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Has the decision to ditch diesel resulted in a palpably hotter seven-seat SUV?

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It wasn’t so long ago that diesel shook off its reputation as HGV fuel and simply became the fashionable, economical choice for any kind of car. Everything had to be diesel-powered, from city cars to supercars, to the point that Audi at one stage seriously considered a V12 diesel R8. 

Skoda has a long history with performance diesels – the first Skoda Fabia vRS had a 1.9-litre TDI – but now the Skoda Kodiaq vRS, the largest performance Skoda , has fallen in line with expectations and traded diesel power for petrol.

The easiest way to tell a facelifted Kodiaq from the original is its face. The kink in the bottom of the main headlight unit is new. All Kodiaqs now get LED headlights. Matrix units are optional on most versions but standard on the vRS.

How quickly that’s changed. A handful of diesel performance cars remain, like the Audi SQ5 and the BMW M340d, but the tide has rapidly turned. The BMW M550d is long gone and the Ford Focus ST diesel won’t return after the facelift.

The engine may be new for the Kodiaq, but it’s the familiar Volkswagen Group 2.0-litre EA888, here in 242bhp tune as also found in the Skoda Octavia vRS and Volkswagen Golf GTI. It’s no doubt a more sporting engine than a big diesel, but in a heavy SUV like the Skoda Kodiaq, we rather liked the torquey oil-burner, so the new petrol engine has something to prove.

The Kodiaq vRS remains an unusual offering in that it’s one of very few seven-seat SUVs to come with an overtly sporting derivative. If you want a performance SUV, you normally have to either go with something smaller like the Cupra Formentor or Hyundai Kona N, or pay a lot more for a six-cylinder BMW X3 or Mercedes GLC.

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Other than the new petrol engine for the vRS, the whole Skoda Kodiaq range is getting a subtle mid-life update. The changes are the usual facelift fare of tweaked headlights and trim levels plus an infotainment update, so under the microscope for this road test will be the more profoundly changed vRS.

The Kodiaq line-up at a glance

You’re certainly not short of choice when picking a powertrain for the Kodiaq. There are petrol, diesel, front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions. Most have DSG dual-clutch automatics, but the entry-level petrol comes with a six-speed manual as standard. Only the base SE Drive trim level can be ordered with five seats. All others always have seven. As well as coming with the most powerful engine, vRS is also the top trim level.

EnginesPowerFrom
1.5 TSI 150148bhp£30,415
2.0 TDI 150148bhp£33,645
2.0 TDI 150 4x4148bhp£35,690
2.0 TSI 190 4x4187bhp£38,535
2.0 TDI 200 4x4197bhp£40,210
vRS 2.0 TSI 4x4242bhp£46,035

 

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Skoda Kodiaq vRS 2022 road test side pan

The Skoda Kodiaq has been around since 2016 and has only now received a thorough going-over. Five years is quite a long time for a model to go without a major update, but then the Kodiaq didn’t desperately need one.

It was Skoda’s first proper SUV. The Yeti came a few years before the big SUV boom but was a bit too small and interesting for its own good. The Kodiaq is the opposite of that: it is not particularly exciting to look at but is wholly inoffensive.

The chrome exhaust finishers are oversized, but real pipes are hiding behind. Unlike what the piped-in sound would have you believe, they’re not attached to a five-cylinder engine. The burble that comes out from behind is actually not unpleasant.

It’s also very roomy and, as such, all but the most basic versions come with seven seats as standard. Since the Kodiaq’s launch, it has gained rivals that are even bigger and offer more interior space, like the Kia Sorento and Seat Tarraco, but nevertheless it’s hardly cramped.

As facelifts go, the Kodiaq’s is a pretty mild one. Redesigned lights and bumpers are about the extent of the visual changes. The headlights are now optionally LED matrix items. There are also some new wheel choices, including 20in rims with ‘aerodynamic covers’ for the vRS.

It’s still based on the Volkswagen MQB platform, with transverse engines, clutch-based four-wheel drive on the more powerful versions, and MacPherson strut suspension up front ahead of a multi-link rear axle.

