Given SUVs have essentially replaced the wagon as Australia's family car of choice, being able to tackle an old-fashioned road trip is a critical skill. To make sure the Skoda is up to scratch, I grabbed three friends and twisted their arms until they finally agreed to come skiing.
With four people on board, a weekend's worth of ski gear, food and drinks, I was expecting to really push the limits of what the Kodiaq would hold. It turns out the car's 40/20/40 folding second row and 630L boot were more than capable of swallowing two snowboards, one set of skis/poles, and everyone's insulated gear with room to spare.
Thanks to the independently folding central seat, the rear passengers could even enjoy their own space instead of sitting on top of each other. A few hours squished together isn't the end of the world for a young couple (hey Fraser, Cristina), but it could mean WW3 with kids involved. Chalk up a point for the Kodiaq.
If my mates weren't impressed with the luggage space, they were instantly wowed by the heated outboard rear seats and quiet ride. We've already talked about how refined the car is around town, but the noise suppression at highway speeds is arguably more impressive.
Above: The car was much more messily packed for the trip home. Cold, tired passengers don't tend to be particularly patient...
From smoothly surfaced city tollways to coarse-chip highways, noise from the tyres never gets above a background murmur, and the engine settles down to near silence when you're cruising. Everyone who's driven the car, from journos like Mike Costello to the sales, development and management teams in Melbourne, have been blown away by how serene the cabin is at speed.
The engine can get a bit vocal, though, especially when pushed with more than just a driver on board. With 132kW of power and 320Nm of torque from its turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, I was concerned the Kodiaq would feel woefully undercooked on the open road, but some clever DSG tuning means it always seems to be in the right gear for the occasion.
Whereas some cars will bog down until you really bury your foot on the highway, and reluctant to kick down, the Skoda does a good job of dropping gears to stay in the power band, which is a huge plus in Victoria's hilly High Country. It still gets caught a gear (or two) too high occasionally, forcing you to mash the throttle, but the dual-clutch transmission really comes into its own on the move.
It'll also automatically drop a gear (or two in some cases) as you brake downhill, helping provide some engine braking. That's not unique to Volkswagen Group products, but it was appreciated nonetheless.
Above: Dry road... snow trip..? Don't blame Scott, I didn't approve a snow-weather photography budget - Stevens
Even with two clutches, seven gears and some of the finest engineers in Germany working to make the four-cylinder 132TSI engine feel bigger and burlier than it actually is, there are times when it feels like a small car engine powering a big car. It's never dangerous or outright slow, but you still need to plan overtakes in advance with a load on board.
Given it's offered overseas, we'd love to see the 162TSI engine from the Tiguan offered in the Kodiaq here. It offers an extra 30kW of power and 30Nm of torque, both of which would have been appreciated. Alternatively, the 140kW/400Nm Kodiaq 140TDI could be the car to pick for super-frequent highway drivers.
Previous reviews of the Kodiaq have mentioned a firm ride, and on 20-inch wheels and low-profile Pirelli rubber, the Sportline can be a bit harsh. Adaptive dampers go some way to fixing the problem: Comfort mode is definitely the most comfortable option (duh), but small bumps or high-frequency imperfections still make for a slightly brittle feeling.
Sport mode is simply a no-go unless you're keen to punish your passengers, as is the case with most Volkswagen Group products. How did we find out? Well, I punished my passengers, leaving the Kodiaq in its sportiest setting for the climb up Mount Buller.
Even though this particular example is called the Sportline, big wheels and red paint do not a sports car maketh. Skoda is prepping a hotted-up Kodiaq RS for people desperate to get their sports car kicks in a high-up package, but the 132TSI does a decent job of encouraging keen drivers with quick steering and a flat ride in Sports mode.
Luckily there are grab handles for rear-seat passengers, and the front seats have enough sporty bolstering to stop the driver and passenger sliding around. It's not a sports car, but there's enough sportiness there to justify the badging.
On the drive from Mount Buller back to Melbourne, the Kodiaq covered 270km over four hours and 16 minutes at an average of 63km/h. Claimed fuel use was 7.4L/100km, and my driver tiredness level was about a 5/10. Not bad after a weekend of skiing and, er, general festivities.
Gripes? Smaller wheels and chubbier rubber would make for a more relaxed mile-muncher, and the blindingly bright instruments were tiring – there's more on that in our infotainment update. Oh, and someone stole my friend's shoes from the rental store. Not Skoda's fault, but annoying for Alex nonetheless.
Besides that, the Kodiaq is well qualified as a family wagon. It's quiet, spacious, and there are enough hints of sportiness to leave keen drivers satisfied.
UPDATE: After the fully loaded trip to Buller, I packed up for a one-up drive to Falls Creek. Most of what you see above translated to the five-hour schlep, with a few caveats.
Even on coarse-chip surfaces, there's very little tyre roar from the 235/45 Pirelli Scorpion tyres, and the car's engine is essentially silent at highway speeds – chalk that up as a positive.
The biggest positive, though, was the way the Kodiaq handled through the Happy Valley tourist drive and up Falls Creek. With the dampers in Sport and the transmission in manual, it does an impressive warm-hatch impersonation. It turns in remarkably well for a high-riding family wagon, and hangs on determinedly when you put your foot down mid-corner.
I was genuinely blown away by how sporty the Sportline can feel, although the ride quality suffers with the suspension cranked up to 11.
All of that bodes well for the Kodiaq RS, set to launch later this year.
2018 Skoda Kodiaq 132TSI Sportline
- Odometer: 4310km
- Distance since previous update: 2065km
- Fuel consumption since last update: 8.5L/100km