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The 2020 Skoda Kodiaq RS is currently the fastest seven-seat SUV around the Nürburgring, and for that reason we’re undertaking our first Australian drive on-track – makes sense when you’re marketing an SUV as a proper sports offering.
However, only 10 years ago, you’d have questioned the idea of driving nearly any SUV on a racetrack, but such is the pace of technological progress and mechanical capability, it’s now commonplace to the point that Skoda has set a Green Hell lap record in one.
Still, looking at the Kodiaq idling quietly in the pits before our sighting lap, it’s hard to get your head around a large SUV performing adeptly on the tight, twisty and undulating circuit that faces us. My initial thought is, ‘this chassis is going to need to be extremely well sorted’.
It is, but more on that soon. And it doesn't idle so quietly once you open the exhaust either.
The Skoda Kodiaq will be priced from $65,990 before on-road costs, with competitive servicing schedules that you can prepay for. They will cover three or five years (your choice), and effectively give the buyer one or two free services respectively for the $900 or $1700 outlay. The three-year schedule covers 45,000km, while the five-year plan covers 75,000km. It’s a smart way to lock in surety with the buyer, and take one stress point away from a new car purchase.
Considering the levels of standard equipment, the asking price is competitive, too, and Skoda has packed the Kodiaq full of kit to remove the need for extensive (and costly) options beyond the starting price. Standard equipment highlights include: 20-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers, black mirror caps, roof rails, premium leather interior with stitched RS logos, high-definition digital cockpit and RS badging.
Powering the Kodiaq is the bi-turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine, which punches out 176kW (at 4000rpm) and 500Nm (between 1750–2500rpm). Power is sent to the road through an on-demand all-wheel drive system matched to a seven-speed DSG automatic.
The Euro fuel-use claim is a frugal 6.0L/100km, which we’ll test more closely when we get the Kodiaq into the CarAdvice garage for a full week of testing. Punting an SUV around a track isn't the place to measure fuel use, that's for sure.
The 2.0-litre oiler pushes the Kodiaq from 0–100km/h in an impressive 7.0 seconds. Skoda claims a top speed of 220km/h; a number we won’t get to test at launch given the short, uphill start/finish straight. It does get moving quickly, though, and belies the physical size of the Kodiaq.
The minor styling changes add (or enhance) to what was an already sharply styled large SUV. The night before the launch, I saw a 4x4 Kodiaq variant reverse-parking on a busy city street, and it reminded me how attractive the standard variant is. Even without the 20-inch wheels and low-profile rubber, the Kodiaq cuts a sharp figure on the street.
However, Skoda has taken it up a notch with the Kodiaq RS. It looks like it’s ready to go fast, which is exactly how it should be for a sporty SUV. I really like the cabin, too. It’s classy, well appointed, and also feels sporty without going over the top for the sake of it.
The dynamic cockpit display is quality, too, such that you wonder what performance driving was like without it. It’s a feature you almost expect now, and it looks so much more premium than any traditional gauge cluster does. I, for one, lamented the loss of the old-style dial, but I’ve quickly grown accustomed to the much more modern take on things. The fact you can customise the display to suit your style is, in itself, worth the cost of inclusion.
The seats are excellent and deserve special mention after a decent track session. They are firm without being hard, and supportive without being too harsh. When you’re pushing hard around a track, you don’t even so much as move in them, and they provide enough adjustment for anyone to get comfortable behind the wheel.
As is par for the Kodiaq course, the second row is roomy. I sat behind a 180cm-plus driver for the sighting laps and had more than enough leg and knee room. Boot space is listed at 270 litres with the rear two seating rows set upright, 630 litres with the rear-most row laid flat, and 2005 litres with both rear rows folded.
On-track, the two things you notice most are the sorted nature of the chassis and the way it behaves, and the precision of the steering. An SUV, traditionally ungainly at this size and weight, should never be as capable around a tight track as the Kodiaq proves to be. It changes direction nicely, too, shifting its weight to the outside tyres and tucking in tightly to the chosen line.
The Kodiaq brakes straight and turns in beautifully. While we weren’t pulling the Kodiaq up from warp speed thanks to the short straights at the test track, the brakes never protested once during our track sessions. Even after repeated laps. A couple of the professional drivers had experienced the Kodiaq RS at Phillip Island, and reported that even when called on from higher speed, the brakes were impressive.
The surety of the steering means you can push harder as you get familiar with the SUV and the track, too, knowing exactly what the front end is doing without any nasty surprises. You might not realise it, but vague steering is the bane of any track session, perhaps even more than a less competent chassis or woolly brakes. If you get your entry speed wrong, the front end will understeer slightly, but that’s related to driver error not chassis incompetence. If you get your braking and turn-in points spot on, the Kodiaq is a rapid SUV.
I thought the general sense of balance was impressive, too. While you are aware of the general heft, you do have to remind yourself that you’re punishing a seven-seat SUV on a racetrack, and in a manner that it surely was never intended to be used before the RS treatment was applied.
Balance brings with it reassurance, not just on-track, but also on-road, and I look forward to testing the Kodiaq RS on a rutted, country B-road. It seems to me that will be an environment where it will thrive. And for most buyers (or potential buyers) that's the most important place for it to do well.
As far as the segment goes, right now the Kodiaq RS doesn’t really have any direct competitors. A seven-seat SUV that can be hustled this quickly is still a relatively new thing. While some of you might be thinking the price is a bit steep for a vehicle with a Skoda badge, you need to take a close look at what you get for your money. The value proposition is impossible to prosecute a case against.
The Kodiaq RS is a compelling package that performs in a way that matches the styling. If you need a seven-seat SUV and you still desire a performance drive, the Kodiaq RS is a real standout.
NOTE: Although this test was carried out in Australia, supplied photography is sourced from Europe. We will add our own local photography when we've had the Kodiaq RS through the CarAdvice garage.