You may not be able to buy a diesel vRS any more, but you’re certainly not short of choice when it comes to Kodiaq powertrains. Diesel remains an option for the cooking versions thanks to a 2.0 TDI in two states of tune. There’s a 148bhp version with either front- or four-wheel drive, or a 197bhp unit with four-wheel drive. Both diesels are automatic only.

The petrol range starts with a 1.5-litre petrol. It puts out 148bhp and can be paired to either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic and always drives the front wheels. For a bit more power, you can upgrade to a 2.0-litre TSI, which comes with a DSG and four-wheel drive as standard. The regular 2.0 TSI has 187bhp but the vRS’s is boosted to 242bhp.

Notable by their absence are the hybrid powertrains. The MQB platform can accommodate them, as demonstrated by the Skoda Superb iV and Volkswagen Passat GTE. Those cars also show that the 1.4 engine, assisted by an electric motor, is perfectly adequate even in a big car. The Kodiaq wouldn’t have been the first car to be hybridised with its facelift, so it’s a bit of a missed opportunity that Skoda isn’t offering a rival to the plug-in versions of the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. Even some mild-hybrid assistance would have been a useful addition.

INTERIOR

9 Skoda Kodiaq vRS 2022 road test cabin

The interior is often where Skodas really make the difference. They don’t do so with Rolls-Royce-esque material richness but with lots of space for the money, and with subtle but useful features Skoda calls ‘simply clever’.

In the Kodiaq – vRS or not – that mostly applies, but since Skoda’s largest SUV entered the market in 2016, other rivals have emerged with even more generous space and a more up-to-date style.

Good, commanding driving position up front, with lots of adjustment. Ergonomic massage seats are optional, but the standard sports seats are comfortable too.

However, the Kodiaq is still a breath of fresh air in many ways. Where most recent Volkswagen products have been shorn of buttons in favour of touchscreens, the Kodiaq’s controls remain resolutely tactile. The climate and heated seats are controlled using buttons, while a row of toggle switches gives easy access to the start-stop system and parking sensors.

Particularly in vRS form, with its black Alcantara seats, black headliner and imitation carbonfibre dash trim panels, the Kodiaq’s interior does look somewhat sombre, and you’re reminded you’re not in an Audi by the coarser plastics. None of that detracts from the fact that the cabin is well built, with very few distractions. The facelift has introduced a new steering wheel, which feels good in the hands and lifts the atmosphere a little with its chrome highlights.

Where the Kodiaq disappoints is in its lack of practical features. That sort of thing is normally a Skoda hallmark, and while the car has the customary umbrella in the door and a parking ticket holder in the windscreen, there is little else. In fact, the centre console storage is a bit of a mess. In front of the gear selector is a tray with the 12V socket, two USB-C ports and the optional wireless phone charger. Plug something in and you won’t be able to close the (flimsy) lid.

Behind the gear selector and under the centre armrest is a big bin with a removable plastic insert. The plastic piece has gaps on the side for cups, as well as a spot for the key. However, wider cups won’t fit properly and it’s a matter of time before one tips over and spills coffee over the key. For Skoda, the whole centre console is an uncharacteristically poor design.

Thankfully, things are as expected in the back, with generous leg and head room and a mostly flat floor. The seats also have an adjustable backrest and slide up to 180mm fore and aft. Some rivals are roomier still, and only the two outer seats have Isofix points, but the Kodiaq is still among the most capacious in its class.

The third-row seats are tight for adults but fine for children. The seats can be stowed neatly, creating a flat boot floor. When they’re up, the pull-out luggage cover can also be hidden in an underfloor compartment.

Skoda Kodiaq infotainment and sat-nav

While most current Volkswagen Group cars can be let down by a disappointing infotainment system that is shared across brands, Skoda usually manages to put its own interface over the common bones and end up with something a little more usable. The system in the Kodiaq isn’t the latest version and nor is it the greatest, but it could be worse.

There are a handful of shortcut buttons either side of the screen and the whole thing works quickly enough. We also experienced no system crashes. Apple CarPlay works wirelessly, but Android users will need a cable. Even without the upgraded Canton sound system, audio quality was up to scratch.

