What is it?
It’s an all-new, seven-seat premium SUV all set to enter a segment that’s recently sparked back to life. With the launch of the new Ford Endeavour, Toyota Fortuner and even the Hyundai Tucson in 2016, buyers looking for a premium SUV, but one that also doesn’t cost luxury-car money are spoilt for choice. And come Diwali 2017, they will have one more to complicate their decision. The Kodiaq will be Skoda’s new flagship, overlapping with and sitting slightly above the Superb sedan. It promises the same characteristic traits as the Superb, and indeed most Skodas, of space, comfort, tech and luxury at a very competitive price.
What Skodas lately have also delivered is knockout exterior design – starting with the Superb – and you wouldn’t argue, the Kodiaq continues that trend. It’s a 4.7m long SUV, but the sharp angles, strong lines and tight surfacing mean it looks a lot more compact than it actually is; until you are standing right next to it. There’s a strong resemblance to the Superb – a car it shares its basic underpinnings with, thanks to the modular MQB platform – and that’s a good thing indeed. There are the slit-like full-LED headlamps, encrusted with LED accents meant to evoke Czech crystal, the fog lamps sit just below them in the front bumper, Skoda’s ‘butterfly’ grille looks chunkier than ever now, and at the chin is a really wide air dam. There’s more of that crystalline effect in the sharp, wraparound tail-lamps too and the neatly surfaced tailgate makes the rear look nice and taut. For something so big, it’s really impressive that it manages to look almost athletic.
What’s it like on the inside?
Where all that exterior girth pays off is on the inside. Skodas are known for their cabin space, and this one carries that torch beautifully. The middle row can be slid back and forth a long way, and even pushed all the way forward, there’s enough place for most to sit without scuffing their knees. Slide them back and you’ve got as much, if not more, space than a Superb. The middle row doesn’t tumble forward like in the new Toyota Fortuner (they only slide and fold), but access to the third row isn’t too bad as the whole car is a bit lower. Of course, with the middle row pushed all the way back, the third row is a bit tight on space, but you’d be surprised at how much kneeroom you can liberate by pushing it forward only a little. What’s more, even with the third row up, boot space is pretty reasonable – if not very tall – and you can get a full-size suitcase in there with no problem. With it down, of course, you could very well move house. There is a five-seat version of the Kodiaq too but, understandably, Skoda is only bringing the seven-seater to India.
As we’ve seen with the new Superb and even the Octavia, some of that solid, luxurious feeling from the last generation of Skodas is missing from today’s cars. They’re still very well put together, but the plastics and trims just don’t feel as rich or special as they used to. With the Kodiaq, Skoda has alleviated this to a great extent by adding some much needed character to the dashboard. It’s nice and chunky, befitting the SUV, with tall vertical AC vents and thick slabs of textured trim. The rest is quite familiar, with the same AC controls, steering wheel and switchgear as most modern VW Group cars. A standout feature is the eight-inch touchscreen, which now uses capacitive, rather than physical, buttons.
Staying with the touchscreen, the Kodiaq’s full equipment list reads like a treasure trove of cool gizmos, and we can only hope Skoda India ticks as many of those checkboxes as possible. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SmartLink, 360-degree cameras with a ‘virtual exterior’ view (like we saw in the new BMW 7-series), adaptive cruise control, park assist, a powered tailgate, a massive panoramic sunroof, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, Qi wireless phone charging, three-zone climate control, emergency assistance, pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition and an on board WiFi hotspot. Phew! And on top of that, cool little features include a magnetised flashlight that you can stick onto the car to help with, say, a puncture repair at night, there are charging facilities via 12v sockets, USB and even a 230v plug, and finally, little rubber protectors pop out to cover the door edges from scuffing when you open the doors, and hide away when you close them.
What’s it like to drive?
