ŠKODA KODIAQ 2020 176 tdi rs (4x4)

2020 Skoda Kodiaq RS review

Australian first drive

Rating: 8.2
$65,990 Mrlp
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It's been a while coming, but the Skoda Kodiaq RS oiler performance SUV has finally hit Aussie roads. Can seven seats and track friendliness live hand in hand, day to day?
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The 2020 Skoda Kodiaq RS’s local arrival has been a long time coming since the claimed “fastest seven-seat SUV around the (old) Nürburgring” marched around Green Hell in nine-and-a-half minutes back in June 2018. It premiered that October, in Paris, and by July 2019, and after some fair effort by Skoda Australia co-opting with the Czech head office, it was rubber-stamped for release Down Under.

It launched, sort of, as a track-only teaser at Phillip Island Circuit in August 2019, and order books opened by year’s end. Now, it’s finally arrived, in Aussie spec for local Launch 2.0, though a certain global situation meant no structured program, but rather the Kodiaq RS fronting up to CarAdvice HQ for a week of all-important on-road, real-world assessment.

“We’ve worked tirelessly to bring it to our shores,” Skoda Australia said mid last year. It wanted this model badly. No surprise there: the widespread popularity of a seven-seat SUV with RS credo popular with brand loyalists, it’s a crucial figurehead of sorts for the brand that outsells Toyota in Europe, but continues fighting the good fight for mainstream traction in Oz. Even if the notion of a plus-sized SUV with track-friendly chops might seem, well, niche.

It’s also a diesel, arriving in a market falling out of love with oiler passenger cars. And, in 2.0-litre four-cylinder format, it’s a modest diesel at that. A tricky sell? Perhaps. Because at $65,990 before on-roads, this mainstream-badged, somewhat niche prospect looks a mite pricey in isolation, particularly when the next step down in the range is more of a $13,800 leap for a rather ‘bloody great’ 132 TSI Sportline version that, at a glance, offers the similar goodness in areas such as 20-inch wheels, Virtual Cockpit techiness, and rich Alcantara trim.

Clearly, for the premium the RS asks, it’d want to transcend merely greatness to ‘bloody excellent’, right?

No surprises, then, that the Kodiaq RS’s local spec throws everything including the kitchen sink at its very lengthy features list. Value remains a Skoda hallmark, and this model complies, if in a manner moving the brand goalposts. It’s not just features, either: the Czech brand spruiks value in quality for money, spaciousness for money, and practicality for money. All of which has proven itself not just throughout the range, but also crucially in lower-grade Kodiaqs.

The point? It’s the premium-cost RS-exclusive stuff that will make or break this model in assessment. That's because its SUV-ness is well proven, while its conviction as a semi-sporty, quasi-performance prospect isn’t.

With its ‘Xtreme’-style 20s, subtle front and rear remodelling, black highlights and red calipers outside the exclusive Race Blue paintwork, it’s handsome, conventionally sporty, maintains the family RS look, and has a dad-friendly vibe (there, I wrote it). The only thing it really lacks, to my subjective eyes at least, is a bit of mucho stance. It sits more like an off-roader than a quasi-premium performance SUV – or Octavia RS 245 for that matter – on quite narrow rubber, while fatter rears would otherwise fill those rear guards just nicely.

The RS gear inside, too, enhances an already rich and satisfying Sportline baseline. But let’s focus on the variant-specific stuff.

The unapologetically racy, fully electric front pews look the absolute business, and according to one former colleague’s assessment, they are the best seats he’s ever sat in. I can’t share his overwhelming enthusiasm, but they strike the right blend of comfort, support and focus if, like me, you fiddle around for ages getting the adjustment ‘just right’.

They are trimmed with a swank Alcantara centre section and novel carbon-look leather side bolsters, running right through all three rows, the first two featuring seat heating. Row two has shapely, comfy outboard seating with handy slide and tilt adjustment and oodles of room all round – if you trade off some leg room from the ‘plus two’ third row, which is roomy enough for the naughty kids.

It’s a long cabin, if not an overly wide one – again, a Skoda hallmark – and doesn’t quite have the roominess of, say, a Volvo XC90, one of the very few feasibly seven-adult prospects out there. As a proper wagon, it converts 270L of boot space to 630L as a five-seater and just over 2000L with row two stowed, so no compromise in utility for the go-fast version of the SUV line-up.

Other RS bits? There’s a flat-bottom Golf GTI-esque paddle-shifter wheel, carbon-look dash and door inlays, ‘RS’-specific screen content, lots of red stitching: all likeable and predictable mods. There’s some tweaked content in the screens, the customisable Virtual Cockpit driver display featuring five very different skin designs. The 9.2-inch infotainment system only gets a light tweak, and despite loading in a heap of must-have features and boasting a lovely tablet-like glass, it suffers from submenu-itis and average sound quality from its ‘name’ Canton audio.

So far, so feel-good. But the Kodiaq RS’s stripes need to be earned in the driving experience – starting with its oiler-based powertrain.

