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Skoda has used its supermini platform to create a practical compact crossover; we test it with 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 Roomster and 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 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.

First drives