Skoda breaks new ground with vRS treatment for the Kodiaq SUV. We've driven it in the UK to see if it's worthy of its initials

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This is nothing less than a Nürburgring Nordschleife record holder, and one we've driven before, albeit in Spain.

Indeed, there's no quicker seven-seater SUV around the circuit’s 160 corners than the Kodiaq vRS, at least according to Skoda. In this respect, it joins the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Jaguar XE SV Project 8 and Lamborghini Aventador SVJ in being the cream of its particular crop. 

Getting the Kodiaq vRS off the mark and into its stride feels a bit like nursing a stock car out of the pits. You might like that, and in fairness it can be quite fun

But don’t get too excited. You have to wonder how many comparable cars have even been timed, and a lap time of 9min 29.84sec is quick but hardly fast. This may be the most powerful diesel engine ever fitted to a Skoda, but 237bhp and 369lb ft still has to overcome 1880kg, and no amount of engineering is going to rein in such a high centre of gravity.

How does the vRS stand out from the standard Kodiaq?

Cut through the marketing and there's potentially a lot to like about this car. In fact, lesser models in the Skoda Kodiaq range are tremendously likeable, because they take such an unpretentious approach compared with most mid-size SUVs. Their handling is assured, while their interiors are spacious and, thanks to Volkswagen Group hand-me-downs, contemporary enough in technological terms. The chiselled exterior design is also confidently understated, and the cars are good value for money.

Admittedly, the vRS goes against that grain in several ways. It starts with the 20in 'Extreme’ alloys, which with an anthracite finish wouldn’t look amiss on the SVJ. The front grille, window frames, wing mirrors and roof rails are then finished in gloss black, and along with big-bore dual exhaust tips, there's red vRS badging on the nose and rump. In Velvet Red metallic paint, the overall effect isn’t subtle.   

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There’s also the small matter of price: £42,870, rising with our test car’s vast panoramic sunroof (£1175), Canton sound system (£405) and rear-view camera plus full LED lights (£385). That's rather a lot, but if the Kodiaq vRS turns out to be a cut-price Audi SQ7, perhaps there’s justification.

Synthesised exhaust notes, piped inside to disguise an engine lacking in much natural character, are a dubious modern phenomenon, but Skoda makes no attempt to conceal the Dynamic Sound Boost system in the Kodiaq vRS.

Whichever driving mode you’re in, but especially so in Sport, there’s a deep, wide, throbbing warble. Along with the lazy throttle response and big bi-turbo torque (369lb ft from 1750rpm), getting the Kodiaq vRS off the mark and into its stride feels a bit like nursing a stock car out of the pits. You might like that, and in fairness it can be quite fun, if also quite ridiculous.

How does the Kodiaq vRS handle on the road?

But this is a good engine for a big SUV, even if such a highly tuned, twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel engine does cut a strained figure in the upper portion of its rev range. The dual-clutch gearbox wants to hit top as soon as possible, which is fine for everyday driving, but you can also take control by using the paddles. Do so and upshifts are effortlessly quick and downshifts almost flawlessly smooth, but most satisfying is actually to hook one of the intermediate gears and lean on all the torque.

Do so and the Kodiaq vRS will muster quite shocking cross-country pace without much in the way of fanfare. This isn’t a particularly fast car, and perhaps the vRS badge would have been better served with the Volkswagen Group’s 296bhp EA888 petrol engine under the bonnet, but its grip and body control are such that momentum is easily conserved. 

There’s a bit of guesswork involved with the front axle, because the artificially weighted steering is so numb, but once into a corner, the Kodiaq tracks precisely and securely, with torque flowing to the rear axle as required. It's a romping, 1880kg SUV with heavily bolstered Alcantara seats, but it's also neat and benign in its handling, and it's not hard to see the appeal of that.

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That said, to get the best out of the Kodiaq vRS as a performance car, you need to have the adaptive dampers in their firmest setting, but this robs the car of some pliancy and, on occasion, control. Decently surfaced A-roads are never a cause for concern, and the vRS flows through wide sweepers in fluid fashion, but more pronounced road imperfections and camber changes on smaller roads can momentarily trip up a car with such a high centre of gravity. 

So you don't ask too much of it, accepting that the Octavia vRS Estate is more agile, with greater composure and more finesse to its suspension. It's the better vRS, in short, but that's obvious. Admittedly, there's less in it for motorway driving, not least because of the Kodiaq vRS's excellent visilibty and impressive aural refinement given the frontal area and the size of the turntable wheels.

Does the vRS prove a hot seven-seater can work?

similarly priced BMW X3 isn’t such as big a character as the rippling vRS, but its handling is more cohesive, its interior less pretentious and, with a half-dozen cylinders, its powertrain far sweeter. The only question is whether you're prepared to lose the third row of seats.


Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Skoda Kodiaq vRS 2019-2020 First drives