soon to be replaced) but 265mm longer than the Tiguan.
But the Skoda’s starting price of $42,990 plus on-roads for the entry-level petrol at least means it also plays in the same ring as a raft of other strong-selling three-row rivals including the Honda CR-V VTi-L AWD ($44,290), Hyundai Santa-Fe Active CRDi ($42,350), Kia Sorento Si ($42,990), Mazda CX-9 Sport FWD $43,890 and Nissan X-Trail Ti 4WD ($44,290).
Skoda launched the Kodiaq back in August 2017 with just one variant – the 132TSI – a 2.0-litre turbo-four petrol making 132kW and 320Nm of torque. The diesel version we’ve tested here dropped a few months later wearing a 140TDI badge with 140kW and 400Nm, promising better fuel economy (5.9L/100km v 7.6L/100km) and a six-grand premium to boot ($48,990) plus on-roads.
Everywhere you look, inside and out, is a feature fest. The tow bar, for instance, simply pops out at the tap of a button in the boot, though it must be said it only has an 80kg maximum downball weight despite a 2000kg tow capacity. And like the plush blankets, the cargo blind tucks away out of sight and hassle-free under the boot floor on top of the space saver. There’s even an integrated LED torch in the luggage and several cargo nets for securing other less stable goods in the back.
You also get retractable sunblinds for the rear windows too, as well as ambient lighting throughout, and an automatic tailgate operated either by front and rear buttons or virtual pedal as part of the Tech Pack – just wave your foot under the rear of the vehicle and, presto, it opens quickly too. And, yes, this one works first time, every time, for opening and closing.
All the cabin lights are LEDs and the glovebox has a chill function as well as plenty of space. There are even rear seat heaters for the two outboard seats, as well as a host of other features if you select the optional Tech and Luxury packs as our tester was equipped with.
There’s plenty of the good stuff up front too, like the large centrally positioned ‘glass design’ infotainment screen, with the clarity and depth of colour matched only by the latest-generation OLED TVs. It’s also got a swipe function like your smartphone, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for ultimate ease and familiarity.
Disappointing, though, is the lone USB port up front, unless of course they’re exceptionally well hidden, but that’s all we could find. So that’s none for the back stalls. Not so clever, then. The one consolation to this oversight is the provision of phone/tablet holders behind the rear seats, though you’ll need to supply a couple of portable battery packs to power them if streaming video.
And while much of the kit might be sourced from the Volkswagen Group parts bin, it feels a little bit special inside the Kodiaq. The perforated leather seats are really quite outstanding for their comfort and support, as is the flat-bottom stitched leather wheel that feels more Audi than VW.
The dash itself is a wonderfully simple layout with minimal knobs and buttons, and plenty of soft-touch plastics (the hard stuff is below knee level and generally out of sight) in all the right parts. That said, we could do without the hideously patterned black trim bits adorning the glovebox fascia and doors in this particular example. You’ve got to wonder what they were thinking.
Sadly, there’s no VW-style full-fest digital instrument display, instead opting for a pair of traditional analogue dials split by a digital information display complete with speed gauge. It’s a large unit, though, and very easy to read at a glance.
There are more spacious seven-seat SUVs, like the larger Mazda CX-9, but the Skoda is very cleverly designed to provide super-size luggage space. That’s 630L behind the second row and a whopping 2005L when folded flat. Even with passengers in the third row there’s still 270L behind row three, or more than enough for the weekly grocery shopping haul.
Passenger space is decent too, in all but the third-row seating. Mind you, the middle seat in the second row is noticeably compromised due to its lack of width, harder cushioning and imposing transmission tunnel hump. Further back in row three things get even tighter, but at least they’re sufficiently wide even for an adult, not that we’d ever recommend it though.
Get behind the wheel of the Kodiaq and the driving experience is commensurate with the rest of the vehicle, that is to say very good. But despite making considerably more torque than its petrol equivalent, the diesel can’t match it for off-the-line pace, as there’s simply more lag with this engine. But it isn’t far behind either, needing 8.5 seconds to hit 100km/h to the petrol version’s 8.2 seconds.
By way of comparison, the more powerful and similarly sized Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 SE needs 8.9 seconds, while the smaller Volkswagen Tiguan 110TDI with identical power and torque outputs is slower still at 9.3 seconds. Either way, at no time over the course of the week’s driving did I feel the need for any more pace in the 140TDI.
That said, the 140TDI pulls nicely from low down in the rev range, and it keeps on pulling while making light work of the steepest inclines Sydney can throw at it. The good news is it never feels like it’s working all that hard either. Engine noise is fairly well muted too, even under max load, but there’s no mistaking this donk for anything but an oil burner.
Paired with the standard seven-speed DSG – dual clutch transmission – still makes for a very relaxed drive in the Kodiak. In fact, it feels like a better marriage than with the petrol engine in terms of a smooth-shifting driveline made for long-distance cruising on the highway, but plenty more than enough go for daily duties in suburbia.
Our tester was also equipped with Skoda’s Adaptive Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) that uses electric valves to control the actions of the shock absorbers, and to great effect too. It’s another reason again to tick the Tech Pack option, which also adds multiple drive modes with varying damper settings.
My colleague Mike Costello previously reviewed the 132TSI and mentioned a slightly firm ride. Well, we can assure you that the adaptive dampers completely eliminate any harshness in the ride, at least in Comfort. Body control automatically tightens up in Sport for more dynamic driving conditions.
It might be a proper family-size SUV, but the Kodiaq is also fun to drive, namely because of said body control and the feedback through the steering wheel. All the pedals feel good too – solid and progressive pressures. It’s just a really nice vehicle to drive with the added benefit of 4x4 traction and grip for those bad weather days.
Adding those optional packs we mentioned earlier also gives you all the latest active safety systems, like lane assist and side assist with blind spot detection, surround-view camera for easy parking, traffic jam assist, emergency assist and rear traffic alert. There's even auto park assist and manoeuvre braking assist, along with an off-road drive mode that makes driving off the beaten track much easier and less worrying.
It’s nice to know there are European carmakers out there willing to back their product with extended warranties, and Skoda is one of those offering five-year/unlimited-kilometre peace of mind. Even the capped-price service packs are fair, with buyers able to choose between three-year/45,000km and five-year/75,000km periods for $1399 and $2999 respectively.
We like the solid torque curve of the diesel Kodiaq – it makes sense if you’re doing plenty of kays as part of your daily commute or need to tow a jet-ski or such. However, we’re less enthusiastic about the six-grand price premium over the petrol version. And, frankly, we’re not sure that it stacks up unless your lifestyle needs demand it.