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Skoda has used its supermini platform to create a practical compact crossover; we test the mid-level petrol engine

This is the Skoda Kamiq: a compact crossover hatchback whose headlights are upside down. That might be the most daring and enigmatic thing about this new car, which is set to join bigger SUV-ish brothers the Karoq and Kodiaq in UK showrooms later this year.

On those two sibling cars, the dipped beam projectors sit just above the daytime running light strips as part of one combined unit. On the new Kamiq, though, the DRLs are above and the headlights themselves sit – separately, as it happens – just below. And this is what passes for ‘interesting’ on a compact Skoda in 2019: a design trick already pulled by the Citroën C3 Aircross and Hyundai Kona a year ago, for what it’s worth.

Remember those crazy, free-spirited types, the Skoda Roomster and Skoda Yeti? Well, someone has decided that smallish Skodas of their ilk must remain dead and buried, preferring smart but steady ‘Russian doll’ designs like the Kamiq. Skoda has decided, clearly, that while enthusiasts may have preferred more characterful cars, Average Joe Customer likes things more plain and conservative – and, no doubt, with good market research results to back up its decision.

This car is, in fact, not a great deal more than a jacked-up, reskinned Skoda Scala, the Czech firm’s engineers admit. It’s precisely the same width as the recently introduced hatchback and its wheelbase is almost identical. It’s about 120mm shorter than the Scala, though, yet still quite big for the compact crossover hatchback class – which is nothing if not a familiar positioning for a modern Skoda to occupy.

The car uses the Volkswagen Group’s MQB-A0 supermini platform, which in turn means it can only have front-wheel drive and torsion beam rear suspension – although neither need necessarily hold it back among a set of mostly dynamically ordinary rivals. Turbocharged petrol engines range from a 94bhp three-cylinder 1.0-litre up to a 148bhp four-cylinder 1.5-litre, and there’s a 114bhp 1.6-litre diesel also. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearboxes is offered on all but the entry-level motor.

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As an alternative to standard suspension settings, meanwhile, Skoda is offering Sport Chassis Control as an option, which drops your Kamiq 10mm closer to the road and arms it with two-way manually adjustable dampers.

Our 114bhp 1.0 TSI petrol test car had the lowered, adaptable suspension, although you’d have hesitated to call it ‘sporty’. Honestly, it just comes across as a pretty pleasant, albeit deeply ordinary, functional family car. It’s pretty refined and comfortable, almost entirely viceless and easy to drive – and, like the Scala, spacious enough to swallow four adult passengers quite comfortably. The interior is also fairly nicely finished, feeling classier than some rivals' and having good infotainment and connectivity features - although making waves is the last thing the Kamiq is out to do.

On that optional suspension, our test car rode much better than the passively suspended Scala we road-tested recently and handled neatly and with assurance – although little sense of agility or compactness.

Performance is respectable, although we're not sure you’d want a lesser engine. The 1.0 TSI 115 motor has just enough torque to move the car along with a reasonable semblance of urgency, and the dual-clutch transmission combines with it well, with a couple of caveats. It’s too eager to upshift to make for balanced drivability when left in ‘D’ (although better in ‘S’) and doesn’t always deliver the smoothest uptake of drive from standing. But most of the time, it does a decent job.

The Kamiq feels like a very sensible, practical, versatile option for people who just want modern family transport in a compact, affordable package. It’s not an easy brief to satisfy, as many cars in this class continue to demonstrate to their cost.

Still, this was a chance, surely, to show that Skoda can still do youthful, quirky and different – and it’s a chance that has either been missed or, for reasons best known in Mladá Boleslav, willingly passed up. Only time will tell if the decision to play it safe ends up costing Skoda in the long term.

Skoda Kamiq FAQs

Is the Skoda Kamiq available as a plug-in hybrid or electric?

Skoda has started to embrace electrification with its EV and plug-in hybrid iV models, but unfortunately the Kamiq doesn’t have any of this technology. There isn’t even the option of a mild-hybrid set-up, which uses a combined starter and generator unit to harvest energy when slowing the car and add a little electrical assistance when accelerating. If you want a small SUV with plug-in hybrid capability, then the Renault Captur is a good choice, while the Hyundai Kona is available as an all-electric model.

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What are the main rivals for the Skoda Kamiq?

With the appetite for SUV and crossover models as big as ever, the Skoda Kamiq isn’t short of rivals. For driving fun the Ford Puma is best, while the Renault Captur is stylish and has a plug-in hybrid option. The closely related Volkswagen T-Cross and Seat Arona deliver a more upmarket vibe and sporty character respectively, while the Vauxhall Mokka serves-up great value and is available with an all-electric drivetrain.

How much power does the Skoda Kamiq have?

There’s a range of engines available for the Skoda Kamiq, all of which are shared with other Volkswagen Group models. Most examples of the small Czech machine are powered by a turbocharged 1.0-litre TSI petrol, available with either 94bhp or 108bhp. There’s also a 148bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, which can be specified on every trim level apart from the entry-level S. Unsurprisingly, it delivers the strongest performance, with 0-62mph taking as little as 8.0 seconds.

What choices of gearbox are there for the Skoda Kamiq?

All versions of the Skoda Kamiq fitted with the 94bhp 1.0-litre engine get a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 108bhp version and the 1.5-litre get a six-speed unit. Both are pleasant to use, with a short throw and light action. Also available on the two higher powered engines is a seven-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic, which provides near seamless and ultra-quick gearchages. There are no paddle-shifters on the wheel, but you can use the gear lever to take manual control of the transmission.

Where is the Skoda Kamiq built?

Currently, the Skoda Kamiq is only built at the brand’s factory at Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Republic. It shares its production line with the closely related Skoda Fabia and Skoda Scala, both of which use the same MQB AO underpinnings. Interestingly, the firm also builds an unrelated Kamiq for the Chinese market at its SAIC-VW joint venture plant in Nanjing. Despite looking similar, this version uses the PQ34 platform that traces its way back to the MK4 Volkswagen Golf.

How many generations of the Skoda Kamiq have there been?

The current Skoda Kamiq debuted in 2019 and is the first model to wear this badge. It has no direct predecessors and, given that it’s relatively new, its second generation replacement is a few years away yet. However, Skoda very lightly refreshed the range in early 2022, adding a new SE L Executive model that features enhanced equipment levels over the old SE L version it replaces. However, there are no changes to the design or mechanicals of the car.

Skoda Kamiq First drives