While this EA288 unit is related to the family 140TDI engine, the “most powerful Skoda diesel to date” gets heavily revised construction and internals, and features a clever biturbo arrangement that places one low-boost and one high-boost compressor in series. Not merely ‘sequential’, the small turbo intends to reduce lag and improve response off the mark and provide primary operation at low-RPM cruising to minimise consumption. Meanwhile, the high-boost turbocharger does the heavy lifting in the mid-range and in high-load conditions.

Its 176kW and 500Nm are healthy for a small four-pot oiler. And, characteristically, the twin-turbo effect does as hoped and described. In Normal drive mode, there is some noticeable ramping up of thrust before peak torque arrives, and in no modest manner. There’s decent balance between shove and politeness.

But you need Sport activated to really wake the 2.0-litre four up to sharpen its responses, pile on some performance conviction, and to (further) pump up the surly exhaust growl from the Dynamic Sound Boost enhancer. This adds bold (Normal) and bolder (Sport) sonics atop an otherwise quiet (Comfort) default setting.

The torque is quite satisfying, and at times you’d swear there was more capacity under the bonnet. It’s just that with a best of 7.0sec for the 0–100km/h sprint, it’s not terribly quick in outright terms.

So, we pointed the Kodiaq RS to some twisty back roads, specifically those fine ribbons of hot mix in NSW’s Southern Highlands, to see if it’s more at home in public road corner-carving. The results are indeed interesting. And mixed.

While the diesel-and-dual-clutch combination proved handy enough on a flowing racetrack last year, the point-and-squirt between the tight corners of a steeply inclined mountain pass challenges the powertrain harder.

It does march confidently from one apex to another, and is eager enough on the boil. It’s just keeping it on boil proves a little tricky. There’s a mere 750rpm window (1750–2500rpm) of peak torque, and in typical diesel manner there's flat power delivery anywhere beyond 4000rpm peak power – it takes much concentration and lots of furious paddle-flapping to maintain full thrust. The seven-speed’s considerable ratio spread between the second-third-fourth gear changes merely intensifies the challenge.

In short, small diesels and dual-clutch gearboxes aren’t natural bedfellows, particularly if performance is an aim and a heavy SUV is the vessel. It does a commendable job of moving things along, but it’s not what you’d call breathtaking.

For a big unit, the Kodiaq RS certainly grips and rotates well enough in the corners, pointing reasonably well on turn-in given its heft and high-riding stance, and exiting curves with gusto as the all-wheel-drive system gets on the case nice and early – you actually feel the front axle torque dragging the machine in the desired direction on exit at full noise.

Steering feel is almost absent, and Sport merely smothers what little feedback there is in a haze of excessive weight, but it does point where it’s asked to and faithful to the driver’s commands, with a hint of safe understeer sensibly dialled in for good measure.

Dynamically, it’s more faithfully capable than it is athletic, though that should come as no surprise given the seven-seat SUV format. It’s satisfying enough, but if you’re looking for laugh-out-loud theatrics, this isn’t the machinery for you.

In fact, the Comfort drive mode is perhaps the RS experience at its nicest. Thus set, the adaptively damped ride is at its most nicely balanced, the steering is at its clearest, and its powertrain seemingly happiest (and most economical). It’s worth mentioning here, too, that the Adaptive Chassis Control system that governs ride and handling, as well as the Progressive Steering System, is unique in specification to the RS.

Moving through Normal and Sport, the SUV gets progressively louder, firmer in ride, and heavier in steering. No surprises there. But even in its more athletic drive mode, the chassis can’t seem to fully shake the sense of a jacked-up stance and high centre of gravity. It never really, fully transforms into a properly dynamic, convincingly sporty character.

Fuel consumption? Thirst does tend to fluctuate a bit depending on the type of driving you’re doing. It returns sixes, easily, with highway running, then has a habit of doubling that figure around town. Given its 6.2L/100km combined claim, it’s on the economy back foot in its default drive mode, while Sport, of course, heightens response and thrust to more satisfying levels, if further to the detriment of economy.

The warranty is five years with no kilometre limit imposed, while servicing is demanded at 12-month/15,000km intervals. Skoda offers three-year (45,000km) and five-year (70,000km) upfront cost-capped servicing plans at $900 and $1700 respectively.

Focusing heavily on sportiness and performance doesn’t accurately portray the broader Kodiaq RS picture. When viewed in its entirety, it reveals not merely a niche-plugging “seven-seat SUV handy around a track”, but much more an all-singing, all-dancing, wants-for-little family hauler that is impressively well rounded and, well, a bit tempered in the go-fast department because of it. That it’s arguably at its best in Comfort mode leisurely punting the family about – an area we haven’t delved into too much – is testament to that.

It's no great secret that the Kodiaq RS adheres much more to a European sports-SUV formula, especially in the powertrain department. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, Euro-centric charm is part of the Skoda attraction.

That said, how much interest this package – this big-SUV, small-diesel combination – strikes with more horsepower- and petrol-hungry Aussie buyers remains to be seen.

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