The built-in navigation is quite poor, though. It sometimes picks very impractical routes and it can be difficult to view and choose an alternative one. It’s also not great at finding points of interest. Finally, switching between CarPlay and the built-in navigation takes too many button presses.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Peak output of 242bhp in a hatchback puts it at the bottom of the hot hatch pecking order these days. Put that engine in a heavy, seven-seat SUV like the Kodiaq and you shouldn’t expect any fireworks. It’s perhaps telling that you can actually get the same powertrain in the Seat Tarraco and the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace – they’re just not billed as a Cupra or a GTI. But then, vRS versions tend to be fairly mild performance cars anyway.

There is nothing wrong with the Kodiaq vRS’s performance in itself. It reached 60mph in 5.9sec, 62mph in 6.3sec and 100mph in 15.8sec, despite damp conditions. That makes this a pleasantly brisk family hauler. To go faster with seven seats, you’ll need to up your budget for a Mercedes-AMG GLB 35.

A car with space for seven is always going to be heavy. Giving it the performance and handling worthy of a sporting label is possible, but you need a big engine and some very fancy air suspension. Any compromise will result in something half-baked. No wonder performance seven-seaters are rare.

Compared with any of the Kodiaq’s mainstream rivals, the vRS will be quicker, though the Kia Sorento hybrid gets close on in-gear flexibility thanks to the low-RPM boost of its electric motor. The Kia recorded a 10.4sec 30-70mph time in fourth gear, compared with the Skoda’s 9.9sec.

Subjectively, it doesn’t feel quite as quick as those numbers suggest and partly to blame is the engine’s character. It’s the well-proven EA888, which also features in every other Volkswagen Group performance derivative with a 2.0-litre petrol engine. It’s an effective engine with a broad spread of torque, hardly any turbo lag and a reasonable willingness to rev. However, it doesn’t sound very good. A trick exhaust, like on a Cupra Leon or a Volkswagen Golf R, can disguise that, but the raw sound this four-pot makes can get rattly at the top end.

Skoda’s solution is to pipe in fake five-cylinder noise. You can turn it off in the Individual driving mode, but when you use the gearlever to put the transmission into Sport mode, the phantom Audi Quattro always returns. And it’s not subtle: at idle, our decibel meter recorded 36dBA with the synthesised sound off and 44dBA with it on.

You could just avoid using the gearbox’s Sport mode, but the DSG can be a bit too lethargic in normal mode, so it’s often useful to switch to the more alert shift mapping. Alternatively, you can use the shift paddles, which don’t give lightning-quick reactions but are otherwise fine.

The surface was still damp when we performed the braking tests, so a stopping distance from 70mph of 59.2m and a stopping time from 60mph of 3.3sec didn’t set any new records but are on a par with other family SUVs we assessed in similar conditions. In normal driving, the pedal is easy to modulate.

RIDE & HANDLING

18 Skoda Kodiaq vRS 2022 road test cornering front

A sporty SUV is always a bit of an oxymoron, and with a kerb weight of 1811kg as measured on Millbrook’s scales, the Kodiaq vRS is unlikely to be the world’s sharpest driver’s car. However, a Skoda vRS is never particularly hardcore, so the warm Kodiaq fits its philosophy rather well. And actually, the dynamics on offer here are rather commendable.

Skodas tend to steer quite well, with a reassuring amount of heft, sensible gearing and a little bit of feedback filtering through when you load up the chassis. The Kodiaq vRS is no exception.

Cornering reveals nicely judged steering and damping; the vRS handles in a composed manner despite its size and weight; performance is accessible but not abundant.

Dynamic dampers are standard and can be set to three different levelsofstiffness.Thesoftest setting is a little wallowy, but in the stiffer settings, body control is very tight without excessively sacrificing compliance.

The handling balance was clearly tuned for safe dependability, as you would expect. The all-wheel drive system sends only so much torque to the rear as is necessary to aid traction, and no more. Similarly, the stability control can’t be completely defeated, but it’s never intrusive. When provoked on Millbrook’s Hill Route, it also turned out to be better tuned to deal with the Kodiaq’s weight and high centre of gravity than many SUVs’ electronic stability control systems.

In short, the addition of a vRS badge doesn’t turn the Kodiaq into a hot hatch, but it does make it a very natural-handling car, despite its size and weight and one that isn’t embarrassed by the more serious Mercedes-AMG GLB 35.