Now while we’ve previewed the Kodiaq extensively in the last few months, this is the first time we’re getting to drive it. Getting the specs out of the way first – it will come to India with a 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine making 180hp and 250Nm, as well as a 2.0-litre TDI diesel making 150hp and 340Nm. There’s also a version of the 2.0 TDI with 190hp and 400Nm, but this one is designed for Euro 6 emissions norms, and so might not make it to India initially, as it would have to be modified to suit our poor fuel quality. There will also be AWD on top variants, and both engines come with either six-speed manuals or seven-speed DSG automatics. Interestingly, the automatics will get priority in the range this time – Skoda India has learnt its lesson from the Yeti, which is still only available as a manual.
The petrol engine first, and it’s everything we’ve come to expect from a TSI motor. It’s smooth and refined and builds up all its power really early on, making it quite enjoyable to drive. For such a large car, it weighs a not-too-shabby 1,695kg, and as a result is able to sprint to 100kph in a claimed 8.0sec. The DSG gearbox too is as impressive as we’ve come to expect, with smooth and quick shifts exactly when they’re meant to happen.
The 150hp diesel is impressively refined too, but that also has to do with the Kodiaq itself, which is great at shutting out outside noise. It’s very peppy off the line, sacrificing some top-end oomph in the process, but then with 340Nm on call, you really can’t complain, especially with a claimed 0-100kph time of 8.9sec. Each shift from the seven-speed DSG can be felt a little bit more here than in the petrol, but it’s not to the point of being uncomfortable.
We also tried the 190hp diesel, and interestingly, it didn’t feel as nice to drive. Because of its use of a larger turbocharger, there’s a lot more lag low down, and it’s only at about 2,000rpm that it gets into its stride (as opposed to 1,500rpm in the 150hp version). It does, however, have a better top end which, Skoda powertrain engineers say makes it ‘ideal for cruising on the Autobahn at 230kph’.
As for the dynamics, it feels like a large, higher-riding Superb to drive, and that’s just what you’d expect from a monocoque SUV. It’s also a revelation in a segment dominated by bulky, ladder-frame SUVs like the Fortuner and Endeavour, which feel a lot more cumbersome from behind the wheel. The steering isn’t bristling with feedback and it is a little numb around centre, but at least it’s neutral and predictable. On Mallorca’s narrow village roads, it certainly did a great job of shrinking itself around me, when in reality, it just about barely fit the lane width. You do get a bit of body roll, but that’s nowhere as much as you’d get in a ladder-frame SUV. Our test cars all had DCC – Dynamic Chassis Control – which alters suspension firmness and steering weight in one of a few different modes, but we found the differences to be very slight. Overall, the Kodiaq, on its 18-inch wheels and 55-profile tyres, likely the same ones we’ll get in India, rides nice and flat, although it can feel a little lumpy over broken bits of road.
Should I buy one?
The Kodiaq is expected in Indian showrooms by the third quarter of 2017, so likely just before Diwali. It will be priced to overlap, but sit slightly above the Superb, which should translate to about Rs 27-32 lakh, ex-showroom. That puts it bang in the same range as the Fortuner and Endeavour, and its most direct rival the Hyundai Santa Fe. It might not be as crowded or competitive as other segments, but all the cars in it are quite popular, so what does the Kodiaq bring to the table to make it stand out?
Seven seats, for one, as at this price point, a five-seater would be hard to justify unless it came from a luxury brand. Strong motors are a must too, and thankfully even the lower-powered diesel feels more than powerful enough. Equipment – well, that remains to be seen, but given how Skoda specs its other cars, we’re confident a lot of the European Kodiaq’s goodies will make it to us. The interior perhaps doesn’t feel out-and-out luxurious, but it’s up to class standards and does shake up the Skoda formula to make it more interesting. But the two things that really work in the Kodiaq’s favour are the way it looks and the space on offer. This is a sharp-looking SUV and that’s sure to go down well with image-conscious Indians. And it’s properly roomy too, a Skoda hallmark, with flexible seating and luggage space. Come Diwali 2017, we will have a very exciting SUV to look forward to.