Czech carmaker’s new flagship seven-seater proves that big needn’t necessarily mean crude or ungainly.
What is it?
We may have only recently seen the launch of the very exciting Skoda Octavia RS, but barely a month later, the Czech brand is launching something arguably even more exciting, albeit for very different reasons. It's the Kodiaq, Skoda’s new flagship seven-seat SUV that will sit just above the Superb sedan in the line-up.
We've driven the Kodiaq overseas, and when I first lay eyes on the Indian version, I’m reminded of the first thing that struck me about it the last time – the way it looks. It’s not small, but it looks more compact than it is, and if you think that takes away from its SUV street presence, it doesn’t. The details are so striking that it manages to do a great job of drawing your eye and holding it there. Lots of the elements from the Superb return, like the sharp ‘Czech crystal’ headlamps and tail-lamps, with the fog lamps getting their own angular pods below. The 18-inch wheels are just about the right size – anything smaller would have looked too tiny, and anything larger would have looked decidedly ‘under-tyred’ for such a long SUV. Similarly, the narrow width and low height, relative to the immense length, means they had to get the ride height right to prevent it from looking too MPV-like, and it seems they have. You also get the company’s ‘butterfly’ grille that’s now bolder than ever, with thick, detailed creases on the sides and at the rear, and very subtle grey cladding around the base of the car that all give it character. So, what it lacks in outright size compared to, say, a Fortuner or an Endeavour, it makes up for with contemporary styling.
What’s it like inside?
The interior is decidedly less avant-garde, but that’s not to say it’s bad by any measure. It’s just that it’s a bit familiar now. You get the standard Skoda dials, steering wheel, stalks, window switches and air con controls, and there’s the same beige and dark grey colour scheme as the other Skodas. All this is no bad thing, as the look is clean and airy and the quality is very good, apart from a few plastics; the shift release button on the gear selector comes to mind. Unique to the Kodiaq is the thick slab of trim that runs horizontally across the centre of the dashboard (and opens as a second glovebox on the passenger side), and though it looks good, it feels a touch too plasticky.
The climb into the middle row is easy, you get a separate third climate zone, and these 40:20:40 split seats fold down and can be slid back and forth by as much as 180mm. They do not, however, tumble forward, nor can they be removed like in the Yeti. This means access to the rear is a bit cumbersome. And it is a bit cramped back here – you sit low to the floor and this is definitely a 5+2 seater, not a full seven. However, there’s a more comfortable compromise – by pushing the middle row halfway forward, you could actually fit seven medium-size individuals in this car. Just on short trips though, and best keep any six-footers at the front.
The seats themselves are a touch firm, though they’re far from uncomfortable. The front seats, with their wide range of adjustments, will hold you well, and the best part is, thanks to the low dashboard, you get a good view out front even at the lowest setting. The view backward, however, isn’t so great thanks to the thick D-pillars.
The boot is impressive too, at 270 litres with all rows up, 630 litres with the last row folded, and a massive 2,005 litres with the second row down too. The only issue is that the loading lip is very high. Another clever touch is that the parcel shelf folds away into a cubby under the boot floor when you don’t need it. At first you don't see the spare wheel, but then further disassembly of the boot reveals a super-narrow space saver neatly packaged lower in the floor!
It's absolutely loaded with equipment too. The 8.0-inch touchscreen, the same one in the new Octavia, gets Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and even an impressive proprietary navigation system. Then there’s the 10-colour ambient lighting system, the nice-sounding 12-speaker Canton stereo, and even a number of graphics that show you how economically you’ve been driving.
And it doesn’t stop there. There's a truly humongous panoramic sunroof that stretches way back, and both front seats are powered with a memory function. Auto headlamps and wipers were almost expected, as were the powered tailgate, parking sensors all round and a rear-view camera, but hands-free parking assist and a drowsiness sensor are pleasant surprises. I’ve also counted nine airbags! There are also Skoda’s clever little touches, like a little dustbin in the door pocket, a magnetised flashlight you can stick on the car while you change a tyre, and my favourite – plastic ‘bumpers’ that pop out and protect the door edges when you open them, and slip away again when you close them!
What’s it like to drive?
Skoda already uses two different versions of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder TDI motor in India – with 143hp in the Octavia and 177hp in the Superb, and now along comes the Kodiaq with a third, even newer version. This one makes 150hp and 340Nm of torque, and though not the highest of outputs, when I sampled it in Europe, I found it to be more than adequate.
As we weave around the narrow roads near Kovalam, I can tell this motor is decently refined, although you can hear a distant diesel drone at all times. I’m also feeling no immediate lack of oomph at these low speeds, and that likely has a bit to do with this SUV’s relatively bantam 1.8-tonne kerb weight. It’s also got to do with the seven-speed DSG gearbox, which, in these conditions at least, shifts around any turbo lag quite well. It feels very responsive at low to medium speeds. The good visibility, teamed with a light, responsive steering, means this feels exactly like a Skoda Superb to drive – just higher off the ground. You only become aware of its length when the road gets seriously narrow.
It’s out on the highway – where frequent overtaking is a must – that I start to wish Skoda had employed a more powerful version of this motor. At higher speeds, there's some hesitation on kickdown and as you build up revs, it starts to feel a bit strained. Sure, there’s a nice hit of power in the mid-range, but sustained acceleration for a long burst does put the motor out of its comfort zone.
I try pushing the Drive Mode button (a first for a Skoda in India), and Sport mode does improve responses. But this also makes it feel strained and that just doesn’t suit this relaxed SUV. What’s better to do is quickly tap the gear selector into ‘S’, finish the overtake, and then tap it back into ‘D’. Incidentally, the drive modes – Eco, Normal, Sport, Individual and Snow – affect the AC, steering, engine and gearbox.
On the somewhat broken roads around Kovalam, the suspension is handling things quite admirably. Yes, there’s an underlying firmness, just like we felt in the VW Tiguan, but the stability you get on the highway is just exquisite. Bump absorption is actually quite incredible, and only the really hairy ones make it through, and noise from the tyres is surprisingly subdued for such a big car. It genuinely feels like a sedan. As for handling? Well, the length means it will never be a sports SUV, but still, body control is pretty tight and turn-in, especially, is quick and easy. Skoda has also given it AWD, but really, it feels more like a response to the demands of the segment than a necessity. Being a big family car, the Kodiaq seems like it will see even less rough stuff than most soft-roaders, and though it does get AWD, there isn’t an off-road setting like in the Tiguan.
Should I buy one?
The Kodiaq doesn’t feel like an SUV, and I mean that in the best way possible. It feels like a big premium car that you can take your whole family along in. It covers all the expected bases – long equipment list, plush interiors, space for passengers and luggage, and ride comfort. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s surprisingly easy to drive, and there are loads of clever touches that few other manufacturers do so well. The engine, while we’d have preferred a bit more top-end grunt, suits it well enough for relaxed driving. And yes, while it doesn’t have the in-your-face presence or off-roading ability of some of its ladder-frame rivals, it’s a handsome beast with just enough hardware to get you out of most pickles you’ll find yourself in.
The price tag of Rs 34.49 lakh (ex-showroom, India) for the sole, fully loaded 4x4 TDI DSG version, makes it more expensive than its five-seat cousin, the VW Tiguan, and even the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Endeavour. That’s a lot of money, even though you do get a lot of car for it. So while the Kodiaq upholds Skoda’s core values of space, luxury, equipment and versatility with aplomb, it isn’t quite the value proposition we hoped it would be.
Also read: 2017 Skoda Kodiaq launched at Rs 34.49 lakh