Did you know that Skoda has been using the Monte Carlo model designation for 85 years?
The name comes from the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally, which Skoda has a rich, 120-year history with. The event kicked off in 1911, and was a different type of rally to what we know today.
The inaugural event attracted 23 competitors, who set off for Monaco from 11 different locations. It wasn't until 25 years later, in 1936, that a genuine Skoda vehicle tasted the podium.
A 'Popular Sport' model, wearing the winged arrow badge you see today on Skoda cars, finished second in its category – no doubt a cause for celebration.
To mark the occasion, the brand released 70 examples derived from the rally car, which were minted 'Monte Carlo'.
Seventy-five years on, in 2011, Skoda reintroduced the Monte Carlo designation for its Fabia city-car. Nowadays, it can be found on a handful of Skodas, and has come to stand for the cheeky, sporty model in its small car line-up.
As with Skoda, value for money is often its strong suit – so let's start our rally there.
Despite the Monte Carlo usually being top of the range, it currently sits in the middle of the three-wide offering. Below is the entry model, and above it a launch edition, but expect that version to vanish once stock is depleted.
Skoda prefers to use national drive-away pricing for its vehicles – which makes it simple for the consumer to buy, but difficult to compare fairly to others. This is due to Australia's penchant for state-based vehicle taxes.
The Kamiq Monte Carlo starts from $36,990 drive-away, regardless of where you live. As a simple barometer to comparable competitors, a Ford Puma ST-Line V costs around $39,000, and the newly facelifted Hyundai Kona N-Line, about $41,000, both drive-away.
|2021 Skoda Kamiq Monte Carlo|
|Engine||1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||110kW at 6000rpm, 250Nm at 1500–3500rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (dry-type)|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.6L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||6.5L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2019)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Ford Puma, Hyundai Kona|
|Price as tested (drive-away approx)||$41,290|
Powering the Monte Carlo is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, with 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque. For some, the engine will be enough to spend $6000 stepping up from an entry Kamiq, which uses a 1.0-litre, 85kW and 200Nm, three-cylinder engine.
As the neat, motorsport-inspired badges on its front suggest, the Monte Carlo does feature more than just visual upgrades. Its suspension has been tuned accordingly, with a 15mm lower ride height, and adjustable control, versus the regular car.
Not only is it great to see a performance-inspired badge actually inspiring the drive and not just the look, it's also rare to find adaptive suspension at this pricepoint.
The Kamiq Monte Carlo is the only SUV in its segment to feature it as standard. Out of the 20 SUVs it competes against, only one has the same technology. Even then, it forms part of the paid extras list.
The difference in ride quality compared to the entry-level version is noticeable. Whereas the cheaper car features a refreshingly supple ride, the Monte Carlo is much firmer, even in its comfort setting.
Over poorer, dappled inner-city road surfaces, comfort mode can feel busy and bumpy. Switching to sport just magnifies the issue around town, but it does improve turn-in response out on faster country roads.
You'll find comfort mode striking the best balance of ride quality and control. It feels like a missed opportunity that Skoda did not align the Monte Carlo's softest setting closer to what's found in the regular Kamiq.
SUVs need not be overly stiff and sporty 24/7, and adaptive dampers exist to offer duality. The steering calibration is on the light side, but weights up nicely and consistently, as is the hallmark of Volkswagen Group products.
Another differentiator is the Monte Carlo's engine. The four-cylinder engine benefits from extra torque, which also manifest in full 500rpm earlier. It's surprisingly punchy, too, featuring a breadth of ability throughout the mid-range.
Fuel usage came in at 6.5L/100km, which is just under one litre over the official combined claim of 5.6L/100km.
If you like a bit of meat under your throttle pedal, I'd recommend the step up from the entry-level three-cylinder Kamiq. If you're going to be loading yours up with kids, kids' friends, and even their dogs, the Monte Carlo will again perform better.
Despite being an SUV, all Skoda Kamiqs are front-wheel drive, and the only transmission offered at this level is a dual-clutch, seven-speed automatic. It's a smooth-shifting unit that's fast on the upshift, which further compliments the badge.
However, as with most dry-type dual-clutch transmissions, there are some quirks. For example, quick departures at intersections do require some forward thinking. If you make the call as you see it, the Monte Carlo can hesitate slightly before full power is bestowed on its wheels.
You do learn to drive around it by lifting off the brake early, listening for the revs to change, and then applying throttle at the optimal time. Another point that requires forethought is setting off from lights using the auto stop-start system, as it does cause a delay in operation.
Cabin quality is where the Monte Carlo excels most. Convenience features begin as soon as you open the door, and are greeted by an umbrella.