Comfort and isolation

The Kodiaq vRS’s standard adaptive dampers allow it to impress in the corners but also maintain acceptable levels of ride comfort. The softest setting has a slight floatiness to it that might appeal to some buyers, but our testers found the middle setting to be slightly more tied down without becoming much harsher.

With that said, the chassis can’t entirely disguise the effect of the 20in wheels, and over short road imperfections the ride starts to feel a bit brittle. That does not stop it from being a great long-distance cruiser.

Road and wind noise are also well suppressed and on a par with the Land Rover Discovery Sport. In fact, this vRS was slightly quieter than the 2.0 TDI we tested in 2016, despite wider tyres and even though Skoda makes no mention of facelifted cars gaining extra sound deadening.

One of the novelties with the updated Kodiaq is optional ergonomic seats with ventilation and massage functions. Our test car had the regular sports seats that are standard on Sportline and vRS models, and we didn’t really miss the upgraded items. The standard seats have adjustable lumbar support and are generally comfortable.

Assisted driving notes

For a car company as sensible as Skoda, it’s somewhat surprising how stingy it is with active safety equipment. Automatic emergency braking is standard because it’s mandatory on new cars. Lane keep assistance, adaptive cruise control and blindspot monitoring are options, however.

Travel Assist, which bundles traffic sign recognition, lane following and adaptive cruise control, costs £1040.

We experienced no false activations from the emergency braking or collision warning during our time with the car. It did have lane keeping assistance and blindspot monitoring fitted, and both worked well. The lane keeping assistance is also fairly easy to turn off for driving on rural roads. It can be done using the physical buttons on the steering wheel.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Skoda Kodiaq vRS 2022 road test lead

There aren’t many direct rivals for the Kodiaq vRS. Most of the regular car’s competitors, such as the Peugeot 5008 and Kia Sorento, don’t have a fast version, while similarly sized premium SUVs like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 come with only five seats.

However, the Seat Tarraco and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, which use the same platform and are also available with the same 242bhp engine, are significantly cheaper.

The Kodiaq is predicted to hold its value fairly well, though nothing like the extremely stable Land Rover Discovery Sport

Skoda used to be the value brand of the Volkswagen Group, but with a starting price of £46,035, that is not the case for the Kodiaq vRS. Don’t think this car is spectacularly well equipped, either. Heated and memory seats, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance and Isofix points for the front passenger seats are all optional equipment. Our test car came in at £48,510.

With similar equipment, the Kodiaq gets quite close to the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35, which is a fair bit quicker, and the Land Rover Discovery Sport P250, which is a step up in perceived quality. While a petrol engine certainly enhances the vRS’s sporting credentials, the loss of the old diesel unit makes this big, heavy car quite thirsty. During our time with it, we averaged 29.5mpg. For an SUV with a powerful petrol engine, that’s not horrendous, but it also won’t save the planet. At a gentle cruise, it returned a more manageable 40.9mpg.

VERDICT

20 Skoda Kodiaq vRS 2022 road test static

If you’re looking for a capacious family car with seven seats, the regular Skoda Kodiaq is as good as ever. The recent facelift doesn’t do anything to propel it back to the top of the class, but also doesn’t diminish how easily it will fit into everyday life.

It’s pretty decent to drive for what it is, and the interior is mostly sensible.

If you want a fast Kodiaq, go with the 200PS 2.0 TDI. Torquey, quick enough for most days and with less of a fuel economy penalty. SE L trim is well appointed; just add adaptive dampers.

The vRS, however, is a different story. Performance SUVs are a bit of an internal conflict at the best of times, but the old vRS’s torquey yet frugal diesel engine fitted the Kodiaq to a T. The new petrol unit is fine in a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but faced with the weight of the Kodiaq, it struggles to make the car feel all that quick. Yet it likes a drink nonetheless. Hustling this big car down a back road is remarkably satisfying, even fun, but still slightly forgettable.

What really makes the Kodiaq vRS hard to recommend is its price. This SUV doesn’t have many direct rivals, but other cars are available for over £45,000 that are more desirable while offering better value for money and a more balanced spread of abilities. Ultimately, a seven-seat Skoda vRS costing close to £50,000 is probably a bridge too far.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.