Once inside, sports seats welcome you with open bolsters. The seats are actually fantastic, and ironically more aggressive than the ones found in the outgoing Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Single-piece with a fixed headrest, featuring adjustable lumbar on the driver's side and red accenting, they'd look at home in the hottest of hot hatchbacks. Most importantly, however, they're comfortable and provide great support, especially around the shoulder and thigh areas.
Another big-ticket item is the huge, panoramic glass roof that's standard fit. While it doesn't open, it literally spans the whole length and width of the roof, and is not broken up by a centre bar. Kids travelling at night where the light pollution is low will adore the view.
Also coming with the $36,990 entry price is an 8.0-inch touchscreen display with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. Our car had the $4300 travel pack option added, which introduced upgrades in this field.
Its infotainment screen is now a 9.2-inch widescreen unit with wireless smartphone connectivity. The clarity of the display is brilliant, as is the premium-looking 'glass design' execution.
Alongside the infotainment upgrade, a Skoda premium sound system comes too. It introduces a critical centre speaker, and rear subwoofer, which sees its speaker count out to ten. An external amplifier is also included.
The on-board equaliser is also clued-up, with both mid-bass and mid-treble frequencies now tunable. To this tester's ears, after a back-to-back session with a Bang & Olufsen Play system in a competitor product, the Skoda's stereo sounded clearer and offered more depth.
The optional package also includes plenty of other trinkets, some safety related, some convenience. Nice-to-haves include heated front and rear seats, paddle shifters for the transmission, and automatic parking assist.
In terms of safety extras, the package brings blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. These come addition to the standard fitment of emergency autonomous braking, lane-keeping assist, rear-view camera with parking sensors, and a rear collision braking-assist system. Its official ANCAP safety rating is five stars, having been tested in 2019.
The rest of the cabin is full of simple, ergonomic joys. The tall glasshouse means visibility from all angles is great, as is head room, too, despite the glass roof. Storage is well catered for, as there are two deep door pockets, a covered storage area to the right of the driver, an open cubby in the centre console with wireless charging capability, and armrest storage.
Material selection is diverse and quality. There's generous use of foam-backed padding on the doors for your elbows, and the faux carbon-fibre dash trim doesn't look cheap. At night-time, the cabin is back-lit with ambient lighting.
In the second row, space is decent, considering the class of car. Sitting behind my own driving position, set for a long-legged 183cm frame, there was 3–4cm of leg room, ample foot room, and plenty of head room. The rear seat squab has a subtle incline to it, which makes it bucket-y and supportive to your thighs.
Two large, convertible child seats are about as much baby you could fit in the second row. In a rearward-facing position, the front passenger will lose knee room, but others in the segment come off much worse. In a forward-facing position, with a deeply backed style of baby seat, my taller-than-average three-year-old was able to stretch his legs without irritating the person in front.
Second-row extras include a pair of air vents, two USB-C ports, and rear seat heating. The last extra comes only if you opt for the aforementioned travel package. In terms of second-row storage, there are pockets on the back of both front seats, and a pair of small door bins. Sadly, they're not sizable enough to stow a one-litre water bottle.
Cargo capacity comes in at 400L with all five seats in play, and 1395L with the second row dropped. Better than most, but not best in the class. Dimensions are good, and allow for a portable stroller to fit without any hassle. Another nifty trick is an electric tailgate, which comes as standard.
What's better than outright space is the amount of storage nets, hooks, and possible ways to use this area, however. There's even a net underneath the parcel shelf, which is a great place to put a 12-pack of eggs, as an example.
Once you're into the habit of organising things in the back of your car, it's hard to go back. Grubby kids' sports paraphernalia on one side, and work stuff on the other, all made simple thanks to some rope and elastic.
Warranty coverage for Skoda products in Australia is five years/unlimited kilometres. Servicing costs are high when paid as you go, at $1139 for three years or $2201 over the full five-year warranty period.
Paying for serving ahead of time saves a heap, with prices falling to $800 and $1400 respectively. Intervals are 15,000km or 12 months, whichever occurs first.
Skoda's Kamiq is great, and the entry-level version has already impressed the CarAdvice team immensely. We've had the pleasure of sharing extensive time with the $29,990-priced version, which proved itself to be a comfortable, convenient family SUV.
Thankfully, the Monte Carlo version adds more than it takes away from its cheaper sibling. The extra additions, particularly the seats, standard-fit glass roof and sports chassis, will appeal to those who enjoy a dose of fun with their rationality.
However, the ride quality deteriorates as a result. Consider it a trade-off for the car authentically wearing its sporty history on its sleeve.
We're looking forward to pitting the Kamiq against a few other leaders in this space, including the excellent Ford Puma. My gut tells me the Skoda has it, but we'll wait for